Spider-Man & Venom: Maximum Carnage (1994) [SNES]

I’ve shown you the worst things in the world, because that’s what the world’s made of.

Carnage: Mind Bomb Vol 1



Your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man has enjoyed more than a few video games over the years but Maximum Carnage, at least in my experience, seems to be one of the most memorable. Oops, I almost said popular. I don’t think that’s exactly it. It’s equal parts famous and infamous, thanks no doubt to two significant factors. One, that little rainbow logo absolutely demonized by a host of clones and pretenders following in AVGN’s footsteps, and two, its ridiculous difficulty which is in many ways actually deserving of the internet’s ridicule-for-laughs criticism.

Sure, that’s a little more sensationalist than I’m comfortable with. As a video game critic interested in elevating the discussion surrounding games and through the quality of the discussion, games themselves as an artistic medium (not necessarily all works of art), I’m typically against treating video games like pilloried criminals you throw feces at. So I won’t be doing that here. There’s a time and a place. Instead, I’m delighted to unpack what I think makes this game so tough as nails and how it can serve as a warning to developers and players as a historic monument rather than yet another simple target for comedy-criticism.

Before we get to that, though, let’s give praise where it’s due.

Maximum Carnage does more than most Spider-Man games in terms of storytelling. Instead of a mere premise, par for the course for the arcade-style beat ’em up genre, players are treated to a variety of intermissions with art ripped straight from the comics. The literature in question is the 14-party Maximum Carnage crossover event published by Marvel in 1993. The dialogue, drama, and panels ground the game in a progressing narrative that again sets it apart from other superhero games of the time where the only advancement was in the form of seemingly arbitrarily arranged levels. Maximum Carnage builds toward its climax.

SNES vs Genesis comparison

Its visual and aural presentation is also top notch. I played it most recently on my platform of choice, the Super Nintendo, and enjoyed the dark darks and vivid colors. Spider-Man himself absolutely pops against the grays and browns of the city slums. The interchangeable Jeffs and Johns and Debbies and Karens populating the streets with their fisticuffery aren’t remarkable, but the boss sprites themselves, though awkwardly animated, have a lot of personality to them with dynamic movements and attacks. You just might get tired of seeing those bosses again and again as the game has many repeat encounters.

Then there’s the audio scenery. Whether you prefer the high twang of the Genesis version or the guttural bass of the SNES version, the soundtrack is pure grunge befitting a less sugary, more grounded and gritty portrayal of Spidey and his universe. For a game themed after a villain, it’s an appropriate soundtrack. Sure it can be a little one note but there are a few standout tracks that serve to keep the tension, pace, and energy going in a game that’s all about punching.

But when it comes to the gameplay, the neatly branded licensed facade begins to crumble…

Few moments of agency are offered and even fewer items come to your rescue against the hordes facing you down. Players can choose between playing as Spider-Man or Venom at certain points in the game, leading to different stages along different paths with distinctly different ranges of difficulty, and as you might’ve guessed, Peter and Eddie (spoilers) play somewhat differently. This is not so much to suit varying playstyles as in, say, Streets of Rage’s selectable characters but they fall along predictable lines: Spidey is faster and hits lighter whereas Venom is slower and hits heavier.

However, it’s the enemies that truly hit heaviest. You’ll want to avoid using the familiar special that drains health upon use. It’s easy to get ganged up on by roving thugs, surrounded and pecked to death. Continues are not infinite. You can’t keep popping quarters into this thing. Extra lives, recovery items, and special abilities (summoning other heroes to your aid) are far from plentiful. In fact, many of them are tucked away in spots you’ll have to make tricky jumps to reach and others are hidden in secret bonus rooms that can be even trickier to access. I didn’t even know about the hidden rooms until a few weeks ago when I beat the game and needed to consult guides along the way. How could I have known to jump through a particular window without any visual clue of any kind as a kid?



The 8-bit Review

visuals Visuals: 7/10

This wasn’t the only Spider-Man game I played on the Super Nintendo. I think it’s one of the better looking ones, particularly when you’re given those glimpses of real art torn straight from the pages and digitized for the game.

audio Audio: 7/10

It’s not likely a surprise to many that I think the SNES sound chip is better for this OST than the Genesis one, which lacks the bassy foundation. Either way, though, you get a pretty snappy set of rapid tunes that bring the grunge rock to a setting that demands it. And as with the comic book cutscenes, there’s a layer of authenticity here: the rock was written by an actual band, Green Jellÿ. There’s even a dose of Black Sabbath in here.

narrative Narrative: 7/10

I think I actually read a little bit of the Maximum Carnage comic book arc once upon a time but even after playing this game through, I couldn’t really tell you all the ins and outs. It’s easy to get stuck on a level or die and start over and forget everything up to that point because of it. The wall is high, indeed. Still, there’s more narrative here than in your average Spidey brawler or platformer and fans of the comics will get quite a bit of authentic in-universe lore-candy to drool over.

gameplay Gameplay: 4/10

Lives, items, health, you’ll have to use it all extremely sparingly. Maximum Carnage is an actual marathon. Carefully picking off foes one by one while watching your spacing is crucial, especially against bosses. Many of them have to be fought in pairs, making those encounters even more challenging. You’ll want to ensure you hit every single bonus room to keep at peak performance for the obstacles the game throws at you, but it’s the lack of abilities, the rarity of items, the slog of repeat battles, and the general mundaneness of it all that brings this comic book adaptation low.

challenge Challenge: 4/10

Set dramatically against the sheer inefficiency of Spider-Man and Venom and their resources are the bosses coming solo or in groups. Some of them have absolutely insane attack patterns and hitboxes that can be difficult to dodge, tough to predict, without what appears to be any real telegraphing at some points. Sure, Doppleganger and Shriek are pretty straightforward, especially earlier in the game, although by their last encounter (out of maybe half a dozen encounters), Shriek in particular becomes downright unfair, denying almost any chance to connect even a single punch. Carrion and Demogoblin as aerial enemies can be tough to hit, pumpkin bombs are hideous to avoid with the game’s clumsy jumping, and Carrion in particular can be a pain to swat out of the air with his ghostly qualities. It feels at times as if you’re punching nothing with these bosses, leaving me scratching my head wondering how to get rid of them.

All of this comes together in the final multi-segmented battle against Carnage, though. He’s vulnerable to, I kid you not… Venom’s flying kick. Beyond that? His movements appear utterly random, his attack hit boxes are humungous, he skitters across the floor faster than a cockroach when you flick the light on, and he can interrupt your combos. Even with full lives and full health, you can’t hope to trade hits and survive. Only Venom’s kick can stun him long enough to somehow get in a short combo and jump away before he counters. They didn’t name the game “The Most Amount of Murder” for nothing!

Is the challenge in Maximum Carnage unfair? Insofar as it hazards, attacks, dangers, and deaths are unpredictable, unforeseeable, and resistant even to the player’s well-practiced maneuvers, I’d say yes. It’s not enough to subject the player to trial and error. Maximum Carnage in many ways demands a lot of intrinsic understanding you just can’t get without benefitting from someone’s close study.

accessibility Accessibility: 5/10

It’s a beat ’em up and the usual suspects are here: you walk in a direction an arrow points and punch things in the face. Where there’s a distinct lack of accessibility is trying to do anything else. Wall-crawling segments can be inscrutable thanks to controls that seem to flop and your characters have shields and throws and swings that can seem odd to pull off at the needed moment, not to mention nearly everything useful is hidden throughout the game.

uniqueness Uniqueness: 7/10

As a Spidey beat ’em up, there’s not much new here but Maximum Carnage lops off a head above the rest by representing a direct adaptation of Spider-Man literature, complete with comic book cutscenes, instead of a general adaptation of the character as with many other games. The darker, grittier (let’s be honest, more DC) feel of Maximum Carnage also lends the game a unique flavor. It was, after all, the first Spider-Man game to receive a teen rating.

personal grade Personal: 5/10

finally did what I could never do as a kid and beat Maximum Carnage. Thank you, multiple guides, videos, tips and tricks, FAQs, and most of all, save states. I don’t know how it could be done without it. Now I know why they made that SNES cart red. The game is as brutal as they come and if you want to see it all, watch a video or liberally use saves to get through it.

Is it still one of the better Spider-Man games of its era? Sure. It has an earnestness and genuineness that cause it to closely resemble a comic book and not a cartoon. It’s admirably close to its source material. I think, for all that’s been said, it presents and controls better than many. It may be one of the best games with the LJN name on it, as well. End of the day, though, it’s a licensed game and those could be very hit or miss or miss or miss…

Aggregated Score: 5.8


Red formerly ran The Well-Red Mage and now serves The Pixels as founder, writer, editor, and podcaster. He has undertaken a seemingly endless crusade to talk about the games themselves in the midst of a culture obsessed with the latest controversy, scandal, and news cycle about harassment, toxicity, and negativity. 
Pick out his feathered cap on Twitter @thewellredmage or Mage Cast. Please support my work on Patreon!

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