Spider-Man and Venom: Maximum Carnage – Genesis
Release Date (NA): September 1994
Developer: Software Creations
Genre: Beat ’em up
Nerd Rating: 4 out of 10
Maximum Carnage was a large multi-part comic book crossover in the 90’s that saw Spider-Man and his nemesis Venom team up to take out the titular Carnage. It proved popular enough to bleed over into other media, and so we have one of the first video games based on a comic book storyline rather than throwing popular characters into a generic setting. So far, so good, right? Even the Genesis and SNES cartridges were colored red to set them apart. It would seem like we have something special on our hands, a marginal classic if nothing else, but unfortunately ’tis not the case.
Carnage has escaped from prison and begins building up a team of crazy motherfuckers like Shriek, Demogoblin, the Doppelganger, and Carrion. Meanwhile, Spider-Man and Venom form an uneasy truce and are joined by Cloak and Dagger, Black Cat, Captain America, Firestorm, Iron Fist, and a few other superheroes along the way. Though lauded for truly being based on a comic storyline, you wouldn’t know it if it not for the cutscenes.
Maximum Carnage starts off well enough, even including artwork from the original comic series to serve as cutscenes and fill us in on the story. Players start off in the role of Spider-Man and soon have the choice to play as Venom or Spidey at several junctures. There seem to be a few differences in levels that the 2 play through, but there’s no need to go through the game as both to “enjoy” all that Maximum Carnage has to offer. The majority of time spent with this game will consist of beating up stereotypical street punks over painfully generic backdrops.
Gameplay is extremely repetitive, even by beat ’em up standards. Moreover, most of the goons that Spidey and Venom beat the hell out of are nothing but punky looking humans. Some have trench coats, some have umbrellas, and some are even female, but it does little to stymie the monotony. Each of our characters can perform a few moves beyond punching, including grabbing, throwing, and tying up someone with web for a few seconds. They can also swing in the air via web and climb walls. While the diversity of control is appreciable, it isn’t something than can be used reliably. Hitting enemies with all but the punch can be a little difficult and allow the foe a chance to score a hit. Despite how disposable our human opponents are, they’re all equipped with a small life bar and it takes more than a couple of hits to fell them for good. Clearing a screen becomes more tedious as tougher adversaries are encountered.
Play progresses in a very strange manner across the bland, unremarkable backgrounds. In most cases the character will clear a screen, walk to the right, clear it, walk back to the left, clear it again, back to the right, etc. I don’t know why this decision was made but it gives off a sense of purposelessness. Although the ability to climb walls is present, Maximum Carnage only makes use of it once where Spider-Man must jump back and forth between buildings to reach the top. It was a decent break from mindless punching and it would’ve been nice to see more gameplay variety where climbing and webslinging were more useful.
Things get a little more interesting when meeting up with a boss. The bosses use very fast attack patterns and figuring out how to hit them can be a challenge. More often than not, bosses are presented in pairs (or more) simultaneously making for a hectic battle. This wouldn’t be so bad if the controls were more responsive. As is the case with most games in the genre, the player and the opponent must be on the same horizontal plane in order to deal damage to each other. The bosses constantly make use of this, slightly moving either up or down to avoid one’s attack and then using some sort of special power to damage the player anyway. Each boss has its own nasty way of moving: Carrion stays above your head and is almost impossible to hit while fighting another baddie, Demogoblin flies around on a board dropping bombs and remains mostly out of reach (when he is in reach it’s tough to hit him without being hit first), Shriek constantly teleports, and Carnage blasts out tremendously damaging moves.
All of Maximum Carnage’s problems are annoying to be sure, but the nail in the coffin is how damn long the game goes on. Pointless stage after pointless stage elapses, fighting the same cannon fodder, the same bosses over and over again, and with little changing apart from the background. The use of “help” from additional superheroes makes it a little more interesting at times. If you’re in a tight spot, you can call on one of these guys based on what icons you’ve collected and bring the hero into the fight temporarily. Captain America, Iron Fist, Black Cat, or whoever else will drop down, do a fancy move, and voila, bad guy(s) on the screen suffers damage. It’s an interesting way to include several other characters, but more could’ve been done to beef up the game’s revolving door or repeating characters. Though the game offers up Spider-Man and Venom as playable characters, neither seem to have any special attributes to set it apart from the other.
The difficulty is pretty insane for a simple beat ’em up. It doesn’t take many hits to whittle away at one’s life bar. A few extra lives and continues are available if one can manage to explore and climb some walls before moving on to the next screen, and gathering these continues appears to be central to progress. Avoiding attacks is almost impossible, and the best one can hope for is to bank enough continues to make progress.
Graphics fall way below expectations and look more like something found on the Game Gear rather than the Genesis. The characters are recognizable but lack detail. Back drops are static and generic; first we have some buildings, then a rooftop, then a forest, and so on, all with an uninspired lifelessness. The player spends most of the game knocking out boring-looking street punks.
The soundtrack to Maximum Carnage is rather interesting. It seems to be a computerized version of actual songs recorded by an actual band. Catchy, synthesized riffs make an impression early on but quickly fade to forgettable. Sound effects consist of the usual pops and clicks from punching and falling. Still, the opening tune stuck with me for a couple of hours afterwards.
The verdict? Despite flashy packaging, Maximum Carnage is a major dud. Though competent and playable, it’s also boring and monotonous. Spider-Man fans and/or Genesis collectors may be interested in picking this up in the interest of completeness, but honestly, there’s not much of a reason to play it at all. I understand the Super NES version to be virtually identical, so there’s probably no reason to check it out either.
Stay tuned to see if the sequel, Venom/Spider-Man: Separation Anxiety, fares any better…
Reviewed by The Cubist
*Addendum: The Sega Genesis may have been technically superior when it came to graphics, but wow, it’s unbelievable how much better the Super NES is with sound. Compare the opening theme of Maximum Carnage on the two ports below. The SNES was able to replicate the actual music, while the Genesis merely “MIDI-ized” it!
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