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Revenge of the License: Todd McFarlane’s Spawn: The Video Game

OK, so it’s not exactly designed to scare the sap who picks up the control pad, but I think we can agree: a game about an undead justicar who roams trash-strewn alleys and frequently mixes it up with an immortal demon clown calling itself “The Violator” is not chasing the same crowd as Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen’s Magical Mystery Mall. For those of you who missed out on the mid-90s sexplosive sensation that was Image Comics, all I can say is, “Go read that first sentence again.” Image was everything wrong and everything right in comics stuffed into the same blender, and the man most directly responsible for hitting ‘Liquify’ is none other than Todd McFarlane. This is Todd McFarlane’s Spawn: The Video Game for your Super Nintendo. And this is the second-to-last time I will refer to it via its full title, because I do not get paid by the word here.

Spawn Title Screen

Title screen

Todd McFarlane’s Spawn: The Video Game – (SNES): Spawn takes a path so well-worn that it’s strip-mining the scenery at this point: the side-scrolling brawler. If you’re going to use a game license, but don’t have the time to create something truly in-depth or unique, the easiest way around this obstacle is to let your characters punch each other until one of them falls over and starts blinking:

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Like so many games before it, Spawn: The Video Games chooses the path of least resistance. This saves it from being an utterly worthless hunk of garbage, instead condemning it to a merely amusing diversion of a couple hours before you remember you have better things to do with your life.

Spawn Comic Scene

Unless you write about video games.

Spawn essentially gets one thing right, but its arguably the most important thing a game based on a comic needs: artwork. You play as the titular Spawn, who is animated beautifully for a 16-bit title, and sports an excellent variety of uppercuts, leg sweeps, and spin kicks with which to discourage his enemies from getting too close. As if that’s not enough, he’s also packing some Street Fighter II-style special moves which drain a separate psi-energy gauge, but allow him to chuck fireballs, drop bombs, and even avoid death via one of the many bottomless pits which by Congressional mandate must litter at least 50% of all stages of a side-scrolling brawler.

Spawn Fighting

The rest of the game?  Well…let’s just say expect 90’s comic levels of competence. The between-stage transitions are staged in mock comic panel format, which is a nice touch, but the writing is…not. As far as the story goes, Spawn has sprung into action because somebody’s kidnapping children. It’s not like he’s ever needed an excuse to beat bad guys within an inch of their lives before, but seriously, could we have come up with something that wasn’t a rehash of Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker? Then again, developer Ukiyotei’s original claim to fame was turning the Dustin Hoffman/Robin Williams/Julia Roberts disaster Hook into a video game, so high expectations are a bit much to ask for.

Spawn Fighting 2

Music, sound effects, and generic enemy design are likewise by-the-numbers. The tunes are fitting but forgettable. Sound effects are run-of-the-mill. You’ll find yourself checking off the boxes on your rank-and-file enemies Bingo card: Knife-wielding guy? Check. Guy who chucks fire at me and runs away? Check. Two different types of guys who punch/kick me ineffectually? Check, add in the Free Space, and BINGO! Nothing new under this hellish sun.

Spawn Fighting 3

The bosses on the other hand look excellent. Violator, Overtkill, Redeemer, Buzzsaw, Malebolgia…they’re all here, ripped straight from the comic pages, and prepared to make your life absolutely miserable. I’m willing to overlook some paint-by-numbers on the mooks in order to get a nice digital translation of known foes, and apparently so was Ukiyotei. Also, I have to give props to the stage design. Spawn at least throws some new ideas into the genre, including some climbing portions, stages where the action is flipped upside down, and one area of hell that takes place on a large, spinning log where you have to keep jumping to retain your footing.

Spawn Continue Screen

Or take up with this guy as your Hell-mate for the next seventy-billion years. Your call.

That said, there’s nothing here so compelling you’ll need to feel this game inside you, like, ohmigawd, right now! Fans of Spawn the comic series can take comfort this is a hellishly-average beat ’em up, unlike later uses of the license that couldn’t even get that bit right. People who aren’t fans can still enjoy wasting a few hours smashing skulls, but it won’t fill these people with the desire to max out the credit card on graphic novels. Like so many licensed titles, Spawn: The Video Game is a blatant cash grab. Unlike many, it’s not a waste of your time unless you could be doing something more productive.

Spawn Violator

“Violating. Why?”

Like enjoying this ad, for instance:

Spawn - The Video Game

Michael Crisman

In 1979, Michael Crisman was mauled by a radioactive Gorgar pinball machine. After the wounds healed, doctors discovered his DNA had been re-coded. No longer fully human, Michael requires regular infusions of video games in order to continue living among you. If you see him, he can see you. Make no sudden moves, but instead bribe him with old issues of computer and video game magazines or a mint-in-box copy of Dragon Warrior IV. If he made you laugh, drop a tip in his jar at http://paypal.me/modernzorker (If he didn't make you laugh, donate to cure his compulsion to bang keyboards by sending an absurdly huge amount of money to his tip jar instead. That'll show him!)

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