The Malicious Mysterio Misappropriates Mary Jane
The Amazing Spider-man (1990 PC Game)
When it comes to superheroes, one would think that 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 be an easy hero to adapt into digital form. Unlike some heroes (like SupermanThe first big superhero from DC Comics, Superman has survived any number of pretenders to the throne, besting not only other comic titans but even Wolrd War II to remain one of only three comics to continue publishing since the 1940s.), Spidey's power set isn't super complicated. He's basically a mortal dude with some enhanced healing, and he has the gifts of a spider. He sticks to walls, he shoots webs. He does, as the song says, the things that a spider can do. That actually sounds like the kind of power set that would be fun to apply to video games.
So far, though, we've seen a number of games that fail to understand just how to bring Spider-man onto screens in a convincing manner. In 1990 there were two takes on the hero, though, that both tried to do justice to the hero. One was a failure while the other would go on to be celebrated by gamers and spawn two sequels in he process. And both were called The Amazing Spider-man. Sadly, we're first going to review the failure. We have to take the good with the bad.
Created by Oxford Digital Enterprises, The Amazing Spider-man pits Spider-man against one of his greatest foes, the illusionist Mysterio. The villain, having discovered Spider-man's identity (or, at least, knowing that villains always kidnap Spider-man's best gal) has taken Mary Jane Watson. Spider-man has to fight his way through Mysterio's massive castle of illusion until he reaches the top of the edifice where he can take out the illusionist and save Peter's lady love.
Credit to the programmers, it does feel like they cared about Spider-man and his world. The choice to pick Mysterio as the villain is inspired, allowing them dev to make a wild and varied castle filled with creatively decorated sections. Taking a cue from Mysterio's back story, the castle is decorated like various sound stages, recreating movies of the past. You'll end up going from a haunted castle to a western setting, and then space, all within Mysterio's building. I like the variety of the locales, making the game feel like you really are making progress.
The devs also put in a lot of thought with Spider-man's own controls. The hero is able to climb and cling to basically any surface, walking and crawling along anything you stick him to. He can stick, and then shoot his webs, and even swing along, performing basically all the feats of navigation you would expect from Spider-man when he's transposed against a two-dimensional perspective. Some of his other powers, like his special web blasts and his spider sense, are missing here but I think for the type of game that was developed the power-set for the hero is represented well.
With that said, the game itself really isn't that great. The first problem stems from the kind of game presented. Spider-man is planted into a long, slow, puzzle platforming adventure. That translates into a game like Prince of Persia but without much action and at a much slower pace. If you wanted to play a game where Spider-man slowly plods along through various screens as he hits switches and solves box puzzles, this is the game for you. It's exactly as sedate and boring as that sounds.
A big part of the issue is that Spider-man moves at a glacial pace here. Everything in the game is slow, to be sure, but if Spider-man could simply move faster (even at one-and-a-half times his rate in the game) it would greatly speed up the flow of the platforming. If you know what you're doing the game will take about an hour to complete, but most of that time is watching Spidey slowly move back and forth to objectives. The game needs a boost to its speed to make the flow feel better.
Frankly, though, I could do without the over reliance on switch puzzles everywhere in the game. Every section, every screen, amounts to figuring out (a) where the switches are, (b) what they do, and (c) how to get to them in the right order. It's all a matter of guessing and checking and experimentation, and none of that is thrilling at all. Would it have been so hard to break up the puzzling with more action, maybe let Spidey actually take down some bad guys just so he didn't have to keep hitting switches? I was bored of the switches by the second section of the game, and there were still four more acts to go.
The game can also be brutally difficult both on mind and spirit. There are sections of screens where you're absolutely forced to take damage. Spidey has a health meter (he stands on the side of the screen and slowly goes from hero to skeleton as damage is taken) and while you can refilling it at act transition screens, any place that forces you to take damage will quickly melt away that health. Every time I got close to death I got worried because I absolutely didn't want to have to redo any portion of the game, let alone the whole thing. It wasn't interesting enough for that.
And the puzzles are sometimes brutally obtuse, even in the early going. You might have to hit a bunch of switches in sequence in one screen, or you may have to work back and forth between a few different screens to uncover the one switch you need to actually progress. And sometimes it's not even clear what the goal is or what switch you're aiming for. It could be that to progress to the next act you have to go ten screens over and hit some random switch that doesn't seem to do anything all so the exit to the next act opens. Who the heck would figure that out without a walk-through? I certainly didn't.
I get that this game from an era of PC games when the developers were struggling with the limitations of PC hardware and had to create games that would just work. Sure. But there are bafflingly cruel design choices here that suck all the fun out of the game. The creators nailed the vibe of being Spider-man, but then they plunked him into a game where all the joy that could be had with his powers, even on a limited scale, vanished. The Amazing Spider-man for PCs is a tired, boring, tedious game that punishes you at every step. I can't think of a game I want to play less right now, no matter how much they may have nailed the hero at the center of it all.