I’ve seen my fair share of Spider-Man video games over the years, and have been astonished by not only the number of them, but the range of quality that goes into them. From the initial efforts like the Atari 2600 cartridge game to some of the lovable train wrecks of the 1990s (anyone remember Spider-Man and the X-Men in Arcade’s Revenge? Why would you do that to yourself? Why?!) to classics like Ultimate Spider-Man and the arcade beat ’em up, the webslinger has captured the imaginations of game designers and game players alike with his appearances in video games. Since we had a couple of new entries this year, it seemed appropriate to put together a year’s-end, top 10 listing of the ones that have had the biggest impact with fans.
Now, before I delve into this list, I’m going to explain how I arrived at this particular Top 10, since I know how divisive these kinds of things can be. I used a number of sources: opinions from my co-writers on Superior Spider-Talk; frequent entries in the many “top Spidey games” lists I found while researching this topic; and, of course, personal experience and bias. While I haven’t played all of the games on this list, I have played most of them, and the ones I haven’t played both were repeat scorers on other lists and had noteworthy reasons for their inclusion. Hopefully anyone who inevitably disagrees with this list will at least understand my reasoning.
So, without further ado, let’s grab our web shooters and swing through a countdown of the most noteworthy Spider-Man video games up to this point!
10. The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Say what you will about the gameplay, the writing, and the glitches in this year’s spawn of the lamentably written film of the same name. It deserves all of the criticism. But when you’re finished, remember that we get an expansive, beautifully rendered version of New York City to play in, and a web-swinging mechanic that is more fun than any that I’ve yet encountered. While the controls are definitely clunky in more than a few places, and the plot is an uninspired mish-mash of ideas that have almost nothing to do with the actual movie, it still provides a serviceable amount of fun and things to do. Throw in new versions of several of Spidey’s rogues gallery like Kraven, Carnage, Kingpin and Shocker, and we get a flawed, imperfect piece of Spider-Man lore that nevertheless manages to grab your imagination and merit at least one full play-through.
9. Spider-Man and Venom: Maximum Carnage
This unabashedly stylized 1994 beat ‘em up is distinctive because it’s one of the first video games that was directly modeled on the plot of an existing comic book story arc, instead of simply utilizing the property’s characters in a generic standard video game plot. It carries on in the style of classic beat em ups like Double Dragon, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and the X-Men arcade game, which makes for a fun premise. Unfortunately, like its namesake story, the game does drag on too long, making it a bit of a chore to play all the way through. I remember being excited to play it, then getting warier as the game went on, and on, and on. Still, with summons of Spider-Man and Venom’s allies from the comic arc, like Firestar, Morbius and Captain America, as well as cut scenes pulled from the panels of Maximum Carnage, it’s a memorable entry into the Spider-Man games pantheon.
8. Spider-Man 2
The first of these entries that I’ve yet to actually play, I don’t have any firsthand praise or criticism for this 2004 release, based on the film of the same name. It was a consistent high scorer on other top lists, laying the groundwork for later games with its innovative three-dimensional take on Spidey’s web-swinging mechanic, as well as how a number of its other features all combined to create a highly immersive, “I AM Spider-Man!” experience for gamers. It’s undoubtedly one of the most influential Spider-Man games to come along, and its legacy is certainly featured in many of the other games on this list.
7. Spider-Man (Neversoft)
When the year 2000 rolled around, Spider-Man had feature in a large number of video games, many of which were considered terrible by gamers and comic book fans alike. Neversoft captured lightning in a bottle when they made the PS1 version of Spider-Man, combining beat em up gameplay with innovative platforming, (then-) excellent graphics and a host of guest appearances from the many characters in Spidey’s life, many of which were voiced by the actors who had played them in various other media. Many reviewers considered this to be the very best iteration of a Spider-Man game to grace any console, and while time may show its age now, there can be no denying that this game put Spidey back on the video games map in a big way. I’ve yet to play this title as well, but a friend of mine may be hooking me up soon. I can’t wait to try it out.
6. Spider-Man: Web of Shadows
In 2008, Web of Shadows came along to deliver an experience that was an interesting twist on your typical Spider-Man adventure. Venom-style symbiotes were spawning all over the city, and taking over regular people. The result was a setup that resembled a plague outbreak zombie movie, as S.H.I.E.L.D. takes over the city in an attempt to contain the contagion. To combat this large-scale threat, Spider-Man re-bonds with a portion of the Venom symbiote, giving players the option of using the more destructive black suit or the faster, more agile classic red and blue. While the game was repetitive in places, and didn’t bring much in terms of innovation to the table, I do remember mastering the web-swinging and combat mechanics well enough to swing down into a group of foes from on high and take people out with kicks in the middle of the arc–something I hadn’t done in any Spidey game previously, and which I’ve never forgotten.
5. The Amazing Spider-Man vs. the Kingpin
While I never played the superior Sega CD (1993) version of this game, my memories of the 1991 Sega Genesis iteration are fondly recalled. The plot is flimsy (Kingpin teams up with Spidey’s foes and kidnaps MJ), but the controls were solid for a side scroller such as this, and you could utilize a wide variety of Spidey’s moves and powers, like sticking to walls and ceilings, and swinging on a web line. You also faced off against a who’s who of the webhead’s rogues gallery, like Hobgoblin, Lizard, Venom, and of course the Kingpin himself. There was also even the option of taking pictures of your foes so you could get money from J. Jonah Jameson to buy web fluid! I remember this being one of the first games I was only too happy to replay on multiple occasions, even though I’d long since mastered every aspect of it.
4. Spider-Man Unlimited
When this game came to handheld devices earlier this year, I was at first very skeptical about the idea of Spider-Man in an endless runner. A few gameplays changed my mind very quickly, and I’ve been pleased with how the game has developed in the last few months. From cutting the number of glitches to incorporating current comic book storylines and developments, Gameloft has proven its ability to manage this mobile game and stay closely allied to Marvel’s marketing plans. While the actual game itself isn’t particularly compelling or plot-driven–you’re basically running, and it can get very repetitive–it’s still satisfying to see the many various skins they continue to incorporate into the game. With classics like the Bombastic Bag-Man to fan favorites like 2099 and Iron Spider, and even recent characters like Spider-Gwen and Jessica Drew’s newly unveiled costume, there are plenty of chances to see your favorite Spider run, slide, punch, kick, and dodge an endless line of enemies and obstacles.
3. Spider-Man: The Arcade Game
Maybe this is just nostalgia. Maybe this game isn’t as good as I remember. All I know, is that the first time I played this 1991 hybrid of a beat em up and platform arcade adventure, I was blown away by it. It had everything: action, adventure, all kinds of Spider-Man’s greatest enemies, and a multi-part plot that never seemed to end. Yes, the plot is a generic ‘retrieve this mystic artifact’ excuse for a video game adventure, but at the time of its release, I couldn’t have cared less. Sure, I played as the other characters, but Black Cat, Hawkeye and Namor were of course nowhere near as much fun to play as Spider-Man, who could web-swing and shoot webbing at the hordes of foes he kept running into. While other Spidey beat em ups would come along (including the aforementioned Maximum Carnage), in terms of overall experience, this one reigns supreme to me as the quintessential Spider-Man vs. the world beat em up.
2. Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions
In terms of celebrating Spider-Man as a character and as a springboard for inspired alternate takes, nothing yet holds a candle to the 2010 Beenox entry, Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions. It’s more than just the idea of playing four different iterations of Spider-Man, each in their own uniquely rendered environments. It’s that they all have similar moves, but distinctive power sets and play styles that set them apart from one another. It’s that Amazing and Ultimate Spider-Man live in brightly colored, cel shaded comic-scapes, while Noir fights in a gritty black and white environment and 2099 inhabits a high-flying, futuristic dystopia. It’s that each of the Spider-Men is voiced by an actor who had voiced Spidey in a previous cartoon. It’s that this game is the one that inspired Dan Slott to go even wider with “every Spider-Man ever” and write Spider-Verse. Yes, it has play control issues that leave much to be desired, but the overall sense of joy injected into this game makes it one very much worth experiencing.
And speaking of alternate Spideys, our top game technically stars one.
1. Ultimate Spider-Man
Ultimate Spider-Man stands out for me as a Spider-Man video game for much the same reason “Iron Man“ stands out for me as a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, in that both are excellent examples of what you get when you take a project and just make it fun. From teenage Spidey’s quips and one-liners to the four-color feel of the cel-shaded environment, this game makes you relish being the webslinger. The controls are solid, the animations and graphics are good, even after nearly a decade. The missions can get repetitive at times, but this can be forgiven when you consider that there are other types you can pursue at a moment’s notice. The voice work is top-notch, and the game’s developments were meant to be considered canon with the comic book series after which it was named (it’s complicated). Throw in the bonus of being able to play Venom at certain points, and you’ve got a fun, memorable Spider-Man experience, brought to you by the pen of Brian Michael Bendis.
How’d your favorite game do? Do you agree or disagree with my choices? Please, feel free to comment and tell me why!