Of all the temperamental, conflicted heroes in the Marvel canon, Spider-Man is one of the most relatable.
Sure, he’s got his Spider Sense and heightened reflexes, but at the end of the day, Spider-Man is still, for most continuities, just a kid. He doesn’t have the invulnerability of the Hulk or the brooding pathos of Wolverine—he's been going through puberty for most of his existence. He doesn’t even Tony Stark's billions—for the most part he's been well below the poverty line.
When facing the likes of Rhino, or Venom, or Carnage, one gets the impression that Spidey is in over his head, and barely keeping up with the chaos around him. Spidey has to use his brains against his opponents’ brawn.
The Amazing Spiderman 2 drops tomorrow, and we’ll be in the front row. In the meantime, we’re replaying Spider-Man & Venom: Maximum Carnage, released for the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis. This arcade-style beat ‘em up received mixed reviews in 1994, but it holds up reasonably well. It boasts an extensive cast of heroes and villains, battling everywhere in Manhattan—from downtown clubs and alleyways, to Central Park and the Statue of Liberty.
Maximum Carnage was adapted from the comic book storyline of the same name. The comic pitted Spider-Man and Venom against Carnage (himself a spawn from the Symbiote that created Venom) and his twisted ‘family’—Shriek, Demogoblin, the Doppelganger, and Carrion. It was split into a 14-part serial, and it incorporated major and minor characters from the Marvel universe. On one hand, you had Captain America, Deathlok, and the Black Cat. You also had lesser known favorites, such as Morbius and my personal favorites, Cloak and Dagger.
Man, Cloak and Dagger were so cool. They were the first interracial superhero pairing—if you aren’t up on them, go to a comic book store and investigate.
So, the developers made a wise decision—they incorporated all of these crossover characters as assists. Superhero icons were scattered throughout each level—you used the L Button to scroll through the ones you collected, and you pressed the R Button to summon your selected superhero. When you summoned the Black Cat, for example, she did a flip routine, destroying everything in her path. Other characters were contextual—when you summoned Iron Fist, he did one of two things. If you were controlling Spider-Man, Iron Fist would heal you. If you were playing as Venom, however, Iron Fist would fight on your behalf.
The developers integrated comic book graphics into the game. Between each level, you were treated to pages from the original Maximum Carnage comics, which gave the game a focused, cohesive narrative. The game also visualized the ‘thwacks,’ ‘thwips’ and kchak’s as Spider-Man punched his way to victory.
The controls were difficult—a single button served multiple functions. If you tapped the A button, Spidey would a shoot a sticky web to incapacitate his opponent. If you pressed A and held a directional, Spidey would throw out a webline to drag opponents towards him, like Scorpion in Mortal Kombat. If you held down A, Spidey would form a web shield, which could block small projectiles, such as bullets.
And this was only one button—you could also press buttons in combination to pull off advanced moves, like jumping kicks, backflips, and windmill punches. Once you mastered the controls, the animation variety was enough to keep you entertained.
The combat was difficult, starting from the very first stage. How humiliating—it was just low level street thugs, but you still got your ass beat. To win, you needed to keep enemies to one side of the screen. If you let yourself get surrounded, even for a second, you were a goner. Pro tip: the women with long hair were extremely dangerous. They swung their ponytails at you like whips, and they could block your basic attacks.
You learned to throw your opponents frequently. You could bowl over multiple opponents in a single throw—it was extremely damaging, and it kept your enemies from attacking you all at once. You could also web swing in a pinch—by pressing the X Button, you moved out of harm’s way and could reassess your attack plan.
The two most memorable levels were The Rooftop and The Rooftop 2. The Rooftop was first time you faced off against a supervillain—in this case, the Doppelganger. It wasn’t too hard (you avoided the Doppelganger when he was on all fours), but there was a secret, simple way to end the level quickly. You spent some time punching the water tower on the right side of the screen—eventually, you could pick it up and throw it at the Doppelganger, squashing him. The Rooftop 2 was even harder—this time, you fought against five supervillains, with Carnage at the very end. If you had the Sonic Gun or an extra Firestar icon, however, you could make quick work of him.
Carnage did hellacious damage, but he always attacked in a straight line. The best way to approach him was from above or below. Above all, you had to be patient—it took forever to whittle away his energy, and if you used your windmill kicks, you lost just as much energy as you dealt out.
Maximum Carnage was not a ‘fair’ game—the enemies inflicted too much damage, and you inflicted too little. In a way, it resembled real life—if you actually walked into the street to take on hundreds of guys, armed with nothing but your fists, you would get slaughtered. It didn’t stop us, however, from coming back for more—name recognition and nostalgia go a long way. Fighting the insurmountable—that’s what being Spider-Man is all about.