This is All Spider-man's Fault
Spider-Man vs. The Kingpin
We're fairly deep into the 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. video game library so far and we've yet to see a truly worth game of the Spider-man name. They are coming, to be sure, but we still have a mountain of webbing to get through before we reach the promised land. That's not to say Spider-man vs. the Kingpin, Sega and Technopop's 1991 effort is a bad game, per se, just that it's still a long way off from being a great Spider-man title.
The game follows Spidey as he works to clear his name. The Kingpin frames Spider-man as the mastermind behind a bomb threat in the city. He claims that Spider-man planted a bomb somewhere and will blow up the city in 24 hours. Why? Because Spider-man is a menace. That's what you read in the papers, like the Daily Bugle, right? To clear his name, Spidey has to explore around New York City, fighting a menagerie of foes before finally coming face to face with the Kingpin, all to stop the bomb and save the day. You know, standard superhero stuff.
Spider-man vs. the Kingpin is a platforming adventure. As Spidey you go from one stage to the next, linearly, finishing out each stage (and its selected foe) until you've progressed through all seven levels. In most versions of the game you do have to do this linearly (although the Sega CD version is an exception we'll touch upon in a bit). That means that each time you play it you know the order of the stages and you can practice each one to get a little better before moving on to the next. It works, it's functional, it's basic.
With that said, the stages really aren't that great. The main version (Genesis and Sega CD) feature large, weirdly laid out areas, that aren't always designed well to suit Spider-man's abilities. You can walk, run, stick to walls and ceilings, and sling your webs. That means you can also swing, plus use your webbing as ball blasts and even a temporary web shield. I like the range of abilities in concept, but in execution the levels fail to really deliver the Spider-man experience I want and desire.
Part of the issue is that it's not always clear where you're supposed to go and what you should do. The levels are weird, and complex, and they have looping areas where it's not always clear what the right direction may be. It reminds me of old DOS platformers, where the creators had the freedom to make big, expansive stages but weren't really clear on how to direct players from point A to point B, so they just didn't bother. One stage, the sewers, has Spidey going through a big maze of tunnels before he finally reaches the Lizard. But unless you stumble on the right area for the boss, you're left just meandering until that moment finally occurs.
Sometimes the objectives, too, aren't clear. In one stage you have to fight the Sandman, but unlike every other boss you don't pummel him into submission. No, instead there's a hydrant right at the start of the stage and you have to lure the Sandman back to it and then break the hydrant so the water washes him away. How are you supposed to know to do this? I have no clue. The game doesn't tell you so you just have to stumble on the solution all on your own (or die). I hated this fight more than any other in the game.
Also, let's be honest, this game is pretty cheap at times. Spidey doesn't have lives, just one health meter that's persistent through the game. Power-ups are plentiful, which is nice, and you can go back to Peter's apartment at any time to hang out and heal, but you have to explore the stage again if you do that (so it's best to heal at the start of a stage). The big issue is that there are are a ton of enemies and they're often placed right in the way of where you want to go, meaning you're going to take damage and, sometimes, lose your place and have to rescale or re-swing to an area. It's annoying as all hell.
There is a mechanic I appreciated, though: the game's timer. Kingpin says Spider-man has 24 hours, and though the time moves at a faster than real-time speed, that 24 hour clock is always ticking. Exploring stages using up time, and going back to Peter's apartment keeps the timer running as well. It reminded me of TMNT: The Manhattan Missions, with that timer always ticking to let you know you had to keep moving. It's adds pressure, and interest, to the game that I actually liked.
As graphically, the game is pretty nice. Sega and Technopop did a solid job translating the look and design of the various Spider-man characters to the graphical abilities of the systems. Sure, the Master System and Game Gear versions don't look as good, but they all have nice, well crafted graphics with plenty of details. Some of the sprites aren't as good as others (the basic, gun-toting goons as bland, for instance), but overall this is a handsome Sega game, for sure.
I didn't hate the game, but I also didn't enjoy it. It's grasping at something, some kind of playable experience, but it doesn't quite hit the mark. Interestingly this is still one of the better made Spider-man games we're yet seen chronologically, but that's only because the bar has been set so low by so many mediocre titles that we have basically nowhere to go by up. Still, there is better to come and this game only feels good right up until you see something even better to play with.
For those looking to run the entire series of this game, it's worth noting that the Genesis and Sega CD games are more or less the same. Released two years after the Genesis edition, the Sega CD version includes animated cut-scenes and two extra stages to flesh out the game even more, plus it adds in a non-linear element, letting you pick what order you do some of the stages. So if you want this game in the best 16-bit experience, that's probably the version to look for.
Meanwhile, the Master System and Game Gear titles (which were handled fully by Sega) feature the same basic game play and story, but the levels have been reworked. Most consider these stages to be inferior to the 16-bit versions, though, and the game was made substantially harder. Unless you want to punish yourself, it's probably best to avoid these versions entirely.