Spider-Man is easily one of the most popular figures in comic books. His iconic wardrobe and powers have withstood the test of time, and the character has graced every form of entertainment imaginable, including movies, novels, broadway musicals, and, of course, videogames
Like any long-running pop culture staple, he’s seen his ups and downs. Sometimes the ol’ webhead is the star of the show, and sometimes he’s just dropping by to make a cameo. Let’s take a look, in chronological order, at the 15 Best Appearances of Spider-Man in Video Games!
As far as we can tell, this was not only Spidey’s first videogame, it was also the first game based on a Marvel Comics hero. Using the Atari 2600’s iconic (and now archaic) controller, the player, as Spider-Man, has to climb a building and capture crooks, disarm bombs, and defeat the Green Goblin. At least, we think that’s what happens. It was 1982, so the graphics make it pretty tough to discern what’s happening, though a little imagination was enough to make up for the decidedly minimalist graphical capabilities of the Atari.
Actually, in all fairness to Spider-Man 2600, it’s better than a lot of the other games of its era, especially those based on existing licenses. Do we really need to bring up ET? There wasn’t much variety though, since after the first stage, subsequent levels were practically identical to each other. Sure, it’s not a classic on par with River Raid, Kaboom!, or Pitfall, but there were worse ways to kill fifteen minutes before school in the early ’80s.
Revenge of Shinobi (1990)
Revenge of Shinobi was the first title in the Shinobi series to be developed for the Sega Genesis, and is a fondly remembered action/platforming classic. Spider-Man isn’t actually playable in this game, and if one plays its modern digital re-releases, they may not even realize he was ever present at all.
One of the bosses of the sixth stage is a pink character vaguely reminiscent of the friendly-neighborhood wall-crawler. In earlier versions of the game, however, the boss was, in fact, Spider-Man himself, as Sega had licensed the character for use in another game and was able to slip him in here, as well. Of course, once the license expired, subsequent printings and re-releases had to alter the character model to avoid any copyright infringement lawsuits. Still, we wonder how many surprised players had their minds blown when they encountered Spider-Man in a Shinobi game…pure magic.
Maximum Carnage (1994)
We’ll mercifully skip the dreadful NES and Game Boy titles which are better left forgotten, and jump straight into the fondly-remembered 1994 beat-em-up, Spider-Man and Venom: Maximum Carnage. Based on the comic book storyline of the same name, Maximum Carnage featured a host of cameos from other Marvel characters, such as Captain America, Iron Fist, and Deathlok, who teamed up with Spider-Man and a begrudgingly heroic Venom to take down the irredeemable monster, Carnage, who had assembled a villainous team of his own.
Maximum Carnage, the comic book, is commonly dismissed as one of Spider-Man’s weakest efforts up to that point, and a herald of even worse stories to come (The Clone Saga and One More Day, anyone?), though the game is praised as the best thing to come out of the whole affair. The game was a single-player-only side-scrolling fighter, though cooperative multiplayer was added in the 1995 sequel, Venom/Spider-Man: Separation Anxiety.
Rest in Peace, Neversoft. Before they were eventually folded into the Call of Duty Industrial Complex, the developer of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater created what was, to that point, the greatest Spider-Man videogame ever made. Featuring voice work from some veterans of the animated series, including Rino Romano as Spidey and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. as Doc Ock, Spider-Man was the first time we really felt like we were going on a fully-realized Spider-Man adventure, designed from the ground up for the video game audience.
With so many characters packed in, heroes and villains alike, this short-but-sweet linear romp through New York City allowed players to truly be able to do “whatever a spider can” while going up against such foes as Scorpion, Rhino, and Venom. The narration from Stan Lee was just the icing on the cake. But the game’s most legendary feature was it’s “What if…?” mode, which remixed the levels, adding a ton of bizarre humor and wacky deviations from the main storyline.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 (2000)
Fun Fact: THPS2 was released on the Playstation about a month after Spider-Man, and, in an ode to Neversoft’s work on both games, Easter Eggs are in abundance across both titles. In Spider-Man, footage of THPS2 is seen on a television in J. Jonah Jameson’s office, and a billboard advertising THPS2 is hidden on a rooftop. When discovered, Spidey will remark, “Tony Hawk? Hey, I skated with that guy!” And indeed, it’s true.
In Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, upon earning 100% completion with a created skater (as opposed to any of the licensed pros), Spider-Man will be unlocked as a playable character, complete with his own unique special moves. The Tony Hawk games were released at the end of the golden age of hidden secrets and unlockable extras, in the last days before the advent of Downloadable Content. The Tony Hawk series continued for a long time, but most fans would agree that the last great Pro Skater game was Tony Hawk’s Project 8, and even more would also like to pretend that 2015’s dismal Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 never happened. But we can always reminisce about the good old days…
Spider-Man 2: Enter Electro (2001)
With Neversoft working on Tony Hawk full time, work on Spider-Man 2: Enter Electro was outsourced to developer Vicarious Visions, who would later develop Crash Bandicoot games for the Game Boy Advance, as well as Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2. Enter Electro is not as particularly beloved as its predecessor, though it certainly does have its fans, particularly those who appreciate the numerous X-Men cameos and heightened level of difficulty.
Still, Enter Electro is more infamous for its behind-the-scenes drama. The game was scheduled for release right around the time of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York City, and the final confrontation against Electro was set on top of the Twin Towers. After the tragic events of that September, the game’s ending was heavily revised, with the setting of the final showdown being changed to a generic location, as well as all references to the World Trade Center being removed. It’s a true story, though not at all a “fun fact.”
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
We’ve entered into the next console generation (PS2-era), as well as a whole new age for Spider-Man, that of the venerated Sam Raimi movies. All three films were adapted by Treyarch, who would later go on to develop 007: Quantum of Solace and Call of Duty: Black Ops. The first movie tie-in game was pretty unremarkable, being based on the gameplay framework of Neversoft’s 2000 title, but the second film spawned what would become one of the most beloved licensed games this side of the Batman Arkham series.
Spider-Man 2 borrowed the open-ended freedom of Grand Theft Auto III and applied it to the world of Spider-Man. For the first time, Spidey’s webs didn’t just attach themselves to the sky, but were dependent on the geography of the world and realistic physics. It was a revelation for its time, and still holds up to this day. The in-game missions themselves and the number of open-world activities would be improved upon in the Spider-Man 3 tie-in game, but we still remember how incredible it was to swing around Manhattan just like the real deal. We’d certainly come a long way in web-slinging and wall-crawling since the Atari 2600 days.
Ultimate Spider-Man (2005)
The gameplay of Spider-Man 2 would prove to be a key selling point in many a Spider-Man game to come, including its immediate follow-up, Ultimate Spider-Man. With no movie to tie into yet, Treyarch opted to instead explore the the alternate Ultimate Marvel universe in a story which is more-or-less considered to be in-continuity with the comics of the time.
In addition to playing as Peter Parker, the player can also take control of Venom and murder civilians with psychotic glee, devouring them to restore your own health. The Ultimate Marvel universe is a dangerous place, indeed! The more cartoon-like art style helped to undercut the unsettlingly high levels of mass murder the player can commit as Venom, and the game’s content is, for the most part, relatively tame, especially when compared with some of the seriously grisly stuff that goes down in the Ultimate comics.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance (2006)
In 2006, Raven Software, developer of the excellent X-Men Legends games, turned up the heat and released Marvel Ultimate Alliance, which was essentially The Avengers crossed with Diablo, and it was glorious. The aesthetics and colorful personalities of the Marvel universe blended wonderfully with the dungeon-crawler gameplay — which could be tackled as a four-player team — with players taking control of any of over 20 characters including Blade, Deadpool, Ghost Rider, and, yes indeed, Spider-Man. The underrated 2009 sequel streamlined some of the RPG elements and progression systems, but improved the graphics and introduced awesome ragdoll physics to heighten the moment-to-moment combat.
For a long time, most fans believed that the Marvel Ultimate Alliance games were the closest they’d ever get to Spider-Man fighting as an Avenger in such a cinematic adventure, especially in the sequel, which adapted the Civil War storyline. That all changes this May, when Captain America: Civil War will introduce the character, as played by Tom Holland, to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Praise the movie gods.
Spider-Man: Web of Shadows (2008)
After the Spider-Man trilogy of films wrapped up in 2007, Activision saw no reason to stop making games based on New York’s favorite wall-crawler, so they tasked Shaba Games with creating an original title to continue the character’s legacy.
Web of Shadows added a completely superfluous morality system (why would Spider-Man ever choose the decidedly out-of-character “evil” path?), and was plagued with glitches and poor graphics, especially for 2008. While the game was generally dismissed by critics, it quickly became a fan-favorite with players who enjoyed the ever-enduring open-world exploration and supporting cast, which included Wolverine, Iron Fist, Luke Cage, Black Cat, and others. The game also had a decent place for Mary Jane Watson in the action — she had a few badass moments blasting Symbiotes with a shotgun alongside her super-powered boyfriend.
Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions (2010)
After the underwhelming commercial performance of Web of Shadows and the eventual closure of Shaba Games, Activision handed their next Spider-Man title to Beenox, who had previously worked on Guitar Hero: Smash Hits, as well as PC ports of earlier Spider-Man games. Beenox came up with the high-concept Shattered Dimensions, in which versions of Spider-Man across multiple realities must work together to protect the multiverse.
It’s a wild ride which trades the novel open-world web-slinging of Web of Shadows and its predecessors with a more linear progression for the sake of a focused narrative. Each Marvel Universe (Traditional, Ultimate, Noir, and 2099) has its own unique art style and gameplay situations, though the stealth-focused Noir segments are often singled out as being the weak link, despite their striking visuals. Shattered Dimensions was well-received and was met with strong sales, though the sequel, Spider-Man: Edge of Time, is considered to be a disappointing follow-up.
Marvel Pinball (2010)
Zen Studios’ pinball titles are beloved translations of old-school pinball mechanics into videogame form, and are widely acclaimed as being near-perfect pinball experiences. One of their many titles, Marvel Pinball, features a table based on the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man. It’s considered to be one of the easier Zen Studios tables, but it’s still a lot of fun, and a great entry point for would-be score chasers.
For those who prefer the real-life games, Stern Pinball released a physical Spider-Man table in 2007. Based on the Sam Raimi films, it is considered by hardcore pinball devotees to be one of Stern’s better efforts, and even features new voice work from JK Simmons as everybody’s favorite newspaper editor, J. Jonah Jameson, hammier than ever.
Marvel vs Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds (2011)
While Spider-Man has appeared in a handful of one-on-one fighting games, including the ho-hum Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects (terrible title, okay game), he played a vital role in the legendary crossover series, Marvel vs Capcom.
Spidey is playable in all three iterations, plus Capcom’s earlier title, the awesome (if generically named) Marvel Super Heroes, and is voiced by frequent Spider-Man performer, Josh Keaton. As far as tier listings go, Spider-Man is generally ranked favorably, though not spectacularly. He’s considered a decent character with which to find one’s footing and learn how to play the game, before moving on to more complex and rewarding characters like Nathan ‘Rad’ Spencer.
Lego Marvel Superheroes (2013)
Like Marvel: Ultimate Alliance before it, LEGO Marvel Superheroes brings Spider-Man together with heroes from all corners of the Marvel universe, from the X-Men to the Fantastic Four, to Iron Man and Captain America. However, unlike Ultimate Alliance, LEGO Marvel features the distinctly adorable style of developer Traveler’s Tales.
For those unfamiliar with the LEGO series of games, all of the characters are depicted as LEGO minifigs, though the backgrounds feature varying degrees of realism. The style is so well-executed, it makes even such intimidating characters, such as Doctor Doom and Carnage, appear cute and cuddly! Despite the kid-friendly presentation and silly antics of the main storyline, LEGO Marvel Superheroes has a fairly large open-world Manhattan (and Asgard) with a robust set of challenges, and a grand total of 180 characters to control. Lego Marvel Superheroes is quality family entertainment for kids and adults alike.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)
We are grateful to have the Marc Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man films securely in our rear-view mirror, and many are ready to pretend that they never existed in the first place. That being said, Beenox’s tie-in games are actually quite decent, certainly less divisive than the films upon which they are based.
The first film’s licensed game actually functions as a sequel to the movie, an extended epilogue which returns to the open-world setting of earlier titles. The game, based on the second (and final) film, is very plainly based on the strong blueprint of the Spider-Man 3 game, with multiple plotlines to follow, and features the main plot of the film as a secondary storyline. Unlike the Sam Raimi era, however, none of the actors from the films reprise their roles in the games, leaving these titles having something of a second-hand feel… Not unlike the “Amazing” films themselves, come to think of it.
What’s your favorite Spider-Man game? Did we miss any classics in our list? Do you think we’ll ever see a game starring Tom Holland’s version of the character? Sound off in the comments below!