The Peanut Gallery: How We’d Make A Better Spider-Man Game

by Jeff Cork on Oct 31, 2011 at 07:28 AM

More than any other superhero, Spider-Man is perfectly suited for video games. His powers are interesting but not game-breaking (sorry, Supes), his alter-ego is easy to relate to, and his web-slinging is an incredibly fun way to get around. Unfortunately, the character’s most recent outings haven’t lived up to his potential. Between time travel, quantum gateways, and alternate dimensions, it seems as though Activision and Beenox are throwing whatever bizarre ideas they can concoct at Spidey and hoping for the best.

"Our Spider-Man games have sucked for the last five years," Activision CEO Bobby Kotick told us back in early 2010. "They are bad games. They were poorly rated because they were bad games.”

The solution was Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions, a rare glimmer of hope in an otherwise grim run of releases. As good as it was, it was clear that Beenox was trying to chase after Batman’s cape. Arkham Asylum and Arkham City are great games because they’re faithful adaptations of what makes Batman Batman. Spider-Man, as a character, doesn’t lend himself well to that grim tone.

What’s the answer, then? Glad you asked. Everything you need to know is in the Spider-Man cartoons.

I’m the father of two Spider-Man obsessed sons. I grew up with the character and liked him well enough, but I was never as into him as they are. Thanks to Netflix streaming, we have access to more Spider-Man-related cartoons than you could possibly hope for (trust me on this). While watching them, I’ve come up with a few ideas that I feel would make for a fantastic Spider-Man game. This one’s free, Activision, though I recommend acting before your license expires in 2017.

Peter Parker Is Kind Of A Big Deal
One of the key components of Spider-Man is that he is a nerdy kid who is suddenly granted extraordinary powers. He has to reconcile his responsibility as a super-being while also navigating the perilous social landscape of high school (and juggling a part-time job). The fantasy of sticking to walls and swinging webs is a critical part of his attraction, but that’s not the only reason we care about him. He’s Peter Parker, too.

Batman fans don’t relate to Bruce Wayne. Like Iron Man’s Tony Stark, his wealth is simply a way to explain where he gets such wonderful toys. Batman, Iron Man, and most other heroes satisfy the power fantasies that are a part of growing up. Spider-Man is interesting because not only is he super-powered, but he’s also a normal kid coping with relatable problems. Sure, most of us aren’t raised by our widowed aunts, but his isolation and pain resonate in ways that the Joker crashing a gala fundraiser simply can’t.

Anyway, Peter Parker is important. He’s also a facet of the character that hasn’t been given any real screen time in a game. While it would be boring to spend huge chunks of time following Parker as he goes to school and does his homework, players need to get a sense of him as a person. Spectacular Spider-Man spends nearly half of each episode with Peter Parker in school, in the lab, or hanging out with his dorky friends. Give Parker his due. Think Rockstar’s Bully. His job at the Daily Bugle opens up some opportunities to stage photos and earn money while on night patrol, too.

He's Not Superman (And That's Good)
The 1967 cartoon adaptation of Spider-Man is incredible. It is horribly dated, terribly animated, and completely wonderful. Spider-Man changes physiques from scene to scene, his web-slinging is barely faster than a brisk walk, and his quips are awful. At the same time, this interpretation of Spider-Man provides a balance between power and vulnerability that is particularly adaptable for gaming.

Take his first encounter with Doctor Octopus, for instance. Even though Doc Ock is pudgy and his robotic arms seem useless, he’s able to get the upper hand over Spidey and put him in a cage several times. Of course, Spider-Man escapes, but only through the ingenious use of his webbing.

When Spider-Man meets up with Dr. Magneto (what is it with all these angry doctors?!), he learns that his webs are useless against the doctor’s magnetic ray. Don’t ask why. It’s not important. What is important is that the villains in the 1967 cartoon are able to consistently neutralize Spidey’s powers. Our hero is always able to escape and claim victory in the end, but only after being humbled a few times. When that happens to Superman, it feels weird. For Spidey, it shows his pluck.

All of his cartoon appearances show off his creative use of webbing, but the ’67 show does it best. He uses it to make giant baseball gloves. He can create walls made out of web. Need a trampoline? Spidey can help. In combat, Spider-Man needs to be able to use his webs in ways other than a globby projectile or a sticky rope. Let’s face it: Spider-Man is silly. Embrace that.

Embrace The Cheese
That silliness leads to my next suggestion. The tone of the recent Spider-Man games is completely wrong. Again, grim works for Batman. It doesn’t work very well with a character who wears red and blue leotards and can’t resist the temptation to crack wise. Think more The Brave and the Bold and less Arkham City, and you’re on the right track.

Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends is great because it is absolutely insane. In one episode, a character from an arcade game created by Electro leaves the screen and commits a series of robberies. In another, a sadsack named Mr. Frump gains ultimate power courtesy of Dr. Doom (!!!), and he uses it to summon a cat and to become a Superman clone. Spider-Man fights a dinosaur. Seriously.

Instead of creating agonizingly long storylines about time-travelling Spider-Men communicating via chronal links, embrace Spider-Man’s inherent (and great) stupidity and go all in. Keep it in an episodic format, with levels focusing on single villain and their dumb schemes. Electro needs even more electricity! Kraven wants to hunt dinosaurs for some reason! Alien bees want to take over the world!

In short (is it too late for that?), Rocksteady already made those Batman games. Spider-Man is a different dude, and he deserves his own unique game. No more keycard-locked doors. No more crawling through vents. Give me a city to swing around in, some goons to take pictures of, and some campy fun, and I’m sold. Iceman and Firestar not required.