Spider-Man and Venom team up to take on Carnage in an adaptation of the lengthy Maximum Carnage storyline.
This review is based on the Super Nintendo version.
Maximum Carnage was not a good story. Heck, it wasn't even passable. Not only does it feature the fundamentally flawed character of Carnage, but it carries all the trademarks of a terrible early nineties storyline. Nonsensical team-ups, "edgy" villains, and a plot that drags on way too long. For better or worse, the story is used as the basis for this game. It lifts panels directly from the comics, and in spite of having roughly one hundredth of the actual story related content, it makes just as much sense. While you could read Maximum Carnage itself to get a better idea of what's happening, you're better of just playing the game for the fun of smacking around various thugs with Spider-Man and Venom.
Now, this brings us to the more important bit of business, the game itself. This is a perfect example of how a game is capable of transcending its source material and delivering a really fun experience, even if it did have the unfortunate side effect of telling thousands of kids everywhere that it's OK to enjoy something with Carnage in it.
The gameplay is fairly straightforward. You play as either Spider-Man or Venom and travel around the streets of New York beating up various thugs and hoods while following the series of events that make up the Maximum Carnage storyline. It's very much in the style of Final Fight or Double Dragon and both Spider-Man and Venom have a wide variety of attacks. You'll need to employ most of them to handle the nicely varied enemies you encounter and to discover hidden power ups and secret rooms. Aside from thugs, you also take on Shriek, Doppleganger, Demogoblin, Carrion, and Carnage who all serve as bosses depending on the level you're in. The only real downside to the gameplay is a lack of a co-operative option. You're given several points in the game where you can choose between either Spider-Man or Venom, but you can never use both at the same time with a friend, a common staple for game's of this genre. Both Spider-Man and Venom have a somewhat different path through the game, and control differently, but to get the most out of the game you may find yourself sticking with Spidey who has a much longer journey. Venom's style of power of finesse may be easier for newer players, but Spider-Man's speed and agility definitely make him more versatile.
Aside from Spider-Man and Venom, several other heroes who appeared in the story make cameos as special support characters that can be summoned upon picking up icons with their faces on them. What's even more interesting is that some of these support characters will have different effects depending on whether you play as Spider-Man or Venom. The cast includes; Black Cat, Cloak, Dagger, Iron Fist, Deathlok, Morbius, Captain America, and Firestar. Considering the game's difficulty, you may find yourself using these support characters quite a bit to smack various foes, heal yourself, or exploit enemy vulnerabilities such as Carnage's weakness to sonic weapons and fire.
This leads us to the difficulty itself. While not an impossible game, Maximum Carnage is still very tough. Even with repeated exposure to the bosses, you'll find yourself consistently having trouble with the likes of Doppleganger or Demogoblin, and the thugs who constantly swarm you can occasionally surprise you with their speed and numbers. Ordinarily this would make it tough to stick with, but Maximum Carnage is such a fun game that it's easy to get pulled back in to see if you can clear those earlier stages with even more lives and continues to make it through those tough final ones. It stands as a testament to an older type of game design that may be more suited to the arcades, but manages to work as a console release in this specific instance.
The art has a very nice look to it. The panels used in the story sequences are faithful recreations of the work by the various artists who contributed to the story. The in-game stuff also looks quite sharp with a nice cartoony style that animates smoothly. Both Spider-Man and Venom look great regardless of what they do, and even the various enemies are fairly well put together. The levels recreate New York nicely, and though a few locals are reused, it doesn't really feel like anything other than an attempt to stay true to the source material.
The game's music is comprised of various songs by the recently reunited band Green Jelly. While it serves the game well enough, it doesn't match the heights of the magnificently terrible "It's Clobberin' Time" rap that the band also had a hand in featured on the mid-90's Fantastic Four cartoon. The sound effects are also effective with the hits carrying a nice weight to their sound. Spider-Man's webs don't sound quite right, and Shriek's sonic booms just sound like a bass drum being hit, but the others work fairly well.
Altogether Maximum Carnage is a nice package. A fun action game that manages to separate itself from the stigma regarding the terrible story which inspired it.
Graphics - 4 Webs: While not amazing (maybe spectacular?), the graphics do look quite good. And consistently so.
Sound - 3 Webs: I can't say I'm a fan of the band that recorded the music, but the music and sound are functional.
Gameplay - 4.5 Webs: If it weren't for the lack of co-op, and maybe the difficult, this would be a perfect score.
Story - 1 Web: The comic panels are really nicely animated and remade. That being said, you can only polish a stinker up so much.
Fun Factor - 5 Webs: A blast that could have used a friend. That's what sequels are for though.
Replay Factor - 4 Webs: The difficulty may make you curse, but the sheer fun of playing it should keep pulling you back.
Aging Factor - 4 Webs: It definitely looks like a game from the mid-point of the 16 bit era, but it still manages to have better combat than any Spider-Man game released in the last ten years.
Tech Troubles - (None)
A few blemishes on what is an otherwise fantastic game.