Spider-Man’s Adventures on PS1: Does Whatever a CD Can
Your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man is one of the biggest properties in the world, period. With multiple movie series, significant inclusion in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and a PlayStation 4 game with sales figures that make even the latest Call of Duty blush, it’s easy to see why. But if we take a look back before what’s arguably the nexus of Spidey’s modern-day popularity, the 2002 Tobey Maguire movie, we can see that the web-head found himself in anything from comics, to cartoons, to, of course, games, and two of the most memorable of them are our targets today, Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 on the original PlayStation.
The first released in 2000 from Tony Hawk series developer Neversoft. Much like its PS4 counterpart, it takes place in a separate canon from all other Spidey works. After a presentation gone wrong that results in an impostor Spider-Man stealing from Dr. Octavius, the real Spidey finds himself on the run across New York, encountering and fighting off a villains’ gallery while trying to prove his innocence. The sequel, Spider-Man 2, was sent out the very next year from Vicarious Visions (with Pro Skater’s meteoric rise, Neversoft was put to the grindstone) – a team of supervillains led by Electro are trying to steal a device to turn Electro into a god. Simple enough.
Go get ‘em, tiger.
The reason why I bring up both stories in one sentence is that, outside of them, the gameplay between the two games is almost identical, with the same engine being used between the two. Across both games, Spidey can punch and kick evil-doers, spin webs, zip to the opposite wall, and aim webs for slinging or shooting more precisely. The second game polishes the controls slightly, but not to any massively important amount. There’s a lot of room for speed and finesse; multiple training modes include special rewards and high score tables for excellent performance, made just that little more difficult by heavy but capable controls.
Most levels are linear gauntlets filled with enemies, plenty of punching bags to use your web abilities on. You’ve got your typical “tie them up with webs” abilities, alongside some more clever ones–cover your fists in webs for more power, yank them towards you for an easier punch, and a web dome that explodes with a shockwave fierce enough to knock enemies off buildings (the sequel added a fun Wile E. Coyote-style effect with enemies floating in the air until they look down). Your abilities are balanced by limited, refillable webbing; however, too many web domes will barely leave you enough for web slinging.
For how many ‘gauntlet’ levels there are in the games, though, they aren’t afraid to mix it up. Plenty of levels add puzzles, chase sequences, more open areas that you can explore (especially in the second game), and of course, a boss or two, never leaving too long a stretch of repetitive level design. Villains from across Spidey’s history are more than happy to try and stick a wrench in your heroism. Scorpion, Venom, Hammerhead, Shocker, Carnage, and Electro all show up at some point with their own boss fights, usually requiring a bit more care and thought than just swinging away.
They back up the rogue’s gallery with some surprisingly talented voice acting–actors from the 90s’ cartoons stepped up to the plate to voice everyone, and for that time period, everyone sounds on point. Spidey’s got a full stack of quips in every level helping him feel on point, and every evildoer (except possibly the thugs, but I’ll let that one pass) is about as cartoonishly evil as you could hope. Even more notable is that every villain in both games (a good ten characters) was voiced by two people, which I never would have noticed had I not done the research for this article…
The main thing that makes this duology so notable is how much the developers on both sides clearly gave a damn. Everyone from Spidey, to J. Jonah Jameson, to the most minor of cameos like Punisher or Daredevil remain true to their portrayals in the comics and cartoons at the time, giving people (like me) who had very little exposure to Spider-Man a good, honest look at what the web-slinger was about. I’d like to think this alone was enough to help propel the 2002 Spider-Man movie into a bit bigger public limelight.
They very clearly took inspiration from the comics as well, if the major collectible of the duology doesn’t tip you off. Each game has 32 hidden comic book covers, usually covering the first appearance of the foe in question from that part of the game, or notable events in the comic book canon that match the game as well (as an example, you get two covers talking about how Peter and Mary Jane get married, something that’s true from the beginning of the first game). They’re often pretty damn tough too; some can be only in certain difficulties; some require you to do completely out of the way things like destroy every item in a room.
There’s even more to find in both titles; all of the games have multiple swappable costumes from all across canon, too, usually provided via in-game challenges. They usually come with bonus powers. The usual stuff, like invincibility and unlimited webbing, definitely happen, but there’s a few neat ones there too, like the ability to turn invisible to enemies, jump twice as high, or extend your web swing length. The second game doubled the amount of costumes, along with adding the ability to mix and match suits and powers, a weird reflection of the PS4 game.
You even get little extras on the outside like character bios, concept art, and some miscellaneous details from our narrator, our fifth and final voice in the game, known for his cameos everywhere, Mr. Stan Lee himself. He gives you a little detail on what you’re about to do in some levels, descriptions of people you’ve run into throughout the game, and even gives you an enthusiastic “Excelsior!” when you put in a proper cheat. It’s impressive when you look at these two games, then look at his cameo in the PS4 Spider-Man; even eighteen years wasn’t enough for him to lose his drive.
The minor details go a lot further, though. The PS1 couldn’t handle a lot of geometry, right? So the beginning of the first game makes a plot point out of flooding the streets with deadly fog that you can’t fall into, in one of the better ‘justifications for tech limits’ that I’ve seen. There are fun references to more villains everywhere, my personal favorite being the Hobgoblin’s hideout inside of a random crane you might completely skip due to being chased by police. The second game’s credit roll has Spidey climbing up a building, snarking at every developer’s portrait in the window, almost feeling like a gag reel. Games just don’t do that anymore.
What absolutely takes the cake, though, is a minor cheat that you wouldn’t even learn about in the game otherwise. The “What If?” cheat is based on the comic storyline of the same name. While not as cataclysmic a change as those comics’ plots could be, it definitely fiddles with a lot of weird things in the game. While some of the changes are minor, every now and then you’ll be greeted with a dancing Black Cat, a floating banana that’ll let you skip an entire level, or a submarine race that earns you a cheat code if you win, and you’ll come to appreciate the little touches even more.
Both games were very well received for having varied campaigns, great gameplay, respectful portrayals of their characters, and impressive presentation. The second game is often less fondly remembered for a shorter campaign, less notable evil guys on average, and being more of the same, but in this age, more of the same was not exactly a guarantee; I like it better than the first, but that’s not a common opinion. To each their own. They both sold great, which was probably helped by both the backwards compatibility of the PS2 and the 2002 movie (which had its own game, but still).
Fun aside I can’t fit anywhere else: There was no real problems in the mainstream for the first game, but Spider-Man 2, which was due to release late September, ended up needing a few edits after the 9/11 attacks to rename some levels and change the final battle from obviously being the WTC towers. The original version meant for Europe actually made it out to retail, and has been leaked online if you know where to look. I think I actually owned this version back in the day…
There are definitely more notable Spider-Man games further back in the timeline, but it’s easy to see why Spidey’s PS1 adventures are the most fondly remembered. The franchise has been somewhat notably mishandled in the past with games like Friend or Foe and Shattered Dimensions being thoroughly dull. It’s also produced pure gold, like the PS4 game, and Spider-Man 2 on the seventh generation. I’d like to posit that the two Spider-Man games deserve the third spot on the high-quality podium, though; not entirely for their gameplay (which is admittedly a little outdated today) but as a great example of their time. They look good, play authentically, and have enough detail and care for the IP to outweigh almost every other attempt, only really being matched by Insomniac’s effort. They are absolutely worth the time for any Spidey fan.