By the end of the 1990s Marvel wasn’t doing so well. The company was gearing up to file for bankruptcy and thus explains the lack of Spider-Man video games between 1996 and 2000. However, things quickly turned around for Marvel and before we knew it, the company was licensing out their characters again for film and games. In 2000, Activision published their first (of many) Spider-Man titles in Neversoft’s "Spider-Man" for the Sony PlayStation. The game was critically acclaimed, labeled by many as the “best Spider-Man game ever.” "Spider-Man" boasted alternate costumes, a “What If” mode, and the first 3D web-slingin’ action Spider-Man had seen in gaming. Soon thereafter the Spider-Man games would become completely open-world sandbox titles – all inspiration can be traced back to Neversoft’s "Spider-Man" as the foundation for the formula.
2001: Spider-Man 2: Enter Electro
"Enter Electro" is the sequel to Neversoft’s "Spider-Man." The game featured the same voice actor for Spider-Man, Rino Romano, and focused on Spider-Man stopping Electro from obtaining the Bio-Nexus Device. "Enter Electro" featured many of the same gameplay mechanics as Neversoft’s previous Spider-Man effort, and thus, was criticized in reviews. However, the game did sell well enough to become a PlayStation Greatest Hits title.
2002: Spider-Man: The Movie
Taking its cues from Neversoft’s "Spider-Man," Treyarch adapted the first "Spider-Man" film into video game form in 2002 with "Spider-Man: The Movie," developed for PlayStation 2, Xbox, Nintendo GameCube and PC. "Spider-Man: The Movie" was also the first time aerial combat was integrated into the Spider-Man titles, allowing Spidey to freely web-sling around NYC.
2004: Spider-Man 2: The Game
With a new Spider-Man film comes a new Spider-Man licensed tie-in game. "Spider-Man 2: The Game" was once again developed by Treyarch and extended the “openness” of the series, allowing players complete control over their NYC web-slingin’. Gamers could choose to solely focus on the game’s narrative driven missions–recreating the plot of the second Spidey film with some liberties–or participate in a large number of side-quests to build hero points and upgrade Spidey’s abilities. The free-form, open structure of "Spider-Man 2: The Game" became the cornerstone for all Spider-Man video games in years following.
2005: Ultimate Spider-Man
In this humble writer’s opinion, "Ultimate Spider-Man" remains the greatest Spider-Man video game to date. The cel-shaded graphical style was perfectly fitting for a comic-based video game, the story–written by comic writer Brian Michael Bendis–played into the continuity of the "Ultimate Spider-Man" comic, and the gameplay–both as Spider-Man and Venom–was wildly addictive. "Ultimate Spider-Man" can also be seen as the pinnacle of Treyarch’s work on the Spider-Man video game franchise.
2007: Spider-Man 3
By 2007 and the release of "Spider-Man 3" in theaters, the Spider-Man video game blueprint was beginning to feel stale. While "Spider-Man 3: The Game" sported a new plot and a larger version of New York City to explore, the sense of innovation and freshness in the series had all but disappeared. That’s not to say "Spider-Man 3" was a bad game, it wasn’t, but the Spidey franchise needed a kick-start in a new creative direction.
2007: Spider-Man: Friend or Foe
A fresh interpretation of the "Spider-Man" films, "Spider-Man: Friend or Foe" felt like the classic Spidey brawlers of old mixed with the tongue-in-cheek humor of the LEGO video games. "Spider-Man: Friend or Foe" could be played solo or cooperatively, and allowed players to convert classic Spidey villians into sidekicks once defeated in boss battles. The game also had levels set in Tokyo, Egypt and Nepal, to name but a few. This was definitely a change of pace from what we’ve seen in previous Spider-Man games. And while "Spider-Man: Friend or Foe" was not a critical or commercial success, it did show that Activision was approaching their Spidey games with some much needed lateral thinking in an attempt to make them fun and relevant again.
2008: Spider-Man: Web of Shadows
It’s fitting that the Spider-Man game with the darkest plot also represents the darkest point in Spider-Man video game franchise history. Even with two distinctly different playstyles–depending on costume of choice–and an original plot, "Spider-Man: Web of Shadows" felt like the same old thing all over again. The game also lacked polish, making it incredibly frustrating at times. Spider-Man games, at this point, were a joke. "Web of Shadows" was the final nail in the coffin. There needed to be a radical shift in approach if we were going to be excited by a Spidey game ever again.
2010: Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions
"Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions" (pictured above left) represents the dawning of a new creative era for Spider-Man video games. By studying everything that has come before, cherry-picking the best elements, and melting it all together, "Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions" looks to be the ultimate Spider-Man video game. Featuring four completely distinct universes (Amazing, Ultimate, 2099, Noir)–all with unique gameplay styles–and a plot written by comic scribe Dan Slott, "Shattered Dimensions" is exactly what the Spider-Man video game franchise needs as a kick in the pants to reinvigorate this limping franchise. Time will tell if it gets the job done. Here’s to the future!