Historically, superhero video games have been a little… well, I think "not good" would be an apt take here. Superman 64, for instance. When you’re controlling the all-powerful and eye-lasering Son of Krypton, you want to feel darn powerful. You don’t want to be flying through rings like it’s freaking Baby’s First Highly-Questionable Flight Sim.
That game released way back in 1999, but it’s still exuding a pungent smell over the industry. Superhero titles, and licensed games in general, still have a bit of a stigma attached to them, and for good reason. All too often, they’re just considered cheap cash-ins released to tie-in with the movie. Publishers hire two fourth graders to code the game over recess, then send it out into stores and cackle into the resultant bounds of cash like Scrooge McDuck.
This is a terrible snarky generalization, though. Recently, games like the Arkham series have proven that it’s possible to do fantastic things with these established, iconic characters. You just have to be willing to put the darn effort in.
Another example, of course, would be the superb Marvel’s Spider-Man, a PS4 exclusive that launched earlier this month. The game has its flaws like any other, but Insomniac’s first shot at the license has been a resounding success. The fastest-selling PlayStation exclusive of all-time, in fact.
While we’re all enjoying Peter Parker’s latest adventure, let’s take a look back at the best and worst of the web-slinger’s previous video games. It’s been a bumpy ride for the guy, that’s for darn sure.
30 WORST: Spider-Man: Friend Or Foe — I Don’t Want To Be Your Friend
I’m a little conflicted here. I can’t decide whether the idea of a hero teaming up with his greatest enemies is the height of hackneyed ‘cool’ or the greatest slice of fanservice ever. It’s really both at once.
That’s the plot of 2007 multiplatform adventure Spider-Man: Friend Or Foe, anyway. Rhino, Scorpion and the like have been placed under mind control by an unknown villain (later revealed to be Mysterio), and on defeating them, they promise to aid him in defeating the threat.
A cool concept for long-time fans, I guess, but it’s little more than an easy and repetitive beat ‘em up.
29 WORST: The Amazing Spider-Man — Amazing By Amiga Standards, Maybe
Now, the flaw here should have been evident right from the start. As far as I’m concerned, when it comes to superhero video games, the most important thing is that you feel like said superhero (as every reviewer ever has been saying just lately). You want to feel powerful, you want to spin a web any size and capture thieves just like flies.
1990’s The Amazing Spider-Man didn’t really capture that whole spirit. It’s a super slow-paced puzzler of sorts, with precious little combat. It’s a no from me.
28 BEST: Marvel’s Spider-Man — Worth All The Sleep Insomniac Lost
Ah, yes. Now we’re talking, friends. If the Amiga’s The Amazing Spider-Man was a misstep, then Marvel’s Spider-Man is a stark lesson in how to treat a precious license right.
As I’m sure you’ve been hearing lately, Spider-Man for PS4 is a real triumph. These days, its free-roaming and raft of collectibles are nothing new, but the webhead has never starred in such an open and expansive title. The story is gripping if a little ‘safe’ (comic book- wise), there’s tonnes to do and the combat is hugely satisfying and enjoyable.
27 WORST: Spider-Man And The Cap In Doctor Doom’s Revenge —Fanservice Gone Wrong
Another guiding principle to licensed game design is (well, should be) that the end result is a game that is simply good. Not only on the strength of its license, but outside of it too.
Very few developers over the years have gotten this right. Spider-Man In Doctor Doom’s Revenge tried to throw everybody at us back in 1989/1990.
Not only the three titular icons, but obscure cast members like Boomerang, Oddball and Machete.
Another slow, meandering brawler, this one also suffered from unresponsive controls. Batroc the Leaper? Who in holy heckola is that?
26 WORST: Spider-Man: Battle For New York — A DS Stroke-Athon
This one was an early release for the Nintendo DS (also appearing on Game Boy Advance), and you know what that means: shonky touchscreen minigames shoehorned where the sun doesn’t shine. Arming and disarming with the touchscreen is a neat touch the first time, but totally slows the pace down to comatose one-legged tortoise territory.
Outside of that, the ability to play as the main antagonist (Norman Osborne, Green Goblin) was nice, but did little to save this samey, plodding adventure. Stopping the Goblin from taking over New York? I think (I THINK) we’ve been down this road before, Spider-Man: Battle For New York.
25 BEST: Spider-Man — Neversoft Don’t Disappoint
Around the turn of the millennium, a lot of iconic video game characters were making their first tentative forays into the brave new world of 3D. Super Mario 64, Metal Gear Solid and the like may look totally shonky now, graphic-wise (why do Snake and all the other characters look like their faces have been sheared off by sandpaper), but they’re fantastic titles.
So, too, was Spider-Man’s first 3d adventure. It was simply named Spider-Man, and first released by Neversoft for the PS1 (and Game Boy Color, but 3D was just a shade beyond that system) in 2000. Very innovative.
24 WORST: Spider-Man 3 — The Edgelord Rises
As with any actor who portrays a much-beloved character, fans have all kinds of mixed feelings about Tobey McGuire’s performance. It’s not the sort of thing that we can ever come to an agreement on, so it’s best to just leave it that way.
Of McGuire’s movie trilogy, Spider-Man 3 has been seen to be the most questionable (read: edgy). The same’s true of the accompanying game, really. While it didn’t do anything offensively wrong, it simply repeated the formula of the previous title (the much-acclaimed Spider-man 2) and felt far too much like a shallow retread as a result.
23 WORST: Spider-Man: The Animated Series — Holy Heck, Spider-Man!
Speaking of adaptions of popular licenses, TV shows of comic books have been a mixed bag too. The Spider-Man animated series from the 90s is held in super-high regard by most fans, which is a rare thing, but… they had to go and try to make a video game out of it, didn’t they?
This unfortunate abomination hit the Genesis and SNES in 1994.
This was a time when both systems were pumping out excellent software that pushed them to their limits, but Spider-Man didn’t give a single heckola about that. His game looked bad and controlled much worse.
22 BEST: Spider-Man: Web Of Shadows — Come Out Of The Shadows, It’s Fine
While some fans have happily put Insomniac’s Marvel’s Spider-Man right up on a pedestal as the Best Spider-Man Game Ever™, others will not stand for that. They’ll cite others as their favorites, and Spider-Man: Web Of Shadows is quite a popular choice.
This 2008 multiplatform release was widely praised for its creative (and original) story, satisfying combat, excellent boss battles and quality voice acting. Not to mention the implementation of the symbiote suit and the moral decisions attributed to it. Sure, it has its foibles too (where the heckles is the camera going), but this one still holds up well.
21 WORST: Spider-Man: Web Of Fire — I Fell Into A Burning Web Of Fire
I went down, down, down and the flames went higher. Sorry, don’t mind me, I’m just singing along to Johnny Cash and showing my age in all kinds of ways.
Hurrying right along, Spider-Man: Web Of Fire is one of the web-slinger’s more obscure titles. It was released for the Sega 32X, right around the time that Sega announced they were dropping the ill-fated system.
As a result, nobody gave a single heckola about it. It was a simple affair that set the spider against some of his equally-obscure foes (Dragon Man? The Eel? The New Enforcers in general?), now known only for its rarity (and so its value among collectors).
20 WORST: Spider-Man And The X-Men In Arcade’s Revenge — Stop Name-Dropping Already
Speaking of obscure foes, Arcade is hardly the most popular among Marvel’s great repertoire of villains. Be that as it may, though, he apparently managed to defeat and imprison both Spider-man and the X-Men. Quite how this happened, I can’t imagine. Maybe he used a big net or something.
Never mind that, though. What’s important is that Spider-Man And The X-Men In Arcade’s Revenge sees Peter traveling through levels associated with each of the captive X-Men (Wolverine, Cyclops, Storm, and Gambit) in order to free them.
The idea was quite good, but the execution was marred by technical problems.
19 BEST: Spider-Man 2 — Simply The Best?
As I say, there are a select few Spider-Man video games that some still prefer over Insomniac’s blockbuster effort. One of these was Web of Shadows, as we’ve seen, and another would have to be Spider-Man 2.
This game-of-the-movie was the first title to really bring us the freedom to web swing around New York City. To BE Spider-Man, essentially.
Marvel’s Spider-Man offers a graceful, simple swinging style, but there are still rafts of gamers who feel that Spider-Man 2 just nailed this crucial aspect. The game was completely revolutionary in 2004.
18 WORST: The Amazing Spider-Man — You Know, It’s Not So Amazing
Earlier in this rundown, we saw the Amiga edition of The Amazing Spider-Man. Now, thanks to the unimaginative nature of superhero video game naming conventions, we’re back with another.
The Amazing Spider-Man was also released for the original Game Boy in 1990. In this version, Peter’s wife Mary Jane is being held hostage, and he’s off on a simplistic sidescrolling platforming romp to find her.
The worst part about all this? The cheesetastic conversations Spider-Man has with the villains between levels. On a walkie-talkie.
This was the early 90s, after all.
17 WORST: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 — Twice As Amazing?
The amazement doesn’t end there, friends. Oh, heckles no. next up, we have The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which released just four short years ago. It may have arrived 24 years after our last entry (not that the two games are related in any sort of war bar name, you understand), but it’s not really any better.
It arrived at an awkward time during the console transition, which saw it released for Xbox 360 and PS3 as well as Xbox One and PS4. The last gen version suffered from terrible technical issues, and even the current-gen versions seemed sloppy and rushed.
16 BEST: Ultimate Spider-Man — Ultimate Indeed
In a lot of ways, I guess you could say that Ultimate Spider-Man nails all of the elements required for a good Spider-Man title. The missions are varied, you spend a lot of time web-swinging your way around Manhattan and Queens, there are a heaping helping of samey goons to pummel into sad, defeated hunks of spam… what more could you ask for? Nothing, that’s what.
This 2005 multiplatform title saw the player completing missions as both Spider-Man and Venom and managed to juggle the pacing of both well. It suffered from frustrating bosses, but is a great package overall.
15 WORST: Spider-Man 2 (PC) — The Black Sheep Of The Family
So, yes. Earlier, I praised the heckola out of Spider-Man 2. Many fans would agree with my statement that, for the time, this was pretty well the definitive Spider-Man gaming experience.
There’s one caveat that, though. You’ve got to play on console, because the PC port was just diabolical.
The PC version tells a different story, and does not allow free exploration of the city. It isn’t rated teen like the console versions are, either, which made for an all-round much weaker experience. The port was not handled by Treyarch, you see, which is what went wrong here.
14 Questprobe Featuring Spider-Man — Party Like It’s 1984
Speaking as a world-weary 30-year-old, I’m quite glad to say that I managed to miss out on most of the 80s. Judging by the fashions, music and enormous Walkmans the size of the average studio apartment, I don’t feel as though I’m really missing anything there.
Questprobe is another old relic I’m happy to be without. This was a trilogy of graphical adventure games featuring Marvel characters. They were as simple as you’d expect of gaming back in 1984. Picture Zork with Spider-Man visuals, if you dare.
13 BEST: Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions — I’ve Been To The Year 2099
As comic fans know, Marvel and DC are not afraid to go a little shonky with their timelines. They hop back and forth between parallel worlds and impossible dimensions more often than dang Doctor Who. Offshoots and alternative stories are being told all over the freaking place.
This offers a neat opportunity when it comes to video games. In 2010’s Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions, four different versions of the character were playable, in a story that crossed over all of the dimensions. It could have been a confused mess, but it was managed very well and was super fun to play.
12 WORST: Spider-Man: Return Of The Sinister Six — It Really Is Sinister
This 1992 NES, Master System, and Game Gear title didn’t look all that offensive, true enough. It was bright, colorful, and captured the look of the character and the environments quite well. For its day, it scrubbed up quite nicely.
The trouble with this sidescroller was its finicky controls. Latching to platforms above you and swinging from them was a real chore at times, and the collision detection would sometimes see your attacks seem to pass straight through an opponent harmlessly. A real shame for the spider, this one.
11 WORST: The Punisher: The Ultimate Payback! — What Am I Even Doing Here?
That’s right, friends. As the more astute among have probably already noticed, The Punisher: The Ultimate Payback is not a Spider-Man game.
Not in the traditional sense, that is, because there sure is a whole heaping helping of Spider-Man in this non-Spider-Man game that isn’t a Spider-Man game.
We’re looking at a 1991 Game Boy adaption of a Punisher game, first released on the NES the year before. During gameplay, Spider-Man swings in to offer advice and rescue hostages, despite the fact that these two have wildly different methods and would never work together. Why did this happen again?
10 BEST: Spider-Man: Edge Of Time — One More Time
As we saw with Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions, the idea of flitting between the different incarnations of the character can be very effective when pulled off right. Its sequel, Spider-Man: Edge of Time, was also excellent, though it only brought two different versions of the character along for the ride.
The vanilla Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2099 was the protagonist, and the game utilized a clever cause-and-effect system where your actions as one would affect various things in the other’s time. Opinion Is divided as to whether it lived up to its predecessor, but certainly a solid entry.
9 WORST: Spider-Man: Separation Anxiety — I’d Happily Leave It Behind
Venom is one of those supervillains who is equally as popular as the hero of the piece, and fans tend to feel super protective of him. As such, the ability to play as both Spidey and Venom has to be handled carefully.
Sadly, Spider-Man: Separation Anxiety didn’t seem to get that memo. A simplistic SNES/Genesis beat ‘em up from 1995, it was characterized by repetitive and super annoying combat (getting stuck in chain hits is not a fun time for anyone concerned). A sad waste of potential.
8 WORST: Spider-Man 3: Invasion Of The Spider Slayers — You Slay Me
If you’re not a dedicated fan of the comic books, you may never have heard of the Spider-Slayers. They’re a series of bizarre-looking robots, designed to… well, slay Spider-Man. They were created by Alistair Smythe, who blamed Peter for the loss of his father, Spencer Smythe.
The Spider-Slayers haven’t cropped up much since their creation in the comics in 1992-3. At the same time, Spider-Man 3: Invasion Of The Spider-Slayers was released for the Game Boy. It was… well, Spidey has never fared all that well on the Game Boy, and this is no exception.
7 BEST: Spider-Man 2: Enter Electro — Electrifying
We’ve already taken a look at the PS1 (and other formats) Spider-Man adventure, the webslinger’s first bold journey into 3D. As the title was successful, it spawned a sequel, Spider-Man 2: Enter Electro, which was exclusive to PlayStation.
How did it fare? Not quite as well as its predecessor, sadly.
It had a troubled development, with delays caused by the September 11th attacks (a set piece between Spider-Man and Electro atop the Twin Towers had to be scrapped), and was never quite the game it could have been as a result. Nevertheless, another very solid effort.
6 WORST: Spider-Man Unlimited — Unlimited Energy? Heck No!
Now, a lot of gamers have made a lot of snarky comments about mobile games. They’re cheap tie-ins, they’re not substantial enough, they’re made to sucker us out of our money via microtransactions. To be fair, depending on the title, all of these things are totally true.
Spider-Man Unlimited is a bit different, though. A very successful endless runner with a lot of appeal, it’s critically let down by its reliance on the super cheap energy system. Remember Hogwarts Mystery, how it would leave you at the mercy of devil’s snare unless you paid crystals? It’s like that. No excuse.
5 WORST: Spider-Man: Toxic City — No Need To Be Too Toxic About It
While we’re here in the wacky world of mobile games, how about another? Spider-Man: Toxic City attempts to do what the spider does best: A high-octane action title with goons (of the super and regular varieties), web-swinging and collectibles.
It’s an admirable attempt, true enough, and the presentation is pretty darn nice. It’s just a shame that Toxic City suffers from a lot of issues that seem to be rife among Spider-Man titles: the controls are all kinds of questionable, and it’s just too short.
4 BEST: Spider-Man — Getting It Right The First Time?
As we’ve seen, Spider-Man 2 takes a lot of the accolades when you look back at the character’s history in video games. Its innovative web-swinging and the feeling of traversing the big city… it was just golden back then. With all of that said, we can’t forget 2002’s Spider-Man either.
It had its flaws, certainly (Tobey McGuire’s voice acting left quite a lot to be desired, it was also very short), but this adventure was very well received by critics and players. A solid foundation the developers later built from.
3 WORST: Spider-Man 2: The Sinister Six — Guess Who’s Back, Back Again
Now, I can’t help but feel that I’ve missed trick here. We’ve already looked at Return of the Sinister Six, now they’re just plain old being The Sinister Six. They returned before they arrived. Still, that’s just what these tricksters are like.
This 2001 Game Boy Color title was a follow-up to the previous year’s Spider-Man for the Game Boy Color, and is cut from very similar cloth.
It’s harmless enough and threw some more iconic baddies into the mix, but it’s very uninspired and safe.
2 WORST: Spider-Man And Venom: Maximum Carnage — Where’s The Carnage You Promised Us?
Now, this really was disappointing, friends. If you’re going to name a game Spider-Man And Venom: Maximum Carnage, you’d better offer something pretty darn special. Venom and Carnage rampaging around, more destruction and explosions than Arnold Schwarzenegger’s entire filmography, all that good stuff.
What did we get instead? A rather pedestrian SNES/Genesis brawler. The predecessor to Separation Anxiety, this one was plagued by an endless stream of identikit enemies and a very limited selection of moves to dispatch them with. It could have been so much more.
1 BEST: Spider-Man: The Video Game — An Arcade Classic
In the 90s, arcade culture was a real and fantastic thing. These were places that you could go to with your buddies after school, hang out and play a few rounds of Street Fighter or whatever game you fancied. These places are all but extinct now, sadly.
One of Sega’s many excellent arcade titles was Spider-Man: The Video Game. It released in 1991, classic beat ‘em up action offering four heroes to play as: Spider-Man, Black Cat, Hawkeye, and Sub-Mariner. Odd choices, perhaps, but the game boasted some of the most solid superhero action out there.