Through a Burning Ring of Fire

The Amazing Spider-Man: Web of Fire

While Acclaim has punished us, time and again, with a series of increasingly terrible 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, there have been a few titles from the web-head that weren’t completely terrible. Spider-Man vs. The Kingpin was almost playable, Spider-Man: The Video Game was a competent brawler, and The Amazing Spider-Man: Lethal Foes was very nearly a good game. Any of these were leaps and bounds above the dreck that LJN and Acclaim were co-producing, and I’d much rather play them over a game like Venom/Spider-Man: Separation Anxiety (or, heaven forbid, Batman Forever). At this point not seeing the Acclaim logo on a superhero game gives me a sense of relief.

The Amazing Spider-Man: Web of Fire

Sadly, in this case that sense was short-lived. Sega, who produced a couple of those halfway decent Spider-man titles above, are back with The Amazing Spider-man: Web of Fire. Released in 1996 for the 32X, this was also the last game produced for that add-on before Sega fully pulled the plug on it. We could honestly spend hours discussing the many boondoggles Sega made for the Genesis, most of which only helped to oversaturate their market, but we can shorten by saying that the 32X just wasn’t a great product. It promised a 32-bit upgrade to the Genesis, but it still had to run in conjunction with that box’s hardware, so its “32-bit Revolution” was really more of a whimper. And the games from it are generally accepted as also-rans, when they’re remembered at all.

Web of Fire, even by the standards of the 32X, is not a good game. The kindest comparison I can make is that the game looks, and plays, like Timecop. Now, no one wants to have their game compared to Timecop as that game is terrible but that’s where we are. The game is poorly executed with slippery controls and terrible graphics, and it all comes together in a short, rough package that I doubt any kind would want to play. And yet, even as bad as it is, this is still one of the better Spider-man games I’ve had to review, all thanks to Acclaim making titles that are so much worse.

In the game, Spider-man is called to the scene because HYDRA is attacking New York and he’s the guy that’s available. Now, you might be wondering, “why is Spider-man battling HYDRA? Isn’t that a job for Captain America or the Avengers or even SHIELD?” And you’d be right. Traditionally HYDRA Is not one of the villains that Spider-man has to fight. They’re here, though, presumably because Acclaim had the licensing rights to all the good Spider-man villains and Sega had to make do with whatever C-list foes they could buy off of Marvel. So HYDRA is here, but not any of the really popular HYDRA villains (like the Red Skull). No, it’s a bunch of generic villains with even more generic names for ol’ Spidey to fight.

HYDRA trapped the city under an electrical plasma grid, holding the citizens of New York hostage. Spider-man arrives on the scene, presumably because webs are his thing and this grid sure looks like a “web of fire”. Thus, all the other heroes (except for Daredevil, who is saved by Spidey in the first level) take a break and leave the spider-like things to the spider-like hero. Spidey has to go through the various parts of the city, destroying the plasma field generators, all before heading to HYDRA headquarters to take out the cadre of villains within. All in a day's work for the guy that cleans up webs.

If we ignore the story and just go in for the game itself, things still aren’t looking up. From the outset, something feels off about Spidey. Yes, he can run and jump, punch and shoot webs, but it all feels slippery and not quite right. When Spidey runs he doesn’t exactly stop on a dime. When he slings his webs to swing around it doesn’t feel entirely accurate. When he punches sometimes it seems like the hits are detected and sometimes they aren’t. You never really feel like you have solid control over the hero because everything is so slippery and wrong.

I have to think a large part of this is because the game was designed with 3D graphics transposed over motion caption footage. Mo-Cap effects were very popular in games in the 1990s and 2000s, popularized by Mortal Kombat. But while those graphics worked for Netherrealm, in the controlled context of a fighting game, they’re far less practical in a platforming action brawler. You have to animate, and thus control, the characters based on the movements of the mo-cap, and that often leads to slippery, strangely moving characters that never feel quite right. Compare Web of Fire’s animation, done with mo-cap, to the fluid, lovely style of Lethal Foes, and the effects feel like night and day. The latter is beautiful and very playable while the former is a janky mess.

The problem with using these kinds of graphics is that, to match everything up, it all has to be done with pre-rendered effects and mo-cap. So all enemies (what few there are in the game, which is its own issue) and all the bosses are done with mo-cap and then converted to 3D rendered sprites. All the backgrounds and objects are done in similar 3D rendering. It all has a weird, waxy finish to it (which it isn’t just a mess of pixels) and none of it looks good. All to follow a trend in graphics which would die off quickly enough, while making a game that wasn’t that much fun to play.

The graphics and controls aren’t the only issue, though. The big issue (yes, bigger than all of that so far) is that the game is poorly conceived. Due to the limited graphics, and poor planning, all of the stages are repetitive and boring. They’re either long, straight hallways or looping, repeating mazes (again, just like Timecop). We see a lot of these kinds of repeating, boring stages throughout various shovelware titles of the 1990s. Wayne’s World, Back to the Future 2, Timecop, and more, all of which were also licensed titles. In all these cases it feels like the devs didn’t have the time, or ability, to make engaging, thoughtful stages, so they made simple, repeating ones where the only goal was to figure out where the ending was and survive. It’s tedious, not enjoyable.

While going through Web of Fire, I realized why these kinds of stages bother me so much: it’s because there’s no clear progression or goal. When you play a good platformer, like Duck Tales or Mega ManIn 1987, Capcom released Mega Man on the NES, a game featuring a blue robot that fought other robots and took their powers (so that he could then fight other robots with those powers, and on, and on). The series went on to release over 50 games in 30 years and become one of the most famous gaming franchises in the world. or any of the Super Mario SeriesHe's the world's most famous plumber and the biggest face in Nintendo's stable, a character so ubiquitous you already knew we were talking about Mario even before we said his name. games, you go from section to section, seeing new tricks and traps while getting a sense that you’re moving forward. You aren’t put through repeating loops of the same ideas, but allowed to explore new concepts while permutations of what you’ve seen before work around you.

A good platforming stage is like a song, with elements that build and work around each other as they move to the chorus, the bridge, and the final refrain (I am not a music guy so I hope all those words were used properly). A bad platforming stage is the same three notes played over and over again, and that’s exactly what Web of Fire does in every one of its stages; the same ideas, the same enemies, the same traps throughout the stage (and sometimes stages) until Spidey finally finds an ending that looks exactly like every other part of the stage.

Nothing about The Amazing Spider-man: Web of Fire really works. It has a bad story, worse graphics, terrible gameplay, and atrocious level design. The fact that it’s better than just about anything LJN and Acclaim put out says far more about how bad those games were than the relative quality of this Spider-man title. I wanted to like the game because it came from Sega and at least had a chance to rise above the trash. Instead it dove head first into the landfill so it could wallow in filth with the rest of them. It’s a real shame.