This year marks the 20th anniversary of Spider-Man: The Animated Series, a show near and dear to my, and I’m assuming a lot of people’s, heart. To mark that event, a lot of the talent from the show reunited over this past weekend to discuss the now classic animated series that ran on the FOX Kids programming block from 1994 to 1998, as well as announce an all new project that will bring the group together one more time. To celebrate the show, I thought it relevant to look at 1995’s Spider-Man: The animated Series (or simply “Spider-Man” for short,) on the SNES.
It’s difficult for me to review this game objectively, because it, and the show it took inspiration from, were such an important part of my childhood. I taped off the episodes every week to re-watch over and over, I collected and played with the action figures and more than likely ran about my house singing the guitar riff opening them from Aerosmith’s Joe Perry, something that’s recreated in the opening minutes of turning on the game.
Spider-Man isn’t billed as tie-in game from the cover, with “The Animated Series” sub-title being added on by fans much like adding the “64” to Superman, but it clearly takes inspiration from the show in many ways. As mentioned above it opens with a rendition of the show’s theme song and certain characters, namely Doc Ock, are designed to look like their animated counterparts.
1994’s Spider-Man The Animated Series was known for its melodramatic and often heart-breaking story lines, but that doesn’t reflect in the games narrative. There’s been a mass break out at Ravencroft, releasing Spider-Man’s deadliest foes from confinement and it’s up to you as the title character to bring put them back into their place. Part of this game’s advertising in comics and magazines was it’s “20 to 1” tagline, referring to the ratio of villains to Spider-Man (NOTE: an excellent note on selling this game as a potential birthday gift to your parents back in 1995) and it is no false claim.
On top of the five major bosses: Doc Ock, the Tri-Spider-Slayer, Green Goblin, Smythe and finally Venom, you’ll come face-to-face with numerous sub-bosses including Mysterio, Rhino, Scorpion, The Lizard and Shocker to name a few. There’s no clever set up for any of them appearing, they just kind of…show up though some are placed better than others. For example, you’d expect to fight the Lizard in the sewers and the Scorpion in J. Jonah Jameson’s penthouse, but I’m at a loss for why the Rhino would be running up and down the Coney Island boardwalk. LJN, the publisher of the game, it seems was more concerned with having as many foes as possible with no intention of giving them a clever reason to be where they are.
At around six stages, Spider-Man isn’t a long game but it is challenging, however not in a good way, and that’s due in large to the games controls. Spider-Man has a lot of moves: a punch, a kick, web-swinging on the R-Button and sticking to certain surfaces with the L-Button, but they fail at all the wrong times. Your character has two speeds: a brisk stroll and a turbo run triggered by holding L that can cause you to accidentally fall under a falling trap or into a hole, eating away your precious lives. Collision detection, in particular when fighting the bosses, feels imprecise, which creates some frustration as you never know if you’re doing damage and what it is you should be doing to correct that. Contrast this with the regular stage enemies who seem to walk into your crouching kicks or right into your flimsy feeling web attacks.
The player has the ability to “do whatever a spider can” as the song goes, but doing so accurately and reliably is not always the case. You can only stick to certain surfaces and even getting on the ones you’re allowed to be on can be a chore. Level three of this game takes a break from all of the bosses and challenges you with swinging across the bottom of the Brooklyn bridge, something that sounds easy on paper, but your web line has a mind of its in own in choosing what it will and will not attach to.
Outside of your spider-powers, Spider-Man gets access to a few gadgets like an armor upgrade that absorbs damage for a set number of hits and a few grenade types. Hidden in most of the games levels are sewer entrances that house a lot of spare lives and additional power-ups that let also let you summon each member of the Fantastic Four. While it’s cool to have these additions in the game, I never found a situation where they were useful other than as a novelty to see them for the first time; Off the top of my head I couldn’t tell you what either of the grenade type does.
A problem I have with a lot of modern Spider-Man games is that they’re all set within New York City and it can get a little bit boring, which is something that fortunately is not the case here. You start out in the ESU laboratory and make your way to a construction site, a fun house full of creations from the Tinkerer, the penthouse of J. Jonah Jameson and eventually Ravencroft itself where the gameplay changes up a little by forcing you to collect keys and lower force fields. The characters themselves all look great and immediately recognizable, though the animation doesn’t quite match up with how good they look, in particular Spider-Man who runs like he really has to go to the bathroom.
Perhaps what’s more interest than seeing what’s around the corner environmentally is hearing the next song in the game’s rather insane soundtrack, especially the fourth stages theme that randomly features clown laughs and crazy screaming. That song in particular is the real takeaway from this game for me nineteen years after the fact, and is really worth playing up to this point to hear it for yourself.
LJN produced a lot of mediocre to absolutely terrible Marvel licensed games, and while this game is no Adamantium Rage, it’s no Maximum Carnage either, existing somewhere in between. It’s not frustratingly difficult to the point of rage quitting, nor is it nostalgic fun, just a run of the mill side-scroller starring Spider-Man set in a universe of a well-loved animated series. If you see if on sale for cheap I’d encourage checking it out if nothing for some of the music alone, but there’s much better 16-bit games starring Spider-Man out there that you probably have in your collection already.