Superhero games used to have a proud (slash-shameful) tradition of badness, from the notoriously atrocious Superman 64 to a whole slew of Batman, Superman, and Spider-Man side-scrollers that were nothing short of disastrous. By the turn of the millennium, it was considered common knowledge that an enjoyable superhero game would never be produced. However, Neversoft (of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater fame) somehow managed to cobble together an enjoyable mixture of elements in 2000’s Spider-Man, succeeding where so many others had failed and paving the way for other excellent superhero games.
It’s aged a bit, though
Back when it was released, Spider-Man was the greatest superhero game ever created. After a few years and a few games that have become legitimate contenders for the honor of “best superhero game,” however, it has to settle for being a surprisingly entertaining blast from the past. That’s not to say that it’s any less fun to play than it was the day it was released, though—newer superhero games have just managed to have better pacing overall.
Speaking of pacing…
If Spider-Man has an Achilles heel, it’s definitely its poor pacing; the beginning of the game is a lot of fun, letting you swing around a (very) small city and beat up baddies who are walking around on roofs for no apparent reason, but the middle part of the game involves traipsing around in narrow sewers and isn’t very fun as a result. Granted, Spider-Man is a short enough game that this middle section doesn’t last too overbearingly long, but it could potentially drive players away before they’ve reached the great sections near the end of the game.
Spider-Man has always sported a uniquely campy tone, dealing with clones, enemies in super suits, and one-liners with equal aplomb, and the game reflects this in every way. From the familiar menu music (compare this to this) to many characters’ tendency to use one-liners and movie references, this is a game that doesn’t try to make the character realistic and believable like modern superhero games do. Instead, Spider-Man embraces the campy weirdness that defines the characters and commits to it 100%, throwing you into increasingly ridiculous situations for equally ridiculous reasons.
The single greatest part of this game is that you really do feel like Spider-Man. Not only are you strong, agile, and able to swing around using webs, but you can attack people with different kinds of web attacks, attack from the air, and even climb around on ceilings and walls to avoid enemies.
Of course, we’re not dealing with the Tobey Maguire version of Spider-Man who magically creates webs himself, so you have to find web cartridges to use like in the 90s cartoon. Even swinging around uses small amounts of web fluid, forcing you to save your webbing for when you really need it. However, in true Spider-Man fashion, you’re able to unlock multiple costumes that come with different benefits, and one of the most common benefits is unlimited webbing. Anyone who grew up watching the 90s cartoon or reading the comic books will appreciate these costumes, from the (awesome) black suit that Spider-Man gets when he merges with Venom to the Captain Universe costume. You can either unlock these costumes by playing through the game and fulfilling certain criteria, or just being lazy and entering the code that unlocks everything (including a level select that allows you to skip the tedious middle sections).
Versions and prettiness
Spider-Man has been released for a bunch of platforms, so there’s virtually no excuse for not playing it, though the graphics look a bit different on the different platforms. The game was originally designed for the Playstation 1, though it’s been ported to the PC, Dreamcast, and Nintendo 64, and I find the original to be a bit on the blocky side (like most PS1 games). Personally, I grew up with the N64 version that has nice antialiased edges, so I’m inclined to like that version slightly more despite its lack of the original’s pre-rendered video, but it really comes down to personal taste in the end; the Nintendo 64 version replaces the videos with storyboards that have a lot of the dialogue written rather than spoken, but whether that’s ultimately a good thing or a bad thing will depend on whether you like the comic book feel of that version more than the actual videos.
I’ve always loved the Spider-Man soundtrack; it doesn’t fall neatly into any one category, though it tends to sound like a mix between rock/metal and funk. That description is vague and probably not very helpful, though, so here are some examples of what the music often sounds like:
Here’s what you should do: