(Activision for the PlayStation)
by Eric Johnson
Spider-Man is a big step in the right direction for the long but superhumanly unimpressive list of video games based on comic books. At it’s core, this may be a rather generic, level-based, run & jump three-dimensional platform game, but its character control is so fluid, unique, and fun and its translation of the material is so faithful, it eclipses any and all previously released superhero console titles.
The powers derived from a “radioactive spider” bite endowed an awkward Long Island teenager with superhuman reflexes and strength, as well as the ability to jump thirty feet in the air and climb up any surface like a bug. He can’t fly, a speeding locomotive would kill him, and the only gadgets he gets to use are a pair of web shooters, yet he swings between New York skyscrapers like Tarzan. Translating the classic, hands-below-the-crotch, legs-over-the-head, one-hand-outstretched-to-fire-off-another-web pose thirty floors above Manhattan’s financial district image of Spider-Man into an enjoyable video game was a challenge the producers of this title met with valor. The controls are simple but take a little getting used to. Your character tends to react too quickly, for example. Just tapping the jump button gives you a vertical leap of about ten feet. If you happen to hit the ceiling, you’ll stick there and you can crawl around a bit. If you’re stuck to one wall and a guy’s shooting at you, the tap of a button could snare him in a soupy mass of spider spooge or zip you to a wall on the opposite side of a room. Much like standing on your desk, Spider-Man manages to feel fresh even though it isn’t original at all.
The plot is standard-issue comic book fodder: A procession of superpowered villains and standard-issue thugs produce a series of crisis situations that our hero must deal with while trying to figure out precisely who’s masterminding the whole thing. It’s all narrated by Stan Lee and packed with alternate costumes and instant action scenarios to make sure you get your money’s worth. The graphics take advantage of a basic comic book color palate and are generally simple and effective. The sound is just fine, the dialog is vintage all-ages comic book banter, and the rotating blades of a pursuing helicopter are convincing enough. One thing to take note of, Spider-Man comics came out a few years before X-Men and never exhibited the dark mood, tortured characterization or adult themes explored in that series. The lack of that edge endows both the comic and the game with a tongue-in-cheek innocence that makes this release accessible to all audiences. While not geared specifically toward kids, it does occasionally feel that way. It’s worth checking out as the first decent superhero video game, but it’s not the type of game I would spend money on at this point. If I had my way, the greater majority of Manhattan would be rendered, or some way would be found to give the player a variety of challenges to choose from. The game is too constricted and level-based for my liking. It is, however, a huge step in the right direction, and future releases of this type should do their best to emulate the parts that work. X-Men sure could use this treatment if they ever escape from Street Fighter knock off limbo.