Take It to the Max
Spider-Man and Venom: Maximum Carnage (1994 Video Game)
Maybe its the designs of the characters, or the way their past history has worked, but I find that it's a lot easier to make a game based on Marvel superheroes than it is DC superheroes. With DC, many of them have back stories that preclude certain actions. BatmanOne of the longest running, consistently in-print superheroes ever (matched only by Superman and Wonder Woman), Batman has been a force in entertainment for nearly as long as there's been an entertainment industry. It only makes sense, then that he is also the most regularly adapted, and consistently successful, superhero to grace the Silver Screen. will never use a gun, so putting him in anything that even vaguely resembles a shooter seemingly violates a core tenant of his character. 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. has th act as a beacon of justice, so any game that doesn't really hold true to the actions you'd expect from him feels like a bad game. But 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., the X-MenLaunched in 1963 and written by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the X-Men featured heroes distinctly different from those featured in the pages of DC Comics. Mutants who didn't ask for their powers (and very often didn't want them), these heroes, who constantly fought against humans who didn't want "muties" around, served as metaphors for oppression and racism. Their powerful stories would form this group into one of the most recognizable superhero teams in comics (and a successful series of movies as well)., and Venom? They feel a lot more free to do as they need within any specific style of game play.
That's not to say that games can get away with anything with the Marvel heroes and it'll just work. You can make them do a lot, for sure, but even still, sometimes you'll find a game where the bounds of plausibility are certainly stretched. I thought of this while playing through the 1994 LJN-backed game Spider-man and Venom: Maximum Carnage. The game is a street-based brawler, which feels fine for any superhero game. It has Spidey and Venom taking on random people as they move around, battling through waves and waves of these mooks, and that too feels fine. But the game has to try and stretch to justify its plot line and its in the story, not the structure, that this game really falls apart.
In the game, Spidey has to team up with his old nemesis (turned somewhat of an anti-hero vigilante, Venom, to take on Carnage and that villains new gang of baddies. After escaping prison, with his new found symbiote powers, Carnage teams with Shriek, a Spider-man doppelganger, and more, to terrorize the streets of NYC. Apparently (and this is all somehow implied poorly in the game) Shriek has put the city under some kind of mind virus and now the heroes have to battle the various citizens of NYC to make their way to Carnage and his crew and take the villain down.
A big part of my issue with the game is that it really isn't clear what's going on or why the heroes are involved in any of this. The game features not only Spider-man, Venom, and their rogues, but a bunch of other Marvel heroes making cameos as the story progresses. This, right here, causes big issues. If the various other Marvel heroes are around, wouldn't one of them (Jean Grey, if she's alive, or Professor X, if he's alive, or one of a number of other telepaths) be a better fit for fighting a mutant spreading a mind virus? Why is it two street-level heroes? I get that Carnage is involved here so Spidey and Venom need to battle him specifically, and yes, we have Demogoblin and the Doppelganger, both of whom are also Spidey villains. All of that makes sense. Where the game loses me is at the mind virus part.
As a street-level brawler, the game needs to have tons and tons of goons and mooks to send after the heroes. Go into a screen, battle the mooks, move to the next screen, on and on. This has been the style of street brawlers for some time and the game sticks to the formula. That's fine. But to create all these mooks and goons, the game goes with the citizens of NYC, which then leads to the weird scenario of Spider beating the shit out of a ton of regular people as he goes screen by screen. Spidey would swing above all these people, not fight through them. Venom beating the shit out of people makes more sense, but even here, he could also just swing (or goop, or whatever you wanna call it) over the citizens so he can get to Carnage faster. The structure of it is weird.
In short (and yes, too late) what the game needed was some other kind of random goons for the heroes to battle. low-grade symbiotes, or sewer dwellers in league with the villains, or something. The Marvel universe is backed full of mooks and goons so you'd think they could have gone with any of that instead. And yes, I know this game is based on a comic book series with the same plot -- Shriek teaming with Carnage and then laying a psychic hold over NYC -- but it makes for very confusing game play in comparison to the story of the comics. It makes sense only if you see it as a direct adaptation and not a story in its own right. (I can do a whole rant about adaptations and you've likely read stuff like that from me before across this site, so let's not get into that here.)
With that said, the basic game is quite playable. It's a fun little brawler with not terrible ideas. You kick, you punch, you jump around. Standard moves you would expect from these games exist, like power hits and big kicks. But each of the two heroes, Spidey and Venom, have their own list of combos, from grapples to multi-man hits, to special power moves. The variety is nice, and it gives you a lot you can do with the heroes as you're fighting around in the game. I enjoyed the variety of moves and the flexibility they provided. As far as what to do on the streets and how to do it, the game was fun.
Less fun was the sheer multitude of enemies that were recycled over and over again. There's about six types of goons, and they can be broken down as Skater Punk, Fat Guy, Woman, Umbrella Dude, Strong Man, and Cop. They get introduced slowly over the course of the game, with the heroes mostly just fighting skaters at the start, but the same punks will keep showing up in every stage from there on. There's just more of them, and with everyone else. It feels stale even by the second stage, and outright boring by the last.
This is compounded by the bosses, which are all tedious. All of them have two basic moves they'll spam, over and over, and the only variety the game provides is by combining the bosses in different ways as you're forced to fight them over and over. It's not really fun; it just feels like more time killing filler fights, with slightly different looking enemies. I appreciated, in concept, the number of villains in the game. I just wish they did more than what we're given. Detailed, length fights one on one would be far more engaging than spam groups of the same fights over and over again.
There are two other bits of variety thrown in that are worth mentioning. There's one stage set at the Fantastic Four tower and instead of the same old street goons, Spidey and Venom have to battle drone bots. It's interesting, even if all the bots fight the same and act the same, and there's at least a different boss for once at the end of the stage. It does feel out of place, frankly, but any variety I could get I was gonna take, no matter how silly or under baked it was.
And then there's the cameos from the other heroes. They show up in various cut-scenes to introduce them, and then from that point forward you can find little icons to collect that let you summon those heroes to fight beside you. Each one will show up, perform some kind of super move, and then disappear, helping you clear the screen. These range from Cloak showing up, bathing the screen in darkness, and dealing damage to everything on screen, to Cap chucking his shield, and Iron Fist (for some reason) healing the hero. It works, it add some spice, but, again, it's a tad under baked
That really does define this whole game. It has decent combat slapped onto an under baked story and setup, and not much variety. I want to like this game, as it is very playable, but now that I've gotten through all of Maximum Carnage, I really doubt I'd ever touch it again. It is the best of the LJN era of Spider-man games, but considering how low that bar has been set, that's not saying much at all.