Sunday, December 27, 2015

Just Say No: Spider-Man - Return of the Sinister Six (NES/SMS/GG)

Spider-man: Return of the Sinister Six (NES/Master System/Game Gear, 1992)

You might be digging through an increasingly rare selection of old games at a pawn shop or mom n pop game store... maybe browsing Ebay, looking for mint-in-box choices to add to your basement collection... or maybe you're just browsing a ROM list. And you come across this sweet box art and wonder why you've never heard of this one before. Sure, there's the adjectiveless Spider-man game on Genesis (sometimes called Vs. the Kingpin)... distant, terrible memories of Spider-man/X-men: Arcade's Revenge, a couple of mediocre, Venom-team-up beat-em-ups... Return of the Sinister Six, though? Nah, doesn't ring a bell. It's not even the first Spider-man game released on consoles or handhelds - even if we exclude Amiga/PC games (and we should)... and exclude the 1982 Atari 2600 game (and we should)... the Genesis had already seen its own mediocre platformer, two games had been released for Game Boy, and Sega had already gotten in on the Spidey action with a very strange arcade beat-em-up. So you'd be forgiven for not remembering Return of the Sinister Six.

It's just as well. It's pretty common knowledge that nearly all of the Marvel-based games released for NES are garbage (not all, I'll admit), so I guess it's comforting to know this Spidey game feels right at home in that regard. Much like LJN's infamously terrible Uncanny X-men game, it feels unfinished - maybe it's better to say it feels like it was barely started, like someone made a prototype of how they imagined a quick comic cash-in should look and play in the year 1988.

Problem is, this game was released in late 1992 - compare it to some of the finer-looking games from that year, like Darkwing Duck or Mega Man 5 or TMNT3 and it's downright inexcusable how terrible it looks, both here and in motion. It wouldn't have passed for "attractive" even 4 years earlier, the same year Blaster Master was released. But maybe I'm being too harsh. After all, Spider-man looks very much like Spider-man, and anyone familiar with the comics will recognize all the villains. That's more than we can say about that X-men game.

Let's say we can get beyond the game's typically LJN graphics. Surprise! Gameplay is also typical of most of the Marvel games that LJN published: unpolished, poorly designed, and borderline unplayable. Spider-man can punch, and he can do a little jump-kick - however, it seems entirely random which one he'll perform when you hit the attack button. Jumping isn't much better, particularly since you can't attack while jumping. Believe me when I say that "frustrating" is an understatement, especially when dealing with flying villains like the Vulture.

Actually, I should go back a bit - it doesn't matter which move Spidey will do, because the controls are so damn unresponsive that half the time he won't do anything at all. To make it worse, the hit detection is some of the worst I've ever seen. Spider-man often will punch or jump right through an enemy; for the hit to land, you have to be standing just far enough.

The platforming is standard fare; had the controls and combat not been so deeply, fundamentally flawed, levels would have been bog-standard NES fare (on the easy side, actually). And they're not all the same - a few levels are traditional platforming; a few are faster-paced, where the goal is to dodge incoming fire (from above as well); a few are bigger, less linear, and require you to hunt down a few keys to advance. OK, so a little level variety is one of the fundamentals for a platformer to even be mediocre, but in a game this roundly terrible, you can't take anything for granted.

Like the music, which isn't so bad. Or the big boss rooms, which give ample room to maneuver. Or the... well, that's all I got. But look at the nice box art, eh? Just say no, folks. You're better off doing drugs.

The game was also ported to Sega Master System, and an identical version to Game Gear. The port, or so I've read, is easier, with a few redesigned levels. But in my brief test with it, it played the same - maybe even more unresponsive. It did have noticeably more vivid colors, but that's Master System for you. On further thought, it's even more inexcusable that the game should be so downright ugly on the SMS, considering how beefy it was compared to the NES. Regardless, it's still not worth trying. 

All screenshots are my own. Box art is from GameFAQs as usual. 

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