Despite the rather gross subtext of the films, Sam Raimi's cinematic interpretations of the Amazing Spider-Man have done much to bolster the wall-crawler's popularity in recent years. In addition to justifying the release of new figures based on the movies and the Ultimate Spider-Man comics (many of which can now be found in bargain bins), this newfound recognition has been attended by a slew of updated video games -- and much to the surprise of anyone who's familiar with the older Spidey games, these titles are actually *gasp* good. Or at least they're better than the Spider-Man games of old. I'm speaking, of course, about the 8 and 16-bit titles, but they're not the subject of this review. No, for this piece we're going back to good ol' DOS(Box) and a little-known company called Paragon Software, makers of such Marvel-themed PC games as The Amazing Spider-Man & Captain America in Dr. Doom's Revenge, The Punisher, and even X-Men II: The Fall of the Mutants.
Enter The Amazing Spider-Man! Given that Spidey's latest video game incarnations are all cel-shaded and sport 64-bit graphics and whatnot, I again feel old as all hell when I admit that I actually remember when this game was in stores. Despite our love for the guy, however, I didn't know anyone who actually owned this game, which probably explains why it dropped to $9.99 fairly quickly and joined X-Men II amidst the bargain titles at the local Software Etc. My limited funds forced me to choose the latter, and playing the game now I'm pretty glad I did -- because while the graphics are fairly good for the NES and Gameboy era (especially considering that the game was also released on Amiga and C64), the gameplay clearly marks this as a Spider-Man game in name only.
Okay, so your main man in the red and blue tights can fire webbing and stick to almost any surface, save ones inexplicably coated with a green slime that prevents him from doing so. Vintage Spidey, right? Yeah, well consider that whereas other titles primarily pit our hero against thugs and assorted supervillains, this title has him battling against enemies that include robots (okay, that makes sense), wolves (um...), and mummies (wtf?). "Battling", however, is perhaps the wrong word to use. Never mind that the powers conferred by the radioactive spider bite clearly entailed super strength and speed -- and therefore, one would think, enhanced combat abilities -- this Spider-Man ambles along like he hasn't got a care in the world and never throws a single punch. And while apparently he didn't box with his foes in the cartoon either, that's not the point. Spider-Man should be able to hit stuff! Instead, he can use his webbing to temporarily freeze his enemies, thereby providing him with a window of time during which to find some way around them. And although Spidey can kill enemies by utilizing the level hazards to his advantage, you wouldn't believe how long it takes for this to actually do an enemy in. Here, for example, I stood on the ceiling and kept firing webbing at this wolf to keep him trapped in place while spiked balls repeatedly dropped on his head -- and even with the game sped up, it literally took fourteen minutes for the thing to die. Fourteen minutes! Meaning that every enemy has about as much health as you do.
Not that it matters, however, since you'll spend more time navigating crypts with bloodstained crosses and weird alien spaceships in your quest to take down none other than Mysterio. Now, Greg of Pop Arena and I have recently been involved in a heated debate concerning which Spider-Man villain is better -- Venom or Mysterio -- and while we'll hopefully address that topic in more detail at a later date, I think this game is positive proof that Mysterio loses that contest. Yes, the other Spidey games are pretty bad, but they're far better than The Amazing Spider-Man, which is, as far as I know, the only game featuring Mysterio as the head honcho. Put Carnage and Venom in starring roles and you at least get to fight thugs and symbiotes, but when Mysterio is boss you get to manipulate environmental hazards to kill giant rats while wandering endless movie-themed backgrounds. Hell, the game's save points are clapboard slates! I hope Mary Jane appreciates what Spidey goes through for her.
And speaking of Mary Jane, let's have a look at her. Now, maybe it's just me, but even for those days that's a pretty pitiful-looking MJ. They got the hair and eye color right, I guess, but other than that, what the hell? Mary Jane is supposed to be a supermodel. I'm supposed to want her. I don't want that bunch of squirming pixels (press [Esc] and maybe she'll stop). Nor do I particularly want Kirsten Dunst, but that's beside the point. This, folks, is Mary Jane Watson. This pixelated mess is the woman for whom Peter Parker must don his red-and-blue tights and brave screen upon screen upon screen upon screen of insane film-inspired crap. Call me cruel, but if I were Spider-Man? After spending fourteen minutes to kill a single wolf, I'd probably let Mysterio keep the bitch. Shit, I might even send him a bowl of wax fruit to thank him for taking her off the six pixels I call hands.
Not that it matters much either way, though, because you will never rescue MJ and you will never beat this game. As far as I know, nobody has beaten The Amazing Spider-Man. Ever. There's one faq on GameFAQs, and even its author couldn't beat the game. It's well nigh impossible -- and yet, there's this weird dynamic with it, such that even though you'll never win, you'll rarely feel frustrated. Perhaps it has to do with Spidey's casual demeanor, but whether you're fighting against invisible currents in a timeless void or even drowning to death in a sewer, you'll never feel that rush of adrenaline that other, more exciting games inspire in tight situations. But make no mistake -- you will die. You will die in such a slow and uninteresting fashion that you will be tempted to take a bathroom break and maybe get some peanuts while you do so, but die you will.
And when you do, your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man will lose his flesh and become a shambling skeleton. No, really, 'cause the picture of Spider-Man on the righthand side of the screen is actually his health indicator! As you take damage, first the letters that spell out his namesake and epithet suffer the greyscaled fate that Murky and Lurky wish upon the world. Then, as if the game wasn't fucked up enough already, our hero pulls his best Jack Skellington impression and starts rotting away before your very eyes. Playing this game, I get the impression that the folks who made it didn't like Spider-Man all that much. Not only did they stick him in ridiculous stages and pit him against terrible creatures and cripple him by making him utterly unable to fight back, but then they decided to traumatize his fans by forcing them to witness both his untimely death and his accelerated decomposition. First his supermodel wife becomes a horrible gyrating pixelated thing and now wolves, mummies, and rats are literally eating him alive. You're having a difficult day, Mr. Parker, and I do not envy you at all.
So unless you really want to see Spider-Man saunter around like he hasn't got a care in the world even as his costume tears away to reveal polished bone underneath, you should probably skip this one. While it does have a certain charm -- that kind of likeable quality that attends certain older games, making you want to play even with full knowledge that DEATH IS AT HAND and that there is no hope for the future -- it's kind of pointless to waste time playing a game that you'll never beat. Also (and maybe it's just a quirk of the version I downloaded from The Underdogs), the game doesn't appear to save your progress after you exit, so be prepared to start from the beginning every time you fire up the game. Fans of the wall-crawler might want to play it once or twice for old time's sake, but given that there are a bunch of better retro games you could be playing (X-Men II, for example) I can't say I recommend The Amazing Spider-Man. Let Spidey keep his flesh and try your hand at another game instead -- once she stops writhing, I'm sure Mary Jane and Mysterio will be very happy together.
...OR NOT! Read on to find out how to save the day
and rescue Mary Jane from Mysterio's B-movie nightmare world!