RETRO GAME REVIEW: Spider-Man and The X-Men: Arcade’s Revenge (1994)

(This review is based on the SNES version of the game)

I feel that for some odd reason, LJN’s Spider-Man and The X-Men: Arcade’s Revenge gets a lot of unnecessary criticisms. Sure, the game was awfully difficult and I never really understood Wolverine’s run-in with Juggernaut during the second act, but it still managed to present a rather unique, challenging and true to spirit sense of the classic Marvel universe. Did I say classic? Yes, as in many of the characters are wearing their traditional costumes, and we even find Wolvie in his original brown suit. To add to that, the entire game seems to have that seventies feel of classic Marvel with a soundtrack that combines funk, rock and psychedelia to make for one of my favorite listens in a game. From the opening theme to Cyclops or Spider-Man’s tunes, a lot of love was given in this department and that is still quite strong today. The game had an apparent lack of boss themes however, but that doesn’t bother me as the original soundtrack seems to suit just fine.

We had a rather motley crew of characters here as well, with a mix of Cyclops, Wolverine, Gambit, Storm and of course, Spider-Man. It’s apparent that these characters were well-loved during their FOX TV debuts, so the three development teams that worked on this game (yes, there were three and apparently development became contentious towards the end of the project) took that into consideration rather than adding Nightcrawler, Beast, Rogue or Psylocke (who would all see their debuts in games later on down the road – some on alternate systems) regardless of the fact that these characters also had fans. Though at least the characters were represented accurately enough, as Spider-Man could use his web-shooters, crawl on walls and web-swing (which was insanely useful during his mock city stages) while Cyclops utilized his optic blasts, Wolverine was able to heal while his claws were sheathed and while standing in place, Gambit was able to throw and charge his cards, and Storm was able to use her weather control abilities (ie: shoots lightning bolts) to navigate through a vast underwater labyrinth.

Make no mistake, as this game was very difficult – Cyclops was featured in a mine level where he could not touch the electrified cart rails, while at the same time being forced to dodge enemy bullets and other such hazards as the platforming was more or less focused on jumping from a mine cart to a safe point in the caverns (though they weren’t always safe) and more or less, just trying to stay alive. Wolverine had to make his way up what seemed to be a fun house gone mad, with killer ball pits and gangster clowns that looked like they had just stumbled out of a bar at four in the morning. Wolverine could use his claws to tear apart the walls, but aside from large killer bullets flying everywhere, he had to worry most about missing a jump and falling back down to a lower level of the complex. Gambit’s level was by far pain-inducing, with a giant rolling ball following behind while dozens of mechanical chess pieces swirled about the area, trying to make your life a living hell. You could use cards to deal with these and other obstacles, but you only had a limited amount and would have to pick up power-ups while staying ahead of the giant rolling sphere of mayhem. Storm’s level required destroying a lot of mechanical objects underwater in order for her to pass, but staying underwater for too long would result in an untimely end. More times than I’d ever care to count. Then we had Spider-Man’s level, which was fun at first – you could climb up walls, swing from steel girders and shoot web bolts to destroy pretty much everything, including a halfhearted Shocker and the cyborg dragon that guards the endpoint.

So, it’s a mixed bag then – right? Well, at first. When the second act comes along, Cyclops is facing Master Mold and he’s a bit larger than we’d expect, proving to be a much longer battle than we’d want as well. After defeating what I’d call a wannabe Apocalypse, (seriously, guys – it just wasn’t that good) we have a fun little level where Wolverine is expected to knock down weights from the ceiling onto the rampaging Juggernaut, with the iron lunkhead chasing after him. It’s not as easy as it sounds though, and difficult to figure out at first. You’d think that by just following the path and leaving Juggernaut behind, you’d win. But here’s the thing – at the end of it, there’s a giant ball pit that you cannot escape. It serves as an immediate end. Jumping behind Juggernaut also somehow kills the player, so you have to knock weights directly on him, as he changes speeds throughout the level. Storm and Gambit both face continued environmental threats, as the already labyrinthine path that Storm faces in order to get the water levels to rise has now become even more difficult to navigate and with stronger enemies to boot; (the boss there is by far one of the easiest though, and her lightning bolts make quick work of it) as Gambit now makes his way up what looks to be a sort of tower, with the floor rising ala Mario. It’s not nearly as difficult as the spiked ball however, and the Queen makes an interesting, although simple enemy. Yet Spider-Man gets the worst part of the deal by far, as he has to make it past a Ninja-Gaiden themed stage, complete with tiny platform jumps, enemies placed to knock you off and rain patterns that follow the same directions as the snow patterns in Ninja Gaiden 2, Act 2-2. No, I’m not kidding. You often have to sit and wait for the rain to change directions in order to proceed, but in later areas you will need these perplexingly frustrating water droplets in order to pass certain jumps. When the rain heads to the right, it is nearly identical to the Ninja Gaiden stage and the wind will carry you much further than a normal jump or web-swing (which you really can’t do here, because of the rain) and at the end of it all, you have two oddly placed bosses – Carnage and Rhino. Carnage just jumps around and shoots something similar to your web-bolts, but is barely noticeable as a symbiote. He looks like a red human-shaped blob, to be honest. Rhino’s sprite was a bit better, but we cannot see his face. Anyway, after you took out Carnage you’d have to figure out how to kill Rhino. No normal attack would hurt him, and after days of contemplation and trial and error, I discovered that you had to web-swing into him. The kick would cause damage and after a while, it would destroy him for good.

As far as graphic design goes, you can tell that the game was rushed towards a certain point in production. Cyclops’s sprite on the title screen looks like a terrible hack-job, while the introduction level for our web-slinging friend contains a nearly empty playing field with a horrible city backdrop that looks like it was whipped up in an hour. The building itself seems almost devoid of life as well, making it feel like more was meant to be added. This isn’t seen during the Arcade stages where some animations even appear in the backgrounds, making me wonder if Spider-Man was being handled by a different group of developers. Most of the backgrounds in his stages felt flat, while the X-Men featured a completely different and more life-like approach. You could barely tell that the Sentinels were sentinels, because of the classic look (which was much different than the nineties animated series) and Master Mold himself was insulting – he was just a larger version of a regular sentinel. Though what I feel is a major dead-ringer for a rush-job near the end of the dev cycle is the game’s ending stages. All that is required for each character to do is to simply go from left to right, or right to left while facing the same hazards from their respective stages – just without the traps. Peculiarly, Storm has a walking and jumping sprite now, plus she can jump higher than anyone else and is able to spam what looks to be wind gusts at enemies. Her walking sprite also suffers from a terrible job on the hair portion, which the swimming sprite portrayed rather well.

But the worst part about Spider-Man and The X-Men: Arcade’s Revenge is the final battle with Arcade’s robot. You’re confined to Spider-Man, while the other X-Men are trapped on the left and right sides of the screen. They can fire attacks, but that’s it. If you thought you were going to tear through Arcade’s robot as Logan, then you have another thing coming. After you finish the first three forms (which more or less chase the player down) you have to fight several robot clones of Arcade himself, complete with  pistol in hand. Once you’ve done this, you’re left with a paltry scene detailing Arcade’s escape and detonation of the facility. After awhile, you’re greeted with not even an ounce of credits, but a Game Over screen. Perhaps this is because the credits were somewhat placed on the title screen if you’d wait long enough, but even so, I know that not everyone on these three teams was given proper respect for this project – nor would some of them even want it. The game is notoriously difficult, but people still enjoy it for it’s music and atmosphere. It’s also one of the few times that we’ve seen Arcade in a video game. He was a rather obscure villain to use in order to open up this franchise for a new console generation, as this was the first game featuring Spider-Man or the X-Men on any 16-bit console. It was an odd, experimental romp that could still prove to be a challenge several decades later, which I think is why it will always have the reputation it has for causing gamers to break their controllers. After growing up with a physical copy of this one, I really don’t see what is so difficult about Dark Souls. This was the real deal when it came to frustration – but at least it had a good soundtrack to hum along to while you threw your controller at the screen and cursed heavily.

No Death Playthrough By arronmunroe:

Another In-Depth Observation Can Be Found Here (Spider-Man Crawlspace)

6.0

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