Spider-Man games should rock.

Today at Joystiq Justin McElroy wrote what I’ll dramatically describe as an unsurprising slap in the face of the latest Spider-Man game, Spider-Man: Edge of Time. Go read it. He gets it. He wore Spidey pajamas as a kid. (Note: I dig his writing, and always have. Even during the huge fiasco when he made threats against U2’s Bono.)

Games are their gameplay mechanics, the choices and actions of the player. For all the crap we give them, licensed games actually often have a rare opportunity: unique mechanics. Any other game that mimics webswinging is going to be seen as a knock-off, or at least compared to Spider-Man.

To be fair, Justin notes that they try to do something with his “Spider Sense”, but that’s certainly not what I think of first when I think “Spider-Man”. What he rates a 2.5/5 game sounds like a thoroughly mediocre beat’em-up, which is a disappointment, given my love of older Spider-Man games.

Spider-Man 2 (Xbox, PS2) is actually one of my favorite games. I was one of the people blown away by the webswinging. It was a perfect example of both “appropriate difficulty” (being slightly difficult, but very fulfilling to pull off well) and the “ludic displacement” that occurs when a game makes you feel like you really are doing what’s happening in the game.

Nevermind the player’s stumbles… Spidey would never trip!

Despite Spider-Man 2 being third person, and despite how bad the blur looks in this pixelated video, you really got that feeling you imagined as a kid, of being Spider-Man, dipping from the rooftops into the streets of New York city, swinging back up, flying forward as fast as a normal person would fall. (Ultimate Spider-Man was still great, less so Spider-Man 3… Both the victim of over-refinement, imo, but still.)

Super heroes are typically defined by having unique abilities. In that very nature, they’re begging to be put into games, giving players unique actions and choices. Older Spidey games got him right. The Hulk: Ultimate Destruction game did a decent job of making you feel like you were wrecking shit, though it could’ve been better aside from that. From what I hear both Wolverine and Batman games had great combat, making you feel like the characters were “right”. Marvel Ultimate Alliance was a fun beat’em-up, not because it was particularly deep, but because it rallied together almost 30 loved characters. Why do a game featuring a singular beloved character, or even two, without trying to do well what that character is known for?

Here’s a few free suggestions for Activision’s next Spider-Man game.

  • New York City – I’m serious. Forget corridor fighters. Don’t be silly.
  • Make swinging a matter of skill – Anyone player should be able to do it, but being good at the mechanics should pay off well.
  • Spider-Man has a history – Not saying you shouldn’t do “origin stories” or work them in, but, Spidey has a very deep gallery of well-known, well-defined, fun, friends and enemies. Utilize them.
  • Peter Parker exists – Spider-Man has a personal life. Don’t be afraid to use that in more than a reference.
  • Peter Parker is a photographer – Some games did it recently, but then cameras have only become MORE popular in society, as well as other games. Some even do it well. You could, too.
  • A random encounter should blow my mind – Sure, Spidey fights generic thugs all the time. That happens. But sometimes? Sometimes? Sometimes that bank robbery you stumble across should be Rhino.
  • Subscriptions – Learn from comics. Everyone who owns the game gets a free few missions each week. They culminate each month in an arc. Do this for a month, free. Then charge a fee, $1 a week, $3 for a month, or sell subscriptions $10 for three months.

C’mon. Activision can’t say no to that last one. And face it, you’d buy them. I would, and I don’t even have a job.

Also, hi Activision. So, maybe you need someone to help with your next Spider-Man game? I mean, I don’t know if you heard, but I’m on the market. I’ve even got five years experience in producing. (Another medium…)