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The Lethal Foes of Spider-man

We’ve bitched a lot about Acclaim on this site as we’ve covered various BatmanOne of the longest running, consistently in-print superheroes ever (matched only by Superman and Wonder Woman), Batman has been a force in entertainment for nearly as long as there's been an entertainment industry. It only makes sense, then that he is also the most regularly adapted, and consistently successful, superhero to grace the Silver Screen. and SpidermanSure, DC Comics has Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, but among the most popular superheroes stands a guy from Marvel Comics, a younger hero dressed in red and blue who shoots webs and sticks to walls. Introduced in the 1960s, Spider-Man has been a constant presence in comics and more, featured in movies regularly since his big screen debut in 2002. games, and every time we come across a new one I have to rant about it all over again. This time, however, no rant is needed and that’s because we’re covering a Spider-man game from the mid-1990s that Acclaim, in no way, was involved in. Well, except for possibly the reason this game wasn’t released in the West. Licensing and releases are a complicated thing and with Acclaim having a stranglehold on Spider-man titles for NES and SNES consoles (with some crossover releases to Sega systems), someone else bringing a Spidey title Stateside would have been hard, especially if people don’t want to share.

The Lethal Foes of Spider-man

The title in question is The Amazing Spider-man: Lethal Foes, which was developed by Argent and released, only in Japan for the Super Famicom, by Epoch, Co. Playing this game over on this side of the pond would have been difficult for years without finding some kind of import (and grabbing a Super Famicom as well). Thankfully, in a time of emulation and fan-translations, a “lost” title such as this can find its audience. And that’s good because, at least among Spider-man games from this era, Lethal Foes is a pretty playable title.

The game focuses on Spider-man after he catches wind of some kind of plan being hatched by Doc Oc. A new group of Spider Slayers have invaded the city, and various villains seem to have teamed up with the evil Octavius to take over and take down New York. Spider-man is the guy on the scene and, aside from the occasional spot of assistance from some friendly heroes, he’s the only one that can actually take on the threat and save the city. He’s the guy, the spider-guy, the friendly, neighborhood Spider-man, that can actually get it done (despite some yellow journalism from the Daily Bugle).

Lethal Foes is a side-scrolling platform action game. As Spider-man you walk, run, jump, wall-climb, swing, and fight through various levels. There are a smattering of enemies that will come at you, from large Spider-Slayers to smaller little spider bots, along with a few level traps here or there. Spider-man has to navigate each stage of the game (sometimes broken up into two-part levels), take on the boss guarding the end of each area, and then progress, all so he can fight his way up to Doc Oc and save the city.

Starting up the game and getting into it, players will notice, right off the bat, that this game doesn’t play like any of the Spider-man titles Acclaim was releasing during this era. For starters, playing as Spider-man is smooth and accurate. He’s well animated, with a loving number of detailed sprite frames, making for a fluid looking hero (and villains, and other foes). He also controls really well, with accurate inputs leading to accurate movements. There’s no slipping, sliding, or careening where you didn’t want to go; Spider-man does what you tell him to without lag or issue.

I simply cannot express in enough detail how nice it was to boot up a Spider-man game and find myself in the middle of an actual, playable experience. Taking Spidey out for a run was a joy. I could tell what I wanted to do, how I wanted to do it, and the game let me do all that without fuss. That might seem like the bare minimum expectation for a video game – you tell the game what to do and it does it – but considering many of the Acclaim-released games failed to do even that, it’s amazing just to find a game that knew how to get over that very low bar. And it does it well, such that I found myself actually enjoying moving the hero around in his own game. It was shocking.

Combat is a matter of lining up punches, low kicks, jump kicks, and web projectiles to take out foes. The little spider-bots die in one hit, and often drop power-ups. The Spider-Slayers are beefier, usually needing four or so solid hits to take down. And the bosses get bigger, and stronger over time, with health bars that continue to increase in size from one encounter to the next. Not that anything felt unfair. The bosses all have simple but direct patterns, and many can be taken out with basic strategies – sweeping kicks, followed by running away, often took out the ground-based foes easily enough – but it was nice to get into one of these fights and not have to struggle, or deal with unfair tactics or bad controls. It was a fair fight that I could appreciate.

I’d actually say the basic game is on the easier side. Enemies are placed in logical areas and aren’t positioned unfairly to knock off damage or get in the way. You don’t have to fight every enemy you can and, in fact, it’s often better to dodge the lesser foes and keep moving. The difficulty of the game is navigating your way through the sometimes complex stages, and then defeating the boss, within a given time limit. Every stage is timed, and some of them can be quite long, so if you spend a lot of time exploring, either for bonuses or just to find your way, you could end up running out of time before you make it through the boss fight.

Thankfully it never felt difficult to find my way through the game. Yes, I timed out on some stages, but once I learned the path forward I was able to memorize that readily enough and get moving my next time through. And extra lives were plentiful enough that I still had a couple of men in reserve by the time I finished up Doc Oc and then took on Carnage to complete the adventure. This is a game that most fans will be able to complete, and enjoy completing, which is a stark change from many of the other games released during this era, for sure.

Yes, Carnage is in this, along with Venom, Green Goblin, and many other known Spider-man villains. There’s also appearances from the Human Torch, Speedball, and Iron Fist. Yes, all the heroes are C-tier guys (sorry Human Torch), but that does help to explain why Spidey is on this adventure by himself when other allies could have helped him (since New York is so dense with heroes you can’t throw a rock without hitting one). They’re all lovingly made and animated, sticking to the same art style as the rest of the characters in this game.

The game does seem to be imitating the art style of the 1990s Spider-man cartoon. Although I can’t find anything saying it was a licensed game from the cartoon, much of the artwork at least seems to borrow the style from that animated series. It makes sense, since that was the popular Spider-man product of the time, and the game does a great job of using that art and making it work. It’s not based on any specific adventure from the show (although the comic series "The Lethal Foes of Spider-Man" seems to have been some inspiration for the story), but that doesn’t stop the designers from mimicking what works.

This is, frankly, just a well crafted game. For a Spider-man title of the era, before 3D graphics came along and you could really get the feel for swinging Spidey all around New York, this was the best kind of adventure we could have expected. It’s a little simple, and at an hour of gameplay, maybe a little short, but it gets the job done well and then moves on without fuss. I’ll take that over yet another regurgitated bit of third-party Acclaim slop any day. The Amazing Spider-man: Lethal Foes is a breath of fresh air for the 16-bit era, the Spider-man game we needed in the middle of a bad run of shovelware.

It’s just a pity it never it didn’t come out in the West. One reason could have been licensing, with Acclaim having the rights for the NES and SNES markets here. It could have also been the bonus features, which used the special Barcode Battler II Interface for the Super Famicom which we didn’t get Stateside. And it might have just been poor reception or poor sales in Japan (the game only got a 21 out of 40 from Famitsu at the time). Whatever the case, a little gem of a game was lost in Japan when we, overseas, needed it most. But you can enjoy it now, and I encourage you to do so. After the great flotsam of Acclaim superhero titles, this one here is a winner.