Hello, all! Welcome to my latest blog column, in which I dip into the past and pull out fragments of history both prominent and obscure. My #ThrowbackThursdayReviews will range from many different mediums, covering any movie, television series, and video game released at least ten years prior to my posting. (Sometimes, I’ll cheat around this criteria and provide “retrospective” reviews on sequels and spin-offs to older titles.) Feel free to leave comments and offer suggestions on any kind of entertainment medium you’d like me to review. Enjoy!!
It’s the year 2000, and with the dawn of the new millenium came an ambitious gaming developer’s maiden dive into the rocky waters of the infamous “superhero video game” genre. Neversoft Entertainment (1994-2014) had already established a reputation for delivering high-quality gaming, dishing out side-scrolling action-platformer Skeleton Warriors (1995) side-by-side with the accompanying toy-line and cartoon series (both of which were short-lived, but cherished admirably by niche fans), before taking on the third-person shooter crowd with MDK. I don’t think I need to remind you all of the universal acclaim that followed them with Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater back in 1999.
Even with their storied success, Neversoft certainly had their hands full with Spider-Man, a superhero action game in which they chose to borrow elements from the FOX animated cartoon series that had ended two years prior. Up until this point in the web-slinger’s interactive history, no one had ever dared to go 3D, and whatever we got as gamers beforehand ranged from cherished, underrated gems, to pure crap. Alas, Neversoft was up to the task, releasing the first-ever 3D Spider-Man video game. Neversoft’s Spider-Man hit shelves (in North America) on August 30th, 2000, and flew right off them; it became a classic faster than the webhead himself could spit out a witty quip hanging upside down.
From tight, intuitive controls, to a awe-inspiring level of detail and creativity, Spider-Man instantly won over gamers far and wide. It also demonstrates an extensive amount of reverence to its comic book derivation, transporting you into a world that’s not only ridiculously fun to play in, but one seeping in the same spandex-clad crime-fighting escapism that inspired it.
Spider-Man has a surprisingly interesting video game story, playing off of the colorful personalities of its characters and staying true to them throughout. The premise is simple, with Spider-Man supposedly being framed at a scientific demonstration before the New York City Police places a target on his head, and a frustrated Eddie Brock enacts revenge with the help of his budding symbiote. A “reformed” Doctor Octopus takes advantage of the incident, quietly gassing the ground floor of the entire city, while demonstrating his new leash on life by procuring costumed heroes and villains.
His grand scheme revolves around symbiosis: merging numerous samples of Carnage‘s symbiote together with the city’s inhabitants while he assumes control of everyone. There’s a lot of other villians in play throughout the campaign, but the conniving Doc Ock manages to manipulate their roles through contrivance, keeping Spidey in their crosshairs while he sets his master plan in motion.
Not only is this story simple enough to keep up with, it’s dexterous enough to feel like a plot destined to land in a comic book. Doc Ock’s efforts are as feasible as they are diabolical, while the revenge and frame job storylines brilliantly showcase the contrasting personalities between Spider-Man and his lawbreaking scoundrels. My favorite part of Spider-Man is the entirety of the “Enter Venom” chapter, as it indulges in this cheeky, playful exchange between Spidey and Venom as Mary Jane’s life hangs in the balance. It’s pulpy as hell, subverts all expectations, and really lets voice actors Rino Romano from Spider-Man: Unlimited and Daran Norris kick back and have a rollicking good time with the script.
Every character feels essential to the storyline in some way, shape or form, and watching Spider-Man bounce around the city never feels nauseating. Chapters are evenly divided like episodes in a serialized television series, allowing subplots to feel properly contained while they peel off layers to the overarching centerpiece of the story. Spider-Man also offers a number of really neat Marvel cameos, from Black Cat and Daredevil, to Captain America and The Punisher. Neversoft even went out of their way to throw in a few self-referential bits of their own as an added bonus.
You can make the point that Spider-Man‘s story ends just about the way you’d expect it to, but that clearly wasn’t the point in regards to its progression. The campy, “Saturday morning cartoon” ebb and flow of the game’s campaign is inviting, and the way it strides to have fun with the wall crawler’s various encounters up until the final boss fight makes it way more engaging than it has any business being. For its time, this was essential video game storytelling.
DESIGN & GAMEPLAY:
Spider-Man offers 34 levels in total, with over a half-dozen boss fights and a swirling variety of platforming segments, puzzles, and blockbuster-style action set-pieces. It’s often displayed in a very linear fashion: you start at point A, and then work your way to point B while taking on a large host of different assailants. Sometimes, you’ll have to do a little bit of back-and-forth to open up shafts or unlock doors, and you’ll even be tasked with hiding in the shadows as armed thugs rob a bank.
Variety is the spice of life in Spider-Man. Each level introduces a new style of play, from a sprawling chase scene atop the city skyscrapers, to an underground sewer maze riddled with secrets. In addition, enemy types are constantly shifting between levels, with their abilities fluctuating greatly to keep you on your toes. You’ll never know what Spidey has in store for him next, and that surge of dopamine you get when you save your game file and hop on to the next chapter is perpetuated not only in the game’s spontaneity, but in its fun factor.
Controlling Spider-Man is a breeze, as you swing across rooftops, get the jump on unsuspecting criminals, zip line up ceilings, crawl on walls and, of course, beat some sense into countless hordes of enemies. Controls are simple and easy to learn, and with a little bit of practice you’ll be stringing along some satisfying combos, gunning down foes from afar with web blasts, and dancing around projectiles with relative ease. The camera is fixed to Spidey’s movement, and the only true control you have of it is when you turn him around to have it focus on what’s ahead of him. This occasionally makes both combat and traversal a chore, specifically when our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man is confined in some not-so-friendly, tight corridors.
Luckily, this problem doesn’t carry over in the boss fights, as you’ll be searching anxiously for weakspots while Rhino‘s polymer horns stare you down with reckless abandon, and Scorpion stings you with his extensive, metallic tail as you hoist up office furniture in contest. Authenticity lies deep within the various assortment of activities within the game, but the boss fights here are where you’ll feel like Spider-Man the most. Neversoft knocked every single showdown out of the park, exhibiting the attributes that make each villain stand out while giving the player appropriate circumstances with which to expose their flaws. They’re all challenging, some of them a little on the “cheap” side (yeah, I’m looking at you, Mysterio!), but fun enough to exercise extended sessions of trial and error. But most importantly: success is immensely cathartic. Nothing, however, beats the horrifying sight of Monster-Ock, and the blood-boiling escape that follows. It’s easily one of the best levels I’ve ever played in a fifth-generation action game.
There’s no new game plus or anything like that, but there’s ample room within the game world to collect comic books, Spidey armor, and costumes. You can easily jump back into select levels after completing them to explore, or you can be lazy like I was and just type in some cheat codes. I’ve beaten Spider-Man multiple times in anticipation for this review, and let me be first to tell you in case no one else has: this game has extraordinary replay value. It truly becomes a different playing experience when you don the Black Spidey suit and take on the campaign all over again with unlimited webbing. Hardcore gamers will face quite a challenge on their hands diving back in on Hard mode with the Amazing Bag Man, knowing that they only hold up to two web cartridges at a time. The stealth mode available in Spider-Man Unlimited opens up a whole new way to take down foes. Spider-Man is as arcade-style an action game as they come, but there are layers of depth hidden within should you choose to pursue multiple playthroughs, and multiple Spideys.
Great video games have that “it” factor, where the music enhances the gameplay, the graphics pop, and the atmosphere peaks the player’s sense of imagination. Spider-Man does all of these things. It’s a very pretty game for its time, with sharply-detailed buildings and interiors, accurately-recreated characters, and a pleasing color palette that distinguishes each level from one another. Spider-Man himself is a showcase of Neversoft’s impressive graphical skills: He’s well-animated, moves gracefully through the sky as he’s swinging around the city, and just looks badass in combat. He even has his iconic Spidey-Sense here, and it bleeds right into the gameplay in informative, helpful ways. Villains and other NPCs are treated to the same attention to detail, and it shows especially when Venom wraps Spidey around his symbiote-cloaked arms, or Carnage extends himself across the screen in no time at all. Characters move convincingly, sometimes so convincingly they’re scary to look at, like, again, Venom and Carnage.
Voice over work is fantastic overall, with various alumni from both the mid-90s cartoon series and Spider-Man Unlimited reprising their roles. Stan Lee narrates throughout the game, holding off Bruce Campbell’s more facetious, satirical approach until the PS2 era of Spider-Man games. He’s great here, and if the game was looking for that little bit of extra “oomph” to seal its mark in video game history it definitely found it in the voice of the Spider-Man co-creator.
The soundtrack is a delicate range of industrial rock and nu metal, with some bongo-style drums sprinkled here and some electric keyboard there. Tommy Tallarico is responsible for putting it together, and despite a couple weak tracks he really compiled quite the impressive assortment of sounds here. Other sounds in the game, like sewage water dripping from the ceiling, missiles exploding over rooftops, or Spider-Man’s webbing sticking to enemies and surfaces, are all carefully edited and sound accurate.
Besides extra costumes, Spider-Man offers collectibles in the form of comic book covers, storyboards, and pre-rendered cutscenes that were peppered throughout the campaign. The pre-rendered cutscenes look awful by today’s standards, and I’m not convinced that they were blowing people away back in 2000, either, but they’re quirky for the most part and do a great job heightening the aesthetic portrayed in-game. The storyboards are okay, although if I’m being honest they didn’t move me much considering they’re virtually hand-drawn blueprints of the cutscenes. I love the curation of the comic book covers, though, as the game displays them with a detailed explanation behind the events explored in each one. As someone who’s never really read a ton of comics, I felt inclined to do my research and study up on all of the characters presented in the game just by passing by this expansive library of Spider-Man history.
I also love the animated approach to the menus. Spider-Man shifting about in the middle of the screen, the dualshock controller dangling by a web as you study the controls, the demo footage of Spidey beating up waves fo thugs; all these things culminate into a well-rounded package demanding your attention and answering with bottomless appeal in the process.
Neversoft’s Spider-Man is best known for its winning formula of strong gameplay, fun, varied levels, and an unceasing unpredictability – and rightfully so. It’s easy to lose yourself in this exaggerated comic book tale, and be wowed again and again by Neversoft’s outstanding attention to detail on all fronts. This game plays well for its age, looks good for its age, and enhances the relevance of its brand by both playing to and understanding its appeal.
This is a Spider-Man game in the same sense that the Arkhum trilogy is a collection of Batman games: it gives players the most realized version of the character, in an enthralling, authentic video game world that literally feels alive. I’ve played many Spider-Man games in my time, and I have yet to come across one as magical and as captivating as this one. Neversoft’s Spider-Man set the precedent for future Spider-Man games, and even 18 years later has stood the test of time as a classic title that absolutely deserves to be in every comic book fan’s video game collection.
+ Absolutely nails the feeling of playing as Spider-Man
+ Fantastic level design, and head-spinning level, enemy variety
+ Memorable boss fights
+ Top-tier presentation across the board
+ Fun, simple story with plenty of comic book flair
– Camera is occasionally frustrating to work with
– For a title at the tail end of the PSX cycle, the pre-rendered cutscenes leave a bit to be desired