Spider-Man: The Video Game is important precisely because it is forgettable.
Spider-Man: The Video Game is an arcade title that never made its way to consoles. It’s part beat ‘em up, part 2-D platformer, and all general Sega lunacy. Released a year after Spider-Man vs. the Kingpin, this title sees Spider-Man gain a few amazing friends, fight almost the exact same roster of villains, and eventually save the day/planet through the very Spider-Man solution of “punch everything ever”. Webs are used exclusively as concussive projectiles, a swinging kick is the most Spidey-esque move available, and I’m pretty sure ol’ Webhead kills Dr. Curt Connors. Twice. It’s a Spider-Man game, but it’s so loosely a Spider-Man product, it may as well be a malfunctioning Malibu Stacy doll.
But, hey, it was a fun time for 1992.
Spider-Man: The Video Game is not Final Fight. In fact, SM:TVG was released a solid three years after Final Fight and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the arcade game). We had also seen Streets of Rage a year prior. The Simpsons (the arcade game) was released a year earlier, too. X-Men (the arcade game) was released the same year. In short, SM:TVG was not only already one of many Spider-Man videogames, but it was also yet another beat ‘em up in an already crowded beat ‘em up market. What did it do to set itself apart from the pack? Well, unfortunately, not much: Once a level, the perspective changes to a 2-D plane, and features almost Contra-esque run ‘n shoot action. Unfortunately, this was at a time when 2-D was starting to become passé, so lil’ dorky dudes shooting grappling hooks at a ridiculously scaled Venom sprite wasn’t going to impress anyone when Blanka’s screams were already beckoning from elsewhere in the arcade. So, yes, when a beat ‘em up needed every advantage it could find to be the next Double Dragon and not a Double Dragon 3, SM:TVG decided to go in possibly the worst direction. At least it didn’t include a boss on the second level that is virtually impossible due to a severe lack of available aerial attacks…
Oh. Oh dang.
But wait! Spider-Man: The Video Game is still fun! It’s a lot of fun! Or… at least I remember it being a fun. Maybe I just need to play it again? Sure! That sounds like a great idea! I’ll just pop it right in my…
Oh, right. SM:TVG was only available in arcades, and it sure as heck isn’t in any arcades anymore… Assuming you can find an arcade at all… This is going to get difficult.
But it does bring us to a prime reason videogame preservation is important: Videogame popularity is wildly capricious and ephemeral.
The beat ‘em up genre featured some of the biggest names of the time. Many people were first exposed to The X-Men not through a comic book, but through an arcade game (and we’re still trying to figure out why Dazzler isn’t more popular…). Mike Haggar was just a mayor who rarely wore a shirt, but the humble beat ‘em up made him a mainstay of gaming for generations. And the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? The Simpsons? They were already everywhere, so it made sense they’d be gobbling up your quarters, too. When the beat ‘em up genre ruled the arcade, it well and truly owned gaming itself, and the consoles of the time were desperate to catch up to their coin-op brethren. It was cool to be a beat ‘em up, and everything that was cool wound up walking left-to-right and pummeling every random punk in their path.
But popularity ebbs and flows. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and The Simpsons are still a “thing” (The Simpsons is currently entering its ∞th season), but they’re nowhere near the popularity they experienced in the late 80’s/early 90’s. In the meanwhile, The X-Men became the hottest super-hero franchise on the silver screen… and then fell to the wayside the minute that Spider-Man conquered the multiplex. And now Spider-Man is riding high again, but is nowhere near the popularity of some of his contemporaries in The Avengers. Oh Lord! Hawk Guy might be the most popular character in Spider-Man: The Video Game! What horrible future has our misdeeds wrought!?
And if you’re saying that Spider-Man: The Video Game (featuring Clint Barton) would do well today because of the popularity of its attached property: congratulations! You’re right! And if we had The Avengers palling around on the big screen back in 1992, then this mediocre beat ‘em up would likely be just as popular as the likes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or The Simpsons. And that would carry it forward to the future: some company (I guess Disney Interactive? Or… Capcom? Nintendo is publishing Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3? Maybe them?) would find it profitable enough to hit Sega up for its old code, and we’d see this arcade title ported to a virtual console or two. Or maybe it would have already happened, and we’d be able to buy it on Xbox Live because it was a promotion for Spider-Man: That One Where The Lizard Looks Like a Ninja Turtle. Or maybe it would have been enough of an arcade hit that it got ported to the Sega Genesis. Or Sega Saturn. Or Sega Dreamcast. Or Game Gear? I’m really not picky.
But, in its moment, Spider-Man wasn’t all that popular. We were still two years away from the massive popularity of the Spider-Man animated series, and the Spidey fans of Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends were a decade past caring about videogames. Tobey Maguire may as well have been an eternity from popularizing battling a Green Goblin or two. While it seems hard to believe in the age of Avengers Endgame, there was a time when Spider-Man was just some random comic book character, and his masked mug was never going to grab more quarters than Michelangelo traveling through time.
And so history forgot Spider-Man: The Video Game. It is now impossible to play a videogame featuring Spider-Man and Hawkeye battling The Kingpin and Doctor Doom. There may be other similar experiences out there, but this one is lost forever. And all because Spider-Man wasn’t the hottest property available that month, but still a popular enough franchise to require licensing. It’s gone forever simply because of a quirk of timing.
Spider-Man: The Video Game isn’t the best Spider-Man game out there. It didn’t define the genre, it didn’t show us all what it meant to be Spider-Man, and it suffered from the unfortunate handicap of including Namor. But it was a fun game, and future generations deserve an opportunity to play it.
Videogame preservation is important not only for the best and most unique games, but also the unexceptional titles. It might not be the most exciting game in the world, but what kid doesn’t want to play a Spider-Man game?
FGC #426 Spider-Man: The Video Game
- System: Arcade exclusively. That’s the problem!
- Number of players: Four! And it was one of those arcade cabinets where you’re not tied to a character according to which joystick you grab, so us lefties aren’t stuck with Leonardo just because we wanted some elbow room.
- Favorite Character: I very much want to say that Black Cat is my favorite character, as she is one of my favorite, overlooked Marvel heroines… but she kind of sucks in this game. A grappling hook swing special attack? Lame. But Namor, who can shoot friggen lightning bolts from his hands and toss random baddies far into the air? That’s the stuff. Imperious Rex, baby!
- Other Influences: Namor walking around nearly naked with the abs of Hercules? His sprite reminds me of another Sega title.
- The Spider that Walks like a Man: Spider-Man is an interesting character to animate, because his comic origins don’t really grant him an animated “walk”, but given his speed and super-powers, you could go in a lot of different directions with how a man blessed by a radioactive Spider God might wander around the place. Somehow, this led to Spider-Man of this title possessing a walking animation that makes Peter Parker appear to be… bored. And kind of slouchy? Look, what’s important is that Spider-Man really needs to visit a chiropractor.
- So Close: Black Cat’s catchphrase for the game seems to be, “Jackpot!” You might have been thinking of a different lady in Spider-Man’s life, Sega…
- Last known photo: I last saw this arcade cabinet at a festival in 2012. That is a lot more recent than I would expect, but I assume it was just a matter of some random carnival barker getting a deal on a game with a recognizable name. And one of the joysticks didn’t work. Lame.
- Did you know? Scorpion and Venom appear as a sort of tandem boss in the first level. In the comics, years later, Mac Gargan (aka Scorpion) would eventually obtain the Venom symbiote as part of the Dark Reign event. Also: I am a gigantic nerd.
- Would I play again: This is a fun beat ‘em up, and the 2-D sections are an excellent change of pace from the usual beat ‘em up “same three guys” gameplay. It’s just a shame I technically can’t play the game anymore…
What’s next? Spider-Man is always popular, but what happens when a game is released in one region, and then never leaves because its hero is… a penguin? With a weight problem? Our next lost forever title is Yume Penguin Monogatari. Please look forward to it!