Arcade beat ’em up senses tingling – Spider-Man: The Video Game

The US flyer (courtesy of the Arcade Flyer Archive) is a simple, one-side sheet showing off a few of the screens and Spidey front and center. It was a solid beat ’em up back in the early 90’s, though strong competition from the likes of Capcom loomed over it like Galactus’ shadow.

Sega’s Arabian Fight in 1992 was flashy, bombastic, and had the looks to be the arcade beat ’em up to, well, “beat” if it wasn’t for the short stages, boring fight mixes, clunky camera, and recycled bosses. If anything, it’s a weird anomaly following Sega’s licensed adaptation of Marvel’s famous web slinger, Spider-Man, that swung into arcades in 1991.

Spidey’s shown up on platforms like the Atari 2600 to the Game Boy before, but this would be his first arcade debut alongside Namor, Black Cat, and Hawkeye, all sporting looks from the early 90’s.

Sega ran this on their System 32 hardware, a 32-bit system introduced in the same year that Spidey’s game came out and was built around NEC’s 32-bit V60 CPU and not the Motorola 68000 which other systems such as Capcom’s CPS-1 or SNK’s Neo Geo used as their brains. For sound, Zilog’s ever popular Z80 chip was part of the symphony conjured up by two of Yamaha’s YM3438 sound synthesis chips. As with Arabian Fight, the System 32 hardware saw use in a wide variety of other games from sit down cabinets to Sega’s Holosseum hologram game. For more details and to see what it actually looked like, Sega Retro has a great writeup with a gallery of pics on the System 32.

Four heroes, four different ways in which to see combos and special attacks.

Four heroes, four different ways in which to see combos and special attacks.

Up to four players can co-op through this beat ’em up together as one of the four heroes as they chase after a stolen “mystic” stone through four chapters made up of massive, multi-part stages and filled with bosses and bad guys.

Like a lot of beat ’em ups featuring multiple characters, each one is often distinguished by their custom arsenal of animated moves. Spidey, Hawkeye, and Namor the Sub-Mariner all rely mostly on their fists to do the talking with combos of lefts and rights creating heroes out of button mashers. Black Cat, on the other hand, mixes things up as consecutive hits unleash both punches and kicks against her enemies making her the more entertaining character out of the three when it comes to looking really good in smashing up enemies. She’s also a tad faster than the others, though her damage output is mitigated a bit as a result of being more thief than fighter when compared to someone like Spidey or Namor.

Take that, Venom!

Take that, Venom!

Desperation moves, another stable of beat ’em ups, also vary between each of the four. Spidey blasts a web cone at foes. Namor brings his hands together for an electrical blast frying anything immediately in front of him. Hawkeye can shoot his bow for a ranged power attack. Black Cat swings her grappling hook in a vicious circle around her smashing anyone nearby.

As for enemies, the game is filled with weird howling masked faced thugs in colored costumes that are fed like cannon fodder to your heroes’ fists and feet. “Big Men” enemies resort to the usual body attacks like flying belly smashes while “Martial Arts” thugs try to sweep the leg at almost every opportunity.

The Union of Big Men in Beat 'em Ups have to have some kind of manual that keeps telling them to belly splash enemies.

The Union of Big Men in Beat ’em Ups have to have some kind of manual that keeps telling them to belly splash enemies, roll at them, or otherwise turn themselves into boulders of muscle and bone in nearly every game.

The game does try and mix things up to keep players hopping and things interesting, however, and most of these disposable thugs never last too long to wear out their welcome adding to the sense that you are a comic book badass. It’s a good thing, too, since no one except for the boss (and the player) have any kind of health gauge to tell how well they’re doing. The player’s health also slowly degrades over time in addition to whatever damage they receive from enemies or in using desperation attacks encouraging players to plow more coins into the stand up.

When it gets to the bosses, it does resort to recycling. Not of all of them, but enough to make some fights grind on like fighting the Green Goblin who, at one point, as to be jump-kicked while flying around on his rocket sled. But a great slice of those Marvel classics that have tormented Spidey in the comics are here — Scorpion, Venom, Doctor Octopus, Electro, and the final baddy, Doctor Doom. Some would return towards the end to gang up on Spidey, such as Venom, or were tough enough to show back up again in the same stage.

The 2D platforming segments were neat additions to Sega's interpretation of the beat 'em up. Players lost the 8-way movement against a depth of field for a pseudo 3D effect in exchange for a vertical approach to fighting the bad guy while jumping across gaps in scaffolding floors.

The 2D platforming segments were neat additions to Sega’s interpretation of the beat ’em up. Players lost the 8-way movement against a depth of field for that pseudo 3D effect in exchange for a vertical approach to fighting the bad guy while jumping across gaps in scaffolding floors.

Even the visuals were done up comic-style with backdrops created as if they were inked panels, special effects bubbles with action words, and cut scenes that seemed lifted straight from the storyboards of Marvel’s artists. The stages were also split up between traditional side-scrolling beat ’em up sections, facing mini-bosses like Electro, and then zooming out into a 2D platforming section introducing new options such as allowing characters to jump up and crawl along ceilings, up and down walls, and traverse their way across towards the end when it would zoom back to more eight-way beat ’em up action. A few boss fights, such as the one against Venom, would also take place in these special platforming areas. While some beat ’em ups would introduce things like flying stages such as in Blade Master or Arabian Fight, Sega opted to go the 2D platforming route which was a ballsy move to make in the arcade.

Black Cat is shoulder smashed by Doom. Those mime guys are here, too. Just forget about ever trying to escape them.

Black Cat is shoulder smashed by Doom. Those mime guys are here, too. Just forget about ever trying to escape them.

Story-wise, it did as an okay a job as you could expect from an arcade stand-up with cut scenes in between stages, villains mocking our heroes, and an actual ending that made spending those quarters and tokens worth it especially if you could find friends or help others get there. It wasn’t quite as epic in the way Captain America and the Avengers would portray itself, but it still worked.

So at the end of Castlevania, Dracula's castle finally...oh wait, wrong game.

So at the end of Castlevania, Dracula’s castle finally…

At the same time, it also wasn’t quite as epic as a number of its peers even with its roster of villainy. For example, Data East’s Avengers had players star as Cap, Iron Man, and even Hawkeye who shows up again in the same year in Data East’s cabinet. That’s not to say that Namor and Black Cat were slouches — gameplay-wise, they were okay though Namor is kind of boring to watch onscreen. But come on…that’s Iron Man in that other cabinet. Even before those big, flashy movies in the 21st century, people knew who he was and wanted to flex rockets at bad guys.

Unfortunately, this particular comic beat ’em up didn’t make its way out from the arcade and into the homes of players on consoles like the SNES or the Genesis. unlike Capcom’s The Punisher a few years later. Overall, it was a solid beat ’em up with enough Marvel fanboyism to make it worth any web slinger’s time. I spent quite a few tokens on this myself back in the day either with friends or in just jumping in to help out whoever was playing it at the time and had a blast doing so. To Spidey and his Amazing Friends, that’s probably the best ending to any adventure.

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One response to “Arcade beat ’em up senses tingling – Spider-Man: The Video Game

  1. Pingback: Marvelous licensing from arcade’s past – X-Men | World 1-1·

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