After nearly two decades of successful Spider-Man titles on Atari 2600, Amiga, Game Boy, Nintendo Entertainment System, and the Sega Genesis, the turn of the millennium took the swinging superhero to 3D on the Sony PlayStation, Nintendo 64, and Sega Dreamcast. Activision received the video game rights to Marvel Comics properties for the 2000s, prompting a variety of games across different platforms—some original and some film adaptations. OnlySP continues its Spider-Man Week coverage with the second part of the history of Spider-Man games, looking at the beginning of the character’s 3D iterations.
2000 – Spider-Man
Developer Neversoft’s only Spider-Man game—simply titled Spider-Man—was released for the PlayStation in 2000 and later ported to Game Boy Color, Nintendo 64, Dreamcast, and PC. Despite being one of the most powerful platforms on the market at the time, the PlayStation lacked the capacity for a full, open-world Spider-Man game.
“For the outdoor city sequences, the PS1 did not have the power to allow us to create a full city below when Spidey was swinging around above,” lead designer Chad Findley told OnlySP. “So we created a story point that had the antagonists (Carnage and Doc Ock) using fumes to blanket the lower levels of the city to forward their plan, thus forwarding our plan of not building out entire cities with traffic [and] civilians.”
With great power, though, came great responsibility. “Licensing and cross-media deals are definitely way different now […] As long as we were staying true, we got to use every Spidey suit that had been written/drawn at that point as unlockables.”
“I got the awesome responsibility of voice-directing Stan Lee for the game,” Findley revealed. “This was super fun for me, having been such a comic nerd for so long […] His reaction after reading this to the mic once was ‘Who wrote this?’” When Findley revealed it was he who write it, Lee paused before replying “Well, it’s great!”
“I like to think he was shocked by how well I embraced the Stan Lee style… I hope.”
2001 – Spider-Man 2: The Sinister Six
Developer Torus Games—known for its simplistic handheld titles—worked with Activision on Spider-Man 2: The Sinister Six for the Game Boy Color in 2001. A sequel to the Game Boy Color version of Neversoft’s title, the game is a side-scrolling action title. In the game, Doctor Octopus kidnaps Aunt May and reassembles the eponymous Sinister Six—Sandman, Vulture, Mysterio, Scorpion, and Kraven—to track down and defeat Spider-Man. The game was praised for its enjoyable gameplay, though sound and graphics were deemed average for the time.
2001 – Spider-Man: Mysterio’s Menace
Vicarious Visions, which had ported the Game Boy Color version of Neversoft’s Spider-Man, developed an original title for the Game Boy Advance in 2001. As with The Sinister Six, Mysterio’s Menace is a side-scrolling action title in which players must fight some of Spider-Man’s great villains, including Rhino, Electro, Mysterio, and Big Wheel. The player is able to collect upgrades to improve Spider-Man’s health and strength and can collect suits to increase his defence. Mysterio’s Menace was lauded for its animation and presentation, though received some criticism for its gameplay.
2001 – Spider-Man 2: Enter Electro
Following 2000’s Spider-Man, Activision asked Neversoft to begin working on a sequel; however, the studio was busy developing Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater titles, and the code was handed to Vicarious Visions.
“We reviewed the first game and noticed you never really encountered more than four guys at a time,” said project coordinator and game designer Bret Dunham. “When I was scripting the scene just before the first boss fight, I accidentally cloned the four AI spawn locations three times [and] when we played the scene, performance was fine […] Because of that I was able to have 12 AI at a time, but they would walk through each other, so I placed them in spots where it was hard to walk freely around.”
The game’s production was halted following the September 11 attacks to remove references to any buildings resembling the World Trade Center; the final battle was originally set atop the Twin Towers, but the ending and epilogue was altered.
“By the way, the command to kill Spider-Man is ‘killbruce,’” Dunham laughed. “The engine was previously used for a Bruce Willis game.”
2002 – Spider-Man
Based on Sam Raimi’s film of the same name, Spider-Man was developed by Treyarch and released for PC, GameCube, PlayStation 2, Xbox, and Game Boy Advance in April 2002. Tobey Maguire and Willem Dafoe reprised their roles from the film as Peter Parker/Spider-Man and Norman Osborn/Green Goblin, respectively. Exterior levels take place on the skyscrapers of New York; Spider-Man cannot touch the ground without dying. The game also features several bonus outfits, including Peter Parker’s civilian clothes, his wrestling outfit from the film, and the Spider-Man costume designed by comic book artist Alex Ross. The title was well-received for its gameplay and presentation, but the short length and awkward camera let many players down. The game sold over two million copies within four years.
2004 – Spider-Man 2
Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 film also received a video game adaptation, with Treyarch taking the lead on development. Several other studios assisted with porting the game to different platforms: The Fizz Factor ported the game to PC, Digital Eclipse to Game Boy Advance, Activision to N-Gage, Aspyr to Mac OS X, and Vicarious Visions to Nintendo DS and PlayStation Portable (PSP). Gameplay differed per platform, but the core Treyarch version allowed the player to freely roam around New York, fighting street thugs akin to the later Batman: Arkham series.
The game’s DS and PSP versions maintained a frame rate of 60 frames-per-second, which the studio found difficult at the time. “You have to manage your level design and placement of enemies,” Vicarious Visions CEO Karthik Bala told IGN in 2004. “There are four megabytes of RAM on the DS, which is a huge step up from the GBA, but it’s still very limiting so we have to manage the memory carefully.”
Spider-Man 2 received a generally positive response upon release, with praise directed at the game’s open world and gameplay mechanics, and the game achieved high sales in the years to follow.
2005 – Ultimate Spider-Man
Treyarch returned to develop Ultimate Spider-Man, based on the comic book of the same name, in 2005; Vicarious Visions ported the game to DS and GBA, and Beenox developed the PC version. Ultimate Spider-Man is a beat-‘em-up game in which players control both Spider-Man and Venom as the two discover more about the Symbiote suit. The game features a long list of popular Marvel Comics characters, including the Human Torch, Wolverine, and Nick Fury, as well as several Spider-Man villains, such as Green Goblin, Rhino, Carnage, and Sandman. The game was well received for its diversity in missions and characters, though the repetitive gameplay garnered some criticism.
2006 – Spider-Man: Battle for New York
Torus Games returned to the world of Spider-Man for the handheld title Battle for New York in 2006. Released for the Game Boy Advance, Nintendo DS, and mobile phones, the game allows the player to assume control of both Spider-Man and his archenemy Green Goblin; while the former travels the city saving civilians and defeating criminals, the latter spends his time destroying objects and attacking security guards and S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. The game was poorly received by critics when it released and was Torus’s final game featuring the superhero.
2007 – Spider-Man 3
Based on the film, Spider-Man 3 was the final game developed by Vicarious Visions to feature the titular superhero. Interestingly, the game has three different versions dependent on platform, featuring a similar overall plot but varying villains.
The version of the game with the most significant changes is the Game Boy Advance version, presented as a 2D side-scrolling game with 2.5D characters. “I wanted a ‘rolling thunder’ style gameplay, so I convinced the programming team to add spawning doors,” said lead designer Bret Dunham. “I also decided to not use the same black suit mechanics that the DS and PlayStation used, [where] you would be penalised for using it too long […] You lost the suit if you were hit by an enemy [in the GBA version].”
2007 – Spider-Man: Friend or Foe
Based on Raimi’s entire Spider-Man trilogy, Friend or Foe was developed by Next Level Games for consoles, Artificial Mind & Movement for handheld, and Beenox for PC. In the game, Spider-Man finds himself against the enemies from the films—Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, Sandman, and Venom. With help from Nick Fury, Iron Fist, Black Cat, Lizard, Blade, and New Goblin, among others, the player travels the world to discover the mastermind behind the world’s pending doom. Friend or Foe was lauded for its inventive gameplay and humorous narrative, but some repetitive missions and awkward camera let the game down for many.