‘Madame Web’ Doesn’t Hold a Candle to Spider-Man Video Games.

The scathing reviews for Sony’s Madame Web shouldn’t surprise anyone. The studio has been struggling to adapt the character, opting to have Marvel Studios co-produce a trilogy of successful films starring Tom Holland in 2017 and culminating in the mega-hit Spider-Man: No Way Home in 2021. But now, Sony is so desperate that they are opting to adapt supporting characters that they just happen to have the rights to.

Madame Web follows two mediocre movies focused on Spidey’s archenemy-turned-antihero Venom, the infamous Jared Leto vehicle Morbius, and later this year, we’ll get a movie based on Kraven the Hunter and yet another Venom sequel. It’s a shame that these movies seem to suffer from so much studio meddling because there is one medium in which Spider-Man has had an unexpected renaissance: video games.

Since the debut of the first Spider-Man video game in 1982, the iconic web-slinger has been featured in an impressive array of titles across every conceivable gaming platform, from the Atari 2600 to the Game Boy. The early side-scrolling adventures, with their now-primitive graphics, may seem quaint compared to modern standards. Yet, they retain a certain charm, with pixelated portrayals of the superhero still deftly navigating the concrete canyons of New York City.

The 1990s marked a significant evolution in gaming, with the advent of 3D technology breathing new life into the comic book legend. Enhanced graphics offered a richer interface and more varied gameplay options, allowing players to fully experience Spider-Man’s acrobatic prowess. A YouTube channel I follow revisited one such game, delivering a dose of nostalgia that takes viewers on a reminiscent journey back to the exhilarating early days of Spider-Man games.

By 2002, Spider-Man video games were predominantly influenced by the cinematic portrayal of Tobey Maguire, which had become the defining representation of the character. This influence was evident in the majority of the games released during that time. Occasionally, games such as Ultimate Spider-Man, which drew its narrative and aesthetic from the contemporary Marvel comic series of the same name, made their way into the gaming sphere. These titles offered a fresh take on the Spider-Man lore. Despite the introduction of various innovations and creative liberties with the character’s portrayal, few games managed to stand out and capture the imagination of the public in the same monumental way.

The landscape of Spider-Man video games underwent a remarkable transformation with the release of Insomniac Games’ Marvel’s Spider-Man for the PlayStation 4 in late 2018. My initial encounter with the game was through a brief demo a few years back, but it wasn’t until recently that I fully immersed myself in the experience. Not only did I complete the original storyline, but I also delved into the trio of expansion packs, collectively titled Marvel’s Spider-Man: The City That Never Sleeps. These expansions seamlessly extend the narrative beyond the main game’s conclusion. A remastered version was released for the PlayStation 5 in 2020, showcasing the advanced console’s superior graphical capabilities and enhancing the overall experience.

Considering this game is a half-decade old, I suppose I’m not adding anything new to the conversation around it. I did find it to be one of the overall best gaming experiences I’ve ever had. Downtown Manhattan is your playground, you can do everything from leap off the Empire State Building to traverse Central Park to even find Easter eggs like the Wakanda embassy, Avengers Tower, or Doctor Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum.

Marvel’s Spider-Man

The game feels like a definitive adaptation and summation of the appeal of Spider-Man, much like the Arkham games felt for Batman. Much like in those games, using Spider-Man’s different gadgets is key. Sometimes it’s easy to take on a horde of enemies, and other times, stealth proves to be the best weapon one has. Both respective game franchises feel like they play into the superhero fantasy with the ability to show off and produce cool moments or enticing images, both of which they are adept at doing.

The setting of Marvel’s Spider-Man is particularly resonant, presenting a superhero narrative that aligns with the relatable life stage of young adulthood. In the game, Spider-Man is in his mid-20s, post-college, seasoned from past battles with notorious villains, and navigating the aftermath of a romantic split with Mary Jane. This iteration of Peter Parker grapples with quintessential mid-20s challenges: he resides alone in a modest apartment straining his budget, works a promising job that has yet to yield substantial financial rewards, and maintains a heartfelt connection with Aunt May. Moreover, the game thoughtfully explores the development of new bonds, such as the friendship he forms with the young Miles Morales, adding depth to the Spider-Man saga.

Peter is working for Otto Octavius, and despite knowing his eventual villainous alter-ego as Dr. Octopus, I was invested in how much of a mentor figure Otto was to Peter. I wanted to believe it could all work out despite my knowledge of countless other depictions of Spider-Man. A big chunk of the game features Mr. Negative as the primary antagonist, and I’m glad they brought a relatively recently created character to feature so prominently even if his role on the plot proceedings felt a bit disproportionate.

Before engaging in a climactic showdown with the Sinister Six in this game’s narrative, players have ample opportunity to immerse themselves in thwarting local crime rings and halting carjackings. The game’s richly interactive environment offers a plethora of activities that go beyond the main storyline. Collecting Spider-Man’s scattered old backpacks, capturing the perfect selfie against the backdrop of New York’s iconic landmarks, and even the surprisingly thrilling pursuit of pigeons in mid-flight—all contribute to a multifaceted gaming experience.

Each task presents a unique challenge and rewards players with access to new abilities or previously locked costumes. The array of Spider-Man’s outfits is particularly remarkable, allowing players to don nearly 50 distinct costumes, each representing a different version of the beloved hero, adding a personal touch to the gameplay as fans can select their preferred incarnation of Spider-Man.

To their credit, Insomniac, best known before this for their more kid-friendly titles like Rachet & Clank and Spyro the Dragon, knew to strike while the iron was hot. A spin-off game titled Spider-Man: Miles Morales focusing on that version of the character debuted two years after the original to critical acclaim. Last fall, the long-awaited sequel featuring Venom as the primary antagonist was released and became the bestselling title on the PlayStation 5 to date.

When I was a teenager, the pinnacle Spider-Man game in my life was the one adapting the blockbuster sequel Spider-Man 2 for the GameCube. It had the events and plot points from the movie, sure, but also introduced villains from Spidey’s famous rogues gallery familiar to fans of the original Marvel comics, but not yet adapted for the big screen.

Like its eventual successor, Spider-Man can traverse and climb around the skyscrapers and other iconic landmarks of downtown Manhattan. It also had, for its time, a pretty open world for you to explore, combat crime, save New Yorkers from various accidents and disasters, and in one of the game’s more infamous side-missions, help recapture a balloon a little kid let go of.

The graphical evolution from the days of Spider-Man 2 on the GameCube to the current gaming experience would have astounded my teenage self. The leap in visual fidelity is nothing short of breathtaking — skyscrapers now gleam with realistic reflections, and the dynamic transition from the golden hues of daytime to the orange-streaked twilight, and finally to the inky canvas of night, is mesmerizing. Coupled with the feature to capture in-game photographs, players can showcase these heroic deeds to the world, preserving their feats in the digital New York City skyline.

While cinematic stinkers like Madame Web might weigh down the legacy of everybody’s favorite web-crawler when it comes to movies, I’m glad that games like Marvel’s Spider-Man prove that there are still fresh, bold, and exciting new ways to approach this timeless character.