Stuck in a Building
Questprobe: Featuring Spider-man
As he is a superhero, one would expect SpidermanSure, DC Comics has Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, but among the most popular superheroes stands a guy from Marvel Comics, a younger hero dressed in red and blue who shoots webs and sticks to walls. Introduced in the 1960s, Spider-Man has been a constant presence in comics and more, featured in movies regularly since his big screen debut in 2002. would appear in action packed games. We've seen some weird examples of early adventures featuring superheroes, like like the puzzling platformer Batman or the puzzle game collection of Superman: The Game, but those games couldn't prepare me for the sheer tedium of Questprobe: Featuring Spider-man. Those games at least tried (however poorly) to have some kind of action elements within them. This sad Spidey adventure, though, takes the worst direction for the web-head I could imagine: it slaps him in a text adventure.
This is not to disparage text adventures, mind you. There are some fantastic text adventures that can absolutely suck you in, presenting richly detailed worlds through their detailed text. Or, if you push forward just a little, the graphical text adventures, such as those created by Sierra Online, provided detailed worlds that still had flavor text to give you a full presentation. Questprobe: Featuring Spider-man is not that kind of game. It's like the worst of both worlds, with only minimal text but also minimal pictures, to give you the most basic of adventures. In short, it sucks.
Mind you, I actually played this game way back in the day (although not anywhere near the time of its original release). I had a friend that got an Atari compatible computer that could play a version of this game and we sat there for about an hour trying to parse out what the hell we were supposed to do. We were Spider-man, standing around in a goofy hallway, force to walk around and try to see if there was anything worth doing. After about an hour we decided that, no, there wasn't anything worth doing and we stopped play. Far as I know he got rid of that computer a month later.
Going back to this game three decades later, I really did hope that my initial impression of the game was wrong. Maybe, with a little guide to help me figure out the game (which we didn't have when we played it in the days before the Internet made finding all of that easy) I could actually find things to appreciate about the game. But I didn't. Even knowing what to do and where to go, I found the game to be an interminable chore. It's not interesting or exciting or even mysterious, it's just boring. Long and slow and boring. It's bad.
Released in 1984, this Spider-man adventure was the second of three games in the Questprobe series, the other two being The Hulk and The Human Torch and the Thing. Designer Scott Adams (not the Dilbert guy) had hoped to make a whole series of these, releasing a new adventure ever couple of months or so, to keep the Questprobe line alive. While I can appreciate his ambition, once you get into the game you can easily see why that never happened.
As Spider-man, you are dropped into an empty hallway in an office building. You are trapped there, unable to escape until you complete a quest set out by Madame Web: find all the gems scattered throughout the building and bring them back to her. Only then can the webbed hero escape out of the building. So you'll walk around, sometimes clinging to walls or scuttling through air ducts, moving objects, lifting furniture, and draining aquariums, all so you can find every last hidden gem and complete the game. You'll also encounter a number of villains, from Doc-Orc to the Lizard, Hydro-Man and the Ringmaster, all of whom will have to be dealt with (through the power of puzzles) to find every last secret.
Let's start with the first big issue with the game: your quest isn't actually detailed in the game at all. A comic book came with the game if you bought it new and it would tell you the story and everything you needed to know. If, like myself and my friend, you got this game secondhand, though, good luck getting a copy of that comic as well. And if you don't have the details of the story and your quest, there's no way you're going to know what to do. No one in the game tells you that you have to get the gems and bring them back to Madame Web, nor how many there are in the game. You just have to know, and that's absolutely ridiculous.
If you do know what you're doing though, this just raises further questions. Why is it that the best quest the designers could come up with was going around, collecting gems? First, a collect-a-thon is a boring quest for your spider-based superhero. There had to be other things they could have him do than just wander around randomly collecting shiny objects. But even if that was all they wanted for the hero, couldn't they have had him collect something on brand for the hero. He's finding these things and bringing them back to Madame Web, so why not spider egg sacks, or some kind of healing gel to restore the superheroine? In the comics she was dying of a disease, so some kind of cure could have been a good quest for the hero to take.
Dumber still is the fact that somehow Spider-man is just stuck in this building. There are street level heroes where, if you put them in an office building with certain floors locked off, they would be trapped in there. Spider-man, though, can climb walls. You're expected to do this in the game, even scaling along certain portions of the exterior of the building. How do you trap a hero like that inside a building? He can just climb away, never to be seen again. This was a design decision that is inexcusable.
Even still, if you're going to set a game in a building, at least make it visually interesting. Most of the game takes place in the same passages of halls and ducts, all of which look the same. It's easy to get lost in the game because every floor you can access has the same nondescript passages over and over again. It's worse in the ducts, which are a total maze that stretches in all six directions, and the same background is used for every section. It was awful to try and navigate, and I had a guide sitting next to me the whole time.
I think the part that annoyed me the most, though, was that once I had all the gems, and brought them back to Madame Web (carelessly dropping them at her feet), that was it. There wasn't a single end cut scene for the game, no bit of credits roll or anything. I had to manually check my score myself to see if I'd done it all and only then did the game say, "oh, yeah, congrats. You did it!" It's the most lackluster ending I think I've ever seen in a video game, and that's a low bar considering how many games of the NES era simply ended with a single card saying "The End." This was just gallingly bad.
As a child I hated this game because I couldn't figure out what to do, where to go, or even the point of it all. Now, as an adult, I hate it because it's just an ineptly made, poorly designed bit of software. I kind of get the limitations of what the designers had to work with, and I understand trying to do what you can when you're lucky enough to get a license in your hands. But whatever their ambitions were, this second Questprobe game failed them. It's a poorly made game that no amount of extra time and effort could save. There's nothing redeeming about it. It's just bad.