Spidey Just Wants to be Done

Spider-man (1994 Video Game)

I have to say, Acclaim has done some serious damage to the video game loving child within me. I played my fair share of terrible games in my youth (anyone that had to suffer through the Judge Dredd game for 16-bit consoles knows what I’m talking about, and wow, that was also done by Acclaim), and all the great offenders seem to come from Acclaim. If you wanted awful, terrible, nigh-unplayable, licensed crap then you needed to look no further than Acclaim. At the time I’m not sure kids realized how terrible the games were coming out of that company, but now, as I go through one video game series after another, I have come to dread and loathe that company’s logo every time it shows up.


For a long stretch in the early-to-mid 1990s Acclaim had the license to Spider-man and they cranked out one shitty game after another to pollute and torture kids. 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. was (and is) big business, and with his animated series, and a hugely successful comic book series at the time, kids really wanted a good Spider-man title. Acclaim heard the “Spider-man” part but failed to make anything good. So one, after another, terrible Spider-man game after another. And we’ve gone through and reviewed them all. If there’s anything good I can say about the Spider-man game based on the animated series and released on both the SNES in 1994 and the Genesis in 1995 was that it was also the last Spider-man game Acclaim made. That doesn’t mean it’s good, just that it’s the last one this company made to punish us. Thank the gods.

This title sees everyone’s favorite web-head called in to take out a bunch of his worst foes, from Green Goblin to Mysterio, when they all escape the asylum and go on a rampage. It’s up to Spidey to take them out because no one else can. But then, once he’s done taking them down he has to break into the asylum to protect them because Venom is out there threatening to go and kill them all. “The permanent solution to the villain problem.” This leads to a final confrontation with Venom for the fate of the villains, and the city, with Spider-man having to come out on top. It’s winner take all for New York City.

Unlike the last couple Spider-man games we’ve looked at on the site, both of which were “team up” brawlers featuring Spidey and Venom, this game is a more traditional platforming experience. Spider-man is tasked, on his own, to go through six stages (five on the Genesis despite it coming out later) to take out the worst scum Spider-man’s rogues gallery has to offer. These stages range from a technological warehouse to a fun out, the docks, and the asylum itself. There’s a decent variety in the locals, and the enemies that are fought, but in the end most of these stages are essentially “get to point B from point A” affairs and you can ignore everything else in the way (aside from a couple of mandatory bosses).

Let’s be clear, this is not a fun game to play. Developed by Western Technologies (because Acclaim didn’t make any of these shitty games in house, they just slapped their logos on them), this game is a buggy mess that is an absolute chore to get through. The game simply doesn’t play right, and getting Spider-man to do anything, even basic things in the stages, can be impossible to pull off. Just simply getting Spider-man to reach a higher platform, or reach stairs, or stick to a wall – all of which are basic movement requirements for tackling stages – can be a guess-and-check affair that, ninety percent of the time, don’t work at all.

It’s hilarious, actually, if you don’t have to play the game. You’ll be at the start of a stage and you have to go up stairs. The zone for you to go up those stairs isn’t marked, and it isn’t clear how to get Spider-man to understand how you’ll get up those stairs. So you jump, you duck, you move a little, you try again. Over and over, flinging the hero over and over on that one tiny sliver of a spot until somehow, magically, he understands, “oh, hey, stairs,” and uses them finally. Now imagine that for every single mechanic in the game that isn’t simply running and jumping and you understand just what kind of nightmare you’re in for while you’re trying to play this game.

But then that implies you can actually understand where you’re supposed to go or what you should be doing in any given stage. Some of them are simply laid out, like the SNES’s docks level, where all you have to do is swing across the waters from left to right to clear the whole stage. It’s pretty basic. But many of the stages are large, complicated mazes with no clear indication where you should be going. You might start in the lower left corner of the stage and have to go to the upper right, but maybe not. And how to get there, and what direction back and forth you should take across platforms isn’t made clear. So you get lost, you backtrack, you stumble around, and it takes forever to navigate these areas. Previous Spider-man games have given you “Spidey-sense” indicators to tell you, “hey, go this way,” but this game doesn’t do that so it’s up to you to just suffer until you figure it out.

Naturally, combat is just as horrifyingly bad in this game. Spider-man has basic combat moves he can use – punching, ducking and kicking, and shooting web bolts – and in theory that should be enough to take out any of the bosses in the game. However, the zone of connection for Spidey’s attacks is stupidly small. You’ll think you have your punch or kick aimed right and if you’re a pixel off in either direction – either slightly too far away or, worse, too far into the enemy’s hit box – and the attack simply won’t work. This is especially aggravating against bosses, who are actually programmed to try and either stay on top of you or remain just out of range so they can fling attacks at you while you can’t damage them. I hated fighting in this game and avoided killing anything I could, but then I had to suffer through the bosses and desperately wanted to turn the game off. It wasn’t fun.

This wasn’t an ambitious game, mind you. Five or six stages with a scattering of basic platforming challenges and a few bosses (which get recycled multiple times in the game, no less) was the bare minimum requirement for video games back in the mid-1990s. What’s clear is that Western Tech had to create this game quickly, on their own, under a deadline imposed by Acclaim, and so they checked all the boxes they could and didn’t have the time to test it too far or make sure things worked properly. This is, of course, a common refrain when describing the games published by Acclaim: made quick, made fast, made bad. Spider-man ‘94 checks all those boxes, too.

What’s sad is that, like with most games published by Acclaim in this era, there’s a thread of an actual good game in here that couldn’t be realized because of the rushed production schedule. Had Western been able to spend time really honing the mechanics and refining everything so that it worked properly without thinking, without the struggle that players had to suffer through, then this could have been a fun adventure. I don’t know that a great game was possible from these bones, but good and fun were on the table. It just needed more time.

But that wasn’t Acclaim’s way. They had to crank out their yearly adventures. They needed to hit their targets and get their sales and shove things out the door. Spider-man ‘94 is crap shovelware as only Acclaim could make back in the day, designed to suck money from kids while delivering a cheap, sub-par experience. It’s a blessing that we don’t have to see any more terrible games from them starring Spider-man, and I’m grateful for that. But, really, hasn’t the damage already been done?