maanantai 8. heinäkuuta 2013

REVIEW - Spider-Man / Venom: Maximum Carnage | SNES | 1994

GENRE(S): Action / Fighting
RELEASED: September 1994
DEVELOPER(S): Software Creations
PUBLISHER(S): Acclaim Entertainment (GEN), LJN (SNES)

In 1994, Spider-Man swung onto the screen in a 16-bit game called Spider-Man / Venom: Maximum Carnage. Now let's look at it: the cartridge was blood red. A New York-based rock band named Green Jellÿ - that at one time featured current members of Tool - was hired to do the soundtrack, and a licensed soundtrack at that time was completely unheard of in a console-exclusive game. The title of the game itself told stories: it was to star both Spider-Man and Venom in hunt of their insane arch nemesis Carnage, another victim of the alien symbiote that originally turned Eddie Brock into Venom. Everything about this game sounded awesome. Then LJN was confirmed to publish the SNES version, and the light at the end of the tunnel just went out. Well, despite the fall of darkness, I went and tried the game. To my complete and utter surprise, I liked the game, but that was years ago - I could've just been glad to find ONE half-decent Spider-Man game. How about now? ...Honestly? If you're into arcade-style beat 'em up and some truly well presented comic book action, Maximum Carnage might honestly tingle your senses and do it good. Maximum Carnage might well be the best game LJN ever laid their hands on.

Sticking to the basics and doing it well

What a kick-off.
Cletus Kasady is taken to the Ravencroft Institute, where he somehow manages to generate a copy of the alien symbiote he once bonded with, enabling his transformation into Carnage. Carnage goes on to release a few of his fellow patients and recruit more from the street, to form a whole group of psychopathic criminals to hunt down Spider-Man. Venom also takes note of Carnage's escape and forms an uneasy alliance with Spider-Man to stop his murderous doppelganger.

I must say that when Maximum Carnage came out, I didn't pay too much attention to who made the game - to be even more precise, I didn't really have an opinion on LJN as I was just a kid and my experience with video games was limited to what my mom could afford, plus what she could even find. I was in love with Spider-Man at the time the game was reviewed in my favourite magazine, and I think it was around the same time as the awesome animated series premiered on Finnish TV. Spider-Man was the shit back at the time Batman had taken a dive into a pile of literal shit. Venom was probably the coolest villain ever, right after the Joker's best days of course. So this game Maximum Carnage got a crappy review from a magazine that had a tendency of rating every game they perceived half-decent, over 80; Maximum Carnage got under 70 points out of 100, which basically meant the game sucked, but since it had so many fine artificial qualities, they probably couldn't bear to rate it any worse. I didn't care about a thing they said: the game looked so fucking awesome in the eye of a dedicated Spider-Man fan, that I just had to try the game out. I had to wait for several years for that to happen, but when it finally did, I liked it - I just wasn't that much of a comic book or Spider-Man buff at the time to care beyond a brief try-out.

The comic book schtick spreads into the game.
Now that I've stabilized again and been jacking myself up with several Spider-Man titles, none of which have been that good, it's time to take Maximum Carnage for a bit more thorough spin. And hell, it IS quite good. The game is quite like the first Spider-Man game on the Game Boy - like a reimagining of some sort, it has a similar structure. It's just about a few dozen times better in every possible way. It's nothing fancy, it's a very simple side-scrolling beat 'em up with just a few minor features to make a difference. At its best, it's a poor man's version of Batman Returns on the SNES. Even at its worst, it's a poor man's version of Battletoads on any platform, most notably Battlemaniacs on the SNES - hell, the Double Smash! animation is almost identical to the double punch in Battlemaniacs. That's really not a bad start, considering the logo on the cover which we veteran retro gamers have grown to perceive as a warning. Well of course there are flaws, a lot of them, but I swear the whole experience is a lot better than I could've ever imagined. Maybe the side-scrolling beat 'em up had generally ran its course, and Maximum Carnage offered us nothing new at the time, but 17 years later, it feels quite all right. Hard as fuck, but surprisingly tense.

The first thing that comes as a surprise about the game is that the graphics, presentation and music are... wait for it... incredible... no, I won't cap that off with a supposedly funny turn-around, the audiovisuals of the game are off the charts considering who made this game, and when they did it. Green Jellÿ's bombastic soundtrack is perfect for this type of game, and once again, this was one of the first - if not the first - console games to have a licensed soundtrack. A proper recording of the title screen tune actually appears on an album of theirs, and it's called "Carnage Rules". I think the song went on to inspire the developers to ask Green Jellÿ to make the soundtrack. As per usual with these old-school Spider-Man games, the cutscenes are stylized to resemble a comic book, and to my recollection, these semi-animated scenes are ripped straight off the Maximum Carnage series, just mashed up and censored a little to meet Nintendo's standards (the game was however rated T upon release).

Hell yeah.
Spider-Man and Venom - who turns up as a playable character after 3-4 levels, a little too late in my view - both have different versions of the same moves available. What you'll be doing, mostly, is punching the shit out of endless waves of enemies, and the game is fun as it is; actually, I'm more fond of generic button mashing than the out-of-place levels where you simply need to climb and dodge obstacles. It's just like in Batman Returns; as great as that game was, I hated the spots where they tried to add colour into a game that was obviously always meant to be a standard beat 'em up. In addition to the always effective punch combo, Spider-Man and Venom have their unlimited (!) webbing/symbiote slime to bind an enemy, and they can even swing (from something invisible) and deliver a dropkick right to the opponent's jaw. They can also grab the enemy to deliver different grapple attacks, and do some context-specific attacks like a Double Smash! when they get surrounded by two enemies, or use special weapons. Neat.

Excuse me, sir... uh. Never mind.
The game is much harder than it sounds from the get-go. To my knowledge, there is no chance to block attacks, whatsoever, and it just so happens that your health is much easier to drain than the health of any standard enemy or boss. Actually, bosses that have multiple health meters take forever to go down, and may and will very easily drain you of a few whole LIVES while they're still enjoying the benefits of the first meter. You're not doing anything wrong, you just can't block, and some of the bosses have such range even dodging won't matter jack. Oh, there's the chance to continue, all right... one single time. The game is quite lengthy, too. But, be it frustratingly hard or not, it's an entertaining game, and if you're a Spider-Man fan, you can't really afford to miss the great opportunity LJN took heed of for once.

So, Maximum Carnage is far from a reasonable game, but with its generic, yet functional concept, tight gameplay and outright amazing audiovisuals, it's also lightyears ahead of any Spider-Man game that came before it - actually, any Marvel Comics video game product that came before it. It's been criticized for lacking the great production values of the first Spider-Man game on the Genesis - widely considered one of the best licensed games of the generation - but I didn't like that game. This one, I do. As absurd as it is.

+ Amazing audiovisual presentation; there's a true Spider-Man feel to it, all around
+ Good controls for once
+ A great cast; Venom as a playable character says it all...

- ...However, he steps in a bit too late
- No chance to block attacks...
- ...Only one continue...
- ...Pathetic health meter...
- ...And all the other stuff that makes this game unreasonably hard

< 7.5 >

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