Title: Spider-Man Vs. The Kingpin
Release Date: 1991
1991 was a golden year for the Sega Megadrive, with the machine at it’s peak and a host of spectacular releases. There were also a few hidden gems, not only for gamers but comic book fans, too, and Spider-Man vs The Kingpin was not just the first on the system, but the daddy of them all. The game is a voraciously enjoyable experience in the guise of a platform puzzle game as you take control of ol’ web-head as he tries to foil the plans of The Kingpin.
The graphics won some acclaim at the time, and it’s easy to see why. Everything has that comic book feel, with harsh black outlines, good use of primary colours, and a pixel map that mimics a rather neat halftone effect in places; an unexpected but welcome touch. The Spidey sprite is eerily accurate to the comic in it’s poses and stances, as are the main villains, and there are some lovely, grimy looking backgrounds and sweet parallax scrolling to complete the paper page like eye candy. The only downside to the visuals is the animation, which is just a touch limited but entirely functional.
The sound is one of the game’s strong points. The Megadrive’s sound chip is instantly recognisable and the music is amazing, suitably funky and has for me always held a very 60’s feel to it. In fairness, the entire thing has a 60’s feel, which may stem from my childhood watching repeats of the 60’s cartoon show in the 80’s (if that makes sense), and it works beautifully with the character’s origins in that particular decade. The effects are synthesised wooshes and splats representing the various swings and web shots that Spidey has at his disposal, which aren’t great, but they serve their purpose well.
The game plays fine as a standard action platformer, with the web lobbing bringing elements of a shoot ’em up to proceedings, and there is immense pleasure in swinging around at speed. This feature becomes a core gameplay element in certain levels such as the park, where you are almost chewing the gamepad in order to swing away from the hairy sub-boss on that particular level. This would be fun enough, but the team decided to throw in small puzzle elements into the game and even a sprinkling of an RPG, allowing the player to take optional pictures of the action that can be sold to the Daily Bugle to buy more web fluid. This really adds a bit of spice to the action when you are frantically fighting Doc Ock for your life, but scramble at the controls in the hope of snapping a quick shot of the bastard for post-battle booty. You can also retire to Peter Parker’s flat to recharge your energy, which given the fact the game is absolutely rock solid, helps a great deal. It all adds up to quite a varied and exhilarating experience and the game also has some excellent picture and text based cut scenes between levels, cementing the idea that this is a story and you are in right the thick of it.
One of the most pleasing features of the game is the lineup of classic Spider-Man villains included as bosses thoguhout the game. The gang’s all here, from Sandman to Electro to one of my favourites The Lizard (in non-goomba Amazing Spider-Man 2 form no less!) and being almost a decade shy of the big comic book X-Men ignited film boom, each character is based solely on their comic book counterparts. Venom appears as a sort of random sub-boss on occasion to put you off your stride, adding even more variety to the already well-balanced gameplay.
Spider-Man vs The Kingpin was made in a time where the last (and first?) great on-screen wall-crawler was Nicolas Hammond. The project was very much out of the blue and obviously made with some love since it wasn’t a cheap cash in to some current mainstream trend and this shines through in the quality of the game. I still play it some 25 years later, which shows tremendous longevity and a fantastic re-play value. It’s cosmetics may look a little creaky, even by the later Megadrive game standards, but it managed to capture a really good blend between a comic book and pixel art look.
As one of the very first representation of our friendly neighbourhood web-head on a Sega console it’s an outstandingly strong start and one that most, nay all retro gamers and fans of the character should take some time to check out!
The writer of this piece was: Alan Stares
Alan is a sound engineer, retro gamer, and general all-round geek from Glasgow. You can read more of his thoughts on a range of topics at ‘The Scots Perspective‘ and on retro gaming at ‘The Old Oilhouse‘.