Long before his PS4 game or even the games based on Sam Raimi's Spider-Man movies, Spider-Man was one of Marvel's earliest video game stars. In September 1994 Spider-Man and Venom: Maximum Carnage arrived on the Super Nintendo and SEGA Genesis.
Despite being based on the popular comic book storyline from the previous year and having impressive marketing campaign, the video game received mixed reviews upon release. As a novelty, the first prints of the game were sold as red-colored cartridges, which tied in with Carnage oft-repeated desire to "paint the town red" with blood and the symbiote's red hue.
While it was praised for its "cool" factor and the overall presentation of the title, the game was earned heavy criticism for its graphics and repetitive gameplay. However, criticism didn't matter, because the fans ate it up and Maximum Carnage sold like hotcakes and still stands as a high point of that era's superhero games.
In many ways, Maximum Carnage proved to be the turning point for superhero gaming as it marked the start of many positive changes. For one, it's one of the first games to be based on a specific comic book arc. There was a strong storyline in the game, which drove the action along and not just a generic plot. There was real tension and world-building as the threat of Carnage and his family felt all too real for the heroes.
In the same way that the Maximum Carnage comic arc featured a team up between Spider-Man, Venom and guest stars from around the Marvel Universe, the game let players switch between Spider-Man and Venom, and call upon other Marvel characters for assistance. In a nutshell, it's everything that a comic book fan/gamer could've wanted then.
While that era's superhero fare was mostly limited to comics, cartoons and toys, the gaming industry was nothing like the billion-dollar behemoth it is today. A game like Maximum Carnage that put in some actual effort was nothing short of a pleasant and unexpected surprise. It was a tough game to master, too, as the lack of continues punished gamers but kept them coming back for more.
The game's cutscenes weren't run-of-the-mill either, as they lifted panels directly from the comics. As it turns out, it even became a point of contention for Marvel writer Tom DeFalco.
"I remember thinking, 'Gee, I wonder if Marvel paid me for that reprint?' Because they are legally obligated to pay me," DeFalco told The Hollywood Reporter. "And because I got distracted with other things, I've never followed up. And I guess it's too late now."
Another pivotal milestone for the game was securing rock band Green Jelly's music for the soundtrack, as well as Black Sabbath's "The Mob Rules" for a boss battle. Naturally, the songs were digitized renditions of the tracks since 16-bit consoles didn't have the storage capacity for the recorded versions. While licensed music is something that most gamers take for granted now, Maximum Carnage's soundtrack turned heads when it was first released and remains instantly identifiable to this day.
Considering the success that Maximum Carnage experienced, a sequel titled Venom/Spider-Man: Separation Anxiety followed in 1995. Unfortunately, it didn't have the same cultural impact as its predecessor and relied too much on being a clone of the original while not making any significant advancements. Plus, it didn't have any of the original game's cool cutscenes.
Looking at the successes of the Batman: Arkham series and Marvel's Spider-Man, it's easy to lose sight of what came before them. Maximum Carnage might not have had the same instant impact as those later titles, but it did lay some impressive groundwork and served as a precursor of what awaited gamers in the future. Even 25 years later, it remains a fun and entertaining video game that captures the essence of the classic Spider-Man storyline and that era.