Spider-Man swung into high-definition in the late 2000s with the move to the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. While the last decade has seen several more adaptations of Spider-Man films, it has also seen the emergence of numerous original mobile games featuring the superhero, from side-scrolling action to endless runners. After following the character through the late 1990s and early 2000s, OnlySP continues its Spider-Man Week coverage with the final decade of Spider-Man games, up to this week’s latest entry for the friendly neighbourhood hero.
2008 – Spider-Man: Web of Shadows
Shaba Games, which had previously worked on smaller titles such as Shrek SuperSlam and Wakeboarding Unleashed Featuring Shaun Murray, led development on an original Spider-Man game in 2008. Similarly to Spider-Man 3, Web of Shadows has three different versions: while it is a 3D action game for PC, PS3, Wii, and Xbox 360, the game is a 2.5D side-scrolling beat-’em-up action game for PlayStation Portable and PlayStation 2, and a 2.5D side-scrolling platformer for Nintendo DS.
Following the recent release of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3—the lowest-rated film in the trilogy—the developer felt particular pressure to create a good game. “Most people pointed to Spider-Man 2 as the high point and really just wanted to go back to basics, focusing on solid web swinging and open-world mechanics rather than story-based cutscenes and quick-time events,” lead gameplay programmer Tim O’Neil told OnlySP.
“While I don’t think we dialled it in as much as I would have liked, we did a lot of good work with the camera systems and aerial combat, breaking ground that had not really been covered before […] The camera would swivel off angle and show you things all around you, giving much more cinematic views of the action without changing the core mechanics.”
Despite its mediocre reception upon release, the game is remembered fondly by the developer. “I look back and I’m very fond of the game we managed to make,” said O’Neil. “Spider-Man is such an iconic character and many of the elements that make him who he is are so damned hard to replicate through a controller.”
2009 – Spider-Man: Toxic City
Gameloft partnered up with Marvel Comics to develop a short series of mobile Spider-Man titles, beginning with Toxic City in 2009. Featuring 13 missions, the game is a 2D side-scrolling action game in which Spider-Man must stop the Green Goblin from taking over New York. While the game received praise for its environments and story, it was criticised for its short length and awkward controls. Toxic City is no longer available to download.
2010 – Ultimate Spider-Man: Total Mayhem
In 2010, Gameloft Beijing developed Ultimate Spider-Man: Total Mayhem, an action-adventure game for iOS and Android. Despite its title, the game does not take place within the Ultimate Universe continuity, though several main characters from the comics make appearances, including Green Goblin, Electro, Doctor Octopus, Sandman, and Venom. The game is no longer available to download.
2010 – Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions
After several years of porting Spider-Man games to PC, Beenox finally had a chance to develop an original game with Shattered Dimensions. “It was an honour to work with Marvel and to design games with such an iconic character,” said creative director and co-studio head Thomas Wilson. “Having the opportunity to start fresh with Shattered Dimensions was extremely exciting.”
Players control four different versions of Spider-Man, each from a different Marvel Comics universe. The game’s original story was written by Dan Slott, best known for his work on The Amazing Spider-Man series of graphic novels, but character changes forced some narrative alteration.
Mark Hoffmeier, a staff writer on all five seasons Spider-Man: The Animated Series, was brought on to assist with the story changes. “[The game] was originally supposed to involve Doctor Strange and Dormammu,” Hoffmeier told OnlySP. “But some sort of movie deal with them was being shopped, so they got pulled in favour of Madame Web and Mysterio.”
One of the four Spider-Men featured in the game was Spider-Man Noir, a darker, alternate version of the slinging superhero, which Hoffmeier found particularly appealing. “I do remember really liking the Spider-Man Noir stuff as that was my introduction to that universe. I found it really fun and appealing, but then I’m a history buff.”
2011 – Spider-Man: Edge of Time
A sequel to Shattered Dimensions, titled Spider-Man: Edge of Time, was released by Beenox and Activision in 2011. The game features two Spider-Men—the original hero and Spider-Man 2099—and features a ‘cause-and-effect’ system wherein the actions of one Spider-Man affects the other. The game’s response was mixed, with several considering it a decline in quality after Shattered Dimensions, and it was Beenox’s final original game for the character, with only adaptations of films to follow. After Activision lost the Marvel license in 2014, Edge of Time was removed from all digital storefronts.
2012 – The Amazing Spider-Man
Beenox’s next project with the character was The Amazing Spider-Man, a tie-in with the 2012 film of the same name starring Andrew Garfield as the titular character. “Being a movie goer myself, you can imagine how much I was geeking out when we were sitting down somewhere in Sony’s office reading the [movie] script ahead of time in full confidentiality before everyone else!” said creative director Thomas Wilson.
However, the game’s status as a film adaptation led to even more pressures for the developer. “Spider-Man was the most difficult character I had to work with,” lead game designer Rodolphe Recca revealed. “He is so iconic and fans like me want the best for him.” The studio used several innovative techniques and engine upgrades to achieve this goal. “We did a lot of work on animations, camera, and gameplay. We also did the full game with no-cut camera to increase the challenge but to give this feeling that you are living a full experience.”
“One of the things that we went through during the production,” says lead designer David Deschenes, “is that, at first, when using the web navigation tool, we needed to generate all possible landing spots. At one point, someone mentioned that it was useless to have choices when all you wanted to do was target exactly where you wanted to go. We removed all the possible landing locations and left the player target where [they] wanted to go exactly.”
Recca adds, “We also changed the combat mechanics to promote his Spider-Sense and acrobat combat skills inspired by wrestling while using his surroundings and webs. I remember pushing toward this direction that fits Spider-Man so well.”
The game was released to a generally positive response. “It was a lot of pressure and a full re-design of the brand—a technical hell to develop,” said Recca. “It was an experience where I learnt a lot and I’m really proud of the result.”
“It was dream to work on Spider-Man,” agrees Deschenes. “I was a big fan when I was younger and I thought to myself that this was probably the only way that I would be able to work with that character, because I can’t draw!”
2014 – Spider-Man: Ultimate Power
Another side-scrolling action game from Gameloft, Spider-Man: Ultimate Power was released for mobile devices in 2014. In the game, Mary Jane is kidnapped by the unlikely alliance of the Green Goblin, Sandman, and Venom, and the player must defeat their goons to track down the villains and save Spider-Man’s girlfriend. The game received little attention upon release and is no longer available to download.
2014 – Spider-Man Unlimited
Gameloft’s final entry in the Spider-Man universe is the endless runner Spider-Man Unlimited. “Working on a Spider-Man game was kind of a bucket-list assignment,” lead designer Corentin Delprat told OnlySP. “If you’d told me as a kid I would be lead designer on a Marvel game one day I probably wouldn’t have believed you.”
Despite being restricted to the endless runner genre, Spider-Man Unlimited was not restricted in its gameplay. “I had the objective of creating a game that used never-before-seen gameplay mechanics,” said producer Stephen Melanson. “We had to create something much more than just a ‘runner,’ and put our focus on innovative gameplay.”
“We had to make the game accessible for people who never played a game before and interesting enough for hardcore fans,” said creative director Baptiste Marmey. “For the atmosphere we wanted to catch and emphasize the comic book feeling so we added cel shading with fat strokes, ‘pow’ batman effects, comic book style menus […] We also wanted to show New York as Spider-Man sees it: verticality and landmarks as playgrounds.”
“At the start of development, the game was entirely built around the touch-based ‘web-slinging’ mechanic,” said Delprat. “But we quickly realised that there weren’t enough interesting hazards to be found 100ft above Manhattan […] so we started incorporating rooftops here and there to offer more traditional running parts between these swinging sections. From then on, everything all clicked into place and we started pouring more diversity into the gameplay until it felt like the right dose of action.
“Unlimited was actually the first game to feature pretty much every single variation of Spider-Man ever released,” Delprat continued. “So we had to come up with a story that relied heavily on the Marvel multiverse to make it possible.” The game is not short on Marvel characters—the Sinister Six, Nick Fury, and S.H.I.E.L.D. all make appearances—and this is no surprise considering Gameloft New York’s influence by the universe. “Our office at the time was in midtown Manhattan, a stone’s throw away from Times Square and the Marvel HQ […] so we were literally living and breathing Spider-Man during the whole of development.”
The game—which was recently updated to tie into the release of Avengers: Infinity War—had a profound effect on the developer. “Being able to contribute to the Spider-Man universe and meeting actual fans of Spider-Man Unlimited was one of the best experiences I ever had,” said Melanson.
2014 – The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Beenox’s final interaction with Spider-Man was in the adaptation of Andrew Garfield’s second (and final) film as the eponymous character, The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Though similar to its predecessor, the game improved several gameplay features, including the addition of stealth options and the expansion of the game’s world and side content.
“In retrospect, the introduction of the ‘Hero vs. Menace system’ was probably one of the worst game design decisions of my entire career,” said creative director and co-studio head Thomas Wilson, referring to the gameplay feature wherein players are rewarded for preventing crimes or punished for failing to do so. “It was one of those ideas that sounded cool on paper, but crumbled under its own weight in the end.”
“We had good intentions! How could we make the player care about the criminal activities that were running rampart all over the city? ‘Let’s have some kind of reputation meter!’ we decided. After all, it was a recurring theme in all Spider-Man films, right? We unfortunately ran out of time to create enough mission variety and to balance the experience so players would not feel penalized for not keeping up with all the criminal side missions that were popping on the map once in a while. We eventually considered shutting down the whole idea but we were unfortunately too late in development to remove it.”
Despite the disappointing of this major gameplay system, in many ways, the two film tie-in games were a return to form for the swinging superhero. “The Amazing Spider-Man series marked the return to the open-world genre, which I believe is a decision the community welcomed,” said creative director and co-studio head Thomas Wilson. “To this day, I’m still being told by people who learn we’ve been making these games how much fun they had swinging through Manhattan or fighting a particular villain.
“It always warms my heart because, after all, we do this for the fans!”
Check back on Friday for OnlySP’s full interview with Thomas Wilson, featuring a deeper discussion on Beenox’s Spider-Man games, and a look to the future for the studio.
2018 – Spider-Man
After 22 years of developing original intellectual properties, including Spyro the Dragon, Ratchet & Clank, and Resistance, Insomniac Games teamed up with Marvel Games to develop Marvel’s Spider-Man. Announced at E3 2016, the game has remained at the forefront of Sony’s promotional campaigns. The title features an older Peter Parker, who has been using the Spider-Man moniker for eight years, fighting against some of his greatest enemies. Spider-Man releases on Friday, and OnlySP’s review will be available early next week.