Released in 1992 by the infamous publisher LJN Toys, Spider-Man: Return of the Sinister Six was a video game for the Nintendo EntertainmentSystem that starred the popular web-slinging character from the Marvel Comics license. Thanks in part to the Angry Video Game Nerd and his video segment containing commentary on this title, the 8-bit Spider-Man game has a negative reputation, but is it deserved?
The player controls protagonist superhero Spider-Man, a web-slinging, high-jumping, hard-kicking costumed crusader who is out to put an end to the evil schemes of the Sinister Six, a collection of supervillains that form a formidable array of classic Spider-Man foes, including Electro, Sandman, and Doctor Octopus.
Each villain has a multiple-portion level that culminates in a screen-sprawling boss battle. Spider-Man must navigate these levels, such as dank abandoned-warehouse interiors and street-level views, using his running, jumping, and webbing skills, along with punch and jump-kick moves that can dispose of thugs, in addition to his web shooter.
The control scheme seems to be designed to be a unintuitive as possible. The A button attacks and the B button jumps, for example, which is exactly the opposite of the way a classic Nintendo game should work. Also, the physics of this particular video game are particularly unusual, as Spider-Man can only jump straight up or at a very specific trajectory to the left and right. Even on these trajectories, his flight will suddenly have its forward momentum frozen as he plummets straight to the ground.
The web swinging is a little tricky, as his web line shoots at a very specific length and only works with certain surfaces, at which Spider-Man swings a bit and hops forward or can fall at any time. Also, if Spider-Man has some of his classic trusty web solution, he can shoot web pellets at enemies.
Spider-Man does have a health bar, and a few continues, and can pick up some limited power-up items throughout the stages. The control scheme really does take some getting used to, though it is not as bad as some have made it sound. The swinging is not as elegant or fun as in Bionic Commando, but being able to both jump and swing is a nice dynamic, and combined with Spider-Man’s high somersaulting jumps presents and enjoyable experience, albeit with a bit of a learning curve.
The levels, if not a linear left-to-right scheme, present a maze-like approach where Spider-Man must find the correct route, navigate precision jumping and swinging puzzles, break barrier, find keys, and generally do a lot of backtracking in order to get anywhere. This is certainly a challenging game, but nothing impossible.
The enemies explode into twirling bits when they die, which is pretty sweet. Spider-Man himself looks fairly good for an 8-bit iteration, though he and his bosses could have stood to be slightly larger animated sprites. As is, their on-screen presence is not very strong. The environments look decent, but even from boss to boss feel somewhat familiar throughout, just palette-swapped or elements slightly changed. This game definitely looks like it was released later in the NES life cycle, but still not quite completely polished.
There are actually not very many sound effects throughout, but the boops and bumps present are serviceable. The background music is decent, but can feel repetitive early on, despite solid composition. This is not a gaming experience that is going to be heavily influenced by its audio.
Spider-Man video games had been done on earlier consoles, including the Atari 2600, though this was a bit more ambitious than that particular cartridge. Overall, you could consider this just another license-game side-scrolling platformer with beat-’em-up elements, but the developers do deserve some credit for incorporating the web mechanics in along with a typical movement set, even if the physics never feel quite right.
Spider-Man: Return of the Sinister Six is a playable, interesting, challenging, colorful, miniboss-themed video game that is better than its reputation would indicate. That being said, it does have a distinctively weird feel to its controls and physics, along with little issues here and there (dead ends that are impossible to escape from, odd near-glitch gameplay elements found when fighting the bosses, etc.) that add up to not quite make this a great game. This is a fairly obscure game that is better than some, worse than others, and gets two and a half stars out of five.