Licensed video games were once a major tenet of the industry. Games such as GoldenEye 007 and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial—while varying in quality—are considered some of the most significant titles in video game history. In recent years, licensed games have become often restricted to mobile devices—typically as endless runners or puzzle-platformers—but occasionally a triumph including the Batman: Arkham series or South Park: The Stick of Truth comes along.
Spider-Man is one of the many licenses to receive video games adaptations—some based on comics, some on films, and some original stories simply based on the property. With the upcoming release of Insomniac Games’s Spider-Man on September 7, as part of Spider-Man Week, OnlySP is looking back at the history of the character within gaming, alongside exclusive interviews with some of the original developers.
1982 – Spider-Man
In 1982, Atari and Parker Brothers partnered up to create the first Marvel Comics-based game for the former’s console, the Atari 2600. In Spider-Man, players control the eponymous character as they scale a building with their web shooters and defuse the Green Goblin’s bombs. Players only have a limited amount of web fluid, which is replenished for every criminal captured or bomb defused.
Despite the limited features, Spider-Man utilised one particular gameplay element that most other games would continue to imitate in the future: web-slinging. An iconic skill for the superhero, web-slinging is an obvious choice for developers of Spider-Man titles and would be a feature replicated in the majority of games to come.
1984 – Questprobe featuring Spider-Man
In the early 1980s, Marvel partnered with Adventure International to create the Questprobe trilogy: a series of graphical adventure games featuring Marvel Comics characters. The first game, Questprobe featuring The Hulk, was released in 1984 for several systems, including the Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum.
“Marvel was wonderful to work with,” designer Scott Adams explained to OnlySP. “They did ask why I chose Hulk as the first title as opposed to Spider-Man, their premier property. I told them it was because I wanted to get Spidey correct and learn from any mistakes I made in the first title.”
“I had full artistic license to do what I wanted and I was very careful about the new lore I was creating,” Adams added. “During this time, I had access to an advance release of the book that became the Marvel Universe bible of characters […] For me it was a great honour.”
When Questprobe featuring Spider-Man was released later that year, Adams felt that it “turned [out] better” than the first title. A third title, Questprobe featuring Human Torch and the Thing, was released in 1985; a planned X-Men title was cancelled when Adventure International became bankrupt later that year.
“My time working with [Marvel] will be one I will always treasure.”
1989 – The Amazing Spider-Man and Captain America in Dr. Doom’s Revenge!
Following its work with Marvel Comics on X-Men: Madness in Murderworld for the Commodore 64 and Amiga, Paragon Software developed the creative crossover game The Amazing Spider-Man and Captain America in Dr. Doom’s Revenge! in 1989. In the title, the friendly neighbourhood superhero teamed up with the Star-Spangled Avenger to battle a myriad of supervillains led by Doctor Victor Von Doom, including Rhino, Machete, Mysterio, and even the Hulk. Despite the game’s interesting concept and impressive graphics, the title ultimately suffered from performance issues and was criticised for its simplistic, beat-‘em-up gameplay style.
1990 – The Amazing Spider-Man
Paragon returned to publish its second (and final) Spider-Man game in 1990 with The Amazing Spider-Man, developed by Oxford Digital Enterprises. The game opened with a unique copyright protection method wherein players must answer questions about Marvel characters using the game’s official manual. Once the game has officially begun, players must jump, climb, and swing their way around the fictional Rockwell Film Studios to save Spider-Man’s wife Mary Jane from the villainous Mysterio. Despite some criticism targeting the basic 8-bit graphics, the game was praised for its platform-based puzzling sections and simple controls.
1990 – The Amazing Spider-Man (Game Boy)
In conjunction with Paragon’s game for the Amiga, Rare developed a game by the same name for the Game Boy. In addition to the wicked Mysterio, Spider-Man must also fight Hobgoblin, Scorpion, Rhino, and Doctor Octopus, before a final confrontation against Venom. Despite the platform’s simple graphics, the game was praised for its art style, gameplay, and level design—though it would be the only Spider-Man game that Rare would develop.
1990 – The Amazing Spider-Man vs. The Kingpin
With a new generation of consoles taking the world by storm, Sega worked alongside newly founded studio Technopop to create The Amazing Spider-Man vs. The Kingpin, released on the Master System in 1990 and ported to the Genesis, Game Gear, and Sega CD in the years to follow. The first video game to feature the villain Kingpin—a powerful crime boss from New York City—The Amazing Spider-Man vs. The Kingpin featured countless other Spider-Man adversaries. The game was lauded for its controls and story, as well as its dedication to the original comics.
1991 – Spider-Man: The Video Game
Sega and Marvel Comics collaborated to develop Spider-Man: The Video Game in 1991. Released in an arcade cabinet, the game featured a myriad of original Spider-Man characters, including Kingpin, Doctor Octopus, Scorpion, Sandman, and Green Goblin, with Doctor Doom acting as the final boss. The game was very well received at the time—receiving five out of five from the magazine Dragon—but failed to receive any arcade successor.
1992 – The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Following the success of Rare’s handheld Spider-Man game in 1990, publisher Acclaim Entertainment (under the LJN brand name) teamed up with new developer Bits Studios to publish The Amazing Spider-Man 2 in 1992 for the Game Boy. The game expanded on the original in terms of gameplay, as players must now collect various objects to complete puzzles. The game also features some new villains—namely Lizard, Graviton, and Carnage—though Hobgoblin and Mysterio make a comeback. Despite these improvements, the game performed poorly and was deemed a disappointment due to simple gameplay and unimaginative characters.
1992 – Spider-Man: Return of the Sinister Six
Alongside The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Bits Studios worked on Return of the Sinister Six for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and the Master System. As the title suggests, the game features the Sinister Six—Electro, Sandman, Hobgoblin, Vulture, Mysterio, and Doctor Octopus—each as the main boss of the game’s six levels. Gameplay is quite simple, requiring players to make their way across the side-scrolling world, occasionally using items such as detonators or keys. The game’s response was average, and the title went mostly unnoticed due to more popular games of the time.
1992 – Spider-Man and the X-Men in Arcade’s Revenge
Software Creations had developed Silver Surfer (1990) and Wolverine (1991), based on the respective titular Marvel Comics characters when it was approached to create an X-Men game for a 1992 release. “I didn’t know much about X-Men so I spent many hours reading the comics,” programmer Michael Follin told OnlySP. “I’d seen this story about a villain called ‘Arcade’, which was an excuse to get all the X-Men into random scenarios where they could use their powers in limited test environments—which is what you want for a semi-abstract 2D game.”
When the developer was asked to include Spider-Man in the game, Follin was joined by two other programmers. “It was Kevin [Edwards] that got to do Spider-Man, and he did a great job,” said Follin. “Ste [Ruddy] did the Gambit level and I did Cyclops, Wolverine, and Storm.” The game’s villain, Arcade, “somehow came across as a ‘70s villain, hence the music from my brothers [Geoff and Tim Follin].”
While the impact of Spider-Man and the X-Men in Arcade’s Revenge was not immediately evident, it later became clear. “At the time, Spider-Man was well-known in the UK but the X-Men much less so […] It’s only in retrospect that I can see what a big deal this title was.”
1993 – The Amazing Spider-Man 3: Invasion of the Spider-Slayers
The final Spider-Man game from Bits Studios, Invasion of the Spider Slayers was released for the Game Boy in 1993. Featuring the lesser-known Spider-Slayers as the main villains, the gameplay is similar to the games before it: a side-scrolling game featuring platforming puzzles leading to a level boss (in this game, Electro, Scorpion, and Alistair Smythe). Ultimately, the game was let down by its difficult controls and lack of variation from earlier titles and would be the final Spider-Man game released for the Game Boy.
1994 – Spider-Man and Venom: Maximum Carnage
Following Spider-Man and the X-Men, Software Creations continued utilising its arsenal of Marvel Comics characters with Spider-Man and Venom: Maximum Carnage. Featuring a plethora of superheroes—including Captain America, Iron Fist, and Morbius—the game was considered particularly important to the developers.
“I remember working quite a few late nights on this one,” said artist Haydn Dalton. “This was the first time, that I know of, that a game development team had hired animators from TV and cartoons […] I thought it was a great idea and got to work with some amazingly talented people.”
Some planned elements were ultimately scrapped from the game. “We originally had Spidey and Venom picking up and throwing cars, but we had to trash the idea, because the tech to do it came online too late to fully test and implement.”
The game was also successful commercially. “It was the first time I got a bonus; I think it was 300 quid! It was also the reason why we ended up doing the sequel: Separation Anxiety.”
1995 – Venom/Spider-Man: Separation Anxiety
Following Maximum Carnage, Software Creations worked on Separation Anxiety, also featuring the swinging hero working alongside his nemesis Venom. The game featured several improvements over its predecessor—namely a co-operative mode wherein players team up as the eponymous characters to defeat the evil symbiote Carnage. Separation Anxiety is also notable for its cameos from other significant Marvel Comics characters, including Captain America, Hawkeye, Daredevil, and Ghost Rider. Despite these advancements, the game was universally panned for its unimaginative gameplay and lack of variation from its predecessor, and it was Software Creations’s final Spider-Man game.
1995 – The Amazing Spider-Man: Lethal Foes
Japanese studios Argent and Epoch Co. released The Amazing Spider-Man: Lethal Foes for the Super Famicom (elsewhere known as the Super Nintendo Entertainment System) in March 1995. The game is notable for featuring a myriad of Marvel Comics characters, particularly those from the Spider-Man comics: Green Goblin, Venom, Scorpion, Mysterio, Doctor Octopus, Carnage, Human Torch, and Iron Fist. Also notable is the game’s cover art, which was designed by comic book artists Marg Bagley, Paul Mounts, and Karl Kesel. Unfortunately, the game was never released outside of Japan.
1995 – Spider-Man
Acclaim Entertainment’s final foray into the world of Spider-Man was in the eponymously titled 1995 game for the Genesis and SNES. Incorporating locations from Spider-Man: The Animated Series, which ran on Fox Kids in the mid-1990s, the game is focused on four of Spider-Man’s greatest enemies—Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, Alistair Smythe, and the Alien Spider-Slayer—escaping from Ravencroft Prison and destroying New York City. The game features six levels (five in the Genesis version), including the Brooklyn Bridge and J. Jonah Jameson’s penthouse. The title was panned for its uninteresting gameplay, unappealing graphics and art style, and poor music and sound quality.
1996 – Spider-Man: Web of Fire
The final game released for the Sega 32X (and thus one of the rarest for the system), Spider-Man: Web of Fire was a collaboration between BlueSky Software and Sega. Throughout the game, players fight against the terrorist agency H.Y.D.R.A. as it takes New York’s citizens hostage and traps them within the city. The game features several lesser-known Spider-Man villains and level bosses, including Thermite, The Eel, and Dragon Man. As Sega announced the discontinuation of the 32X prior to the game’s release, Web of Fire received little attention from gaming press and prompted a mediocre response.
The second part of OnlySP’s look back at the history of Spider-Man games, exploring the time period as the character made the move to 3D, is available here, and be sure to bookmark OnlySP and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.