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When it comes to comic book characters, I don’t really love, hate, or follow a specific publisher like DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, or whatever. But I do like to follow specific characters and my favorites have always been Batman and Spawn. As a youngster, my friend and I would watch the 1997 Spawn film all the time and before that movie came out I had never heard of Spawn. Todd McFarlane unleashed Spawn on the world in 1992 and the character was immensely popular throughout the rest of the 90s. Popular enough for a movie, an animated series, and even video games. Unfortunately, the Spawn video games to date do not do the character justice. Spawn on the Super Nintendo was the first time we got to see the character in a video game and I’ve heard many say it’s still his best game.
To give a little backstory, Al Simmons was a secret agent working for the U.S. government. After he was murdered he made a deal with one of Hell’s many rulers, Malebolgia, to become a Spawn in exchange for his soul. In return, Al would get to see his wife, Wanda, again. So the story in this game revolves around Spawn rescuing thirteen kidnapped children, including his stepdaughter Cyan, from The Mad One. The Mad one has trapped the souls of the children in a magical orb called the Orb of Purity and plans to use the orb to destroy Malebolgia. The story is told through these comic book styled cutscenes that look pretty good for a Super Nintendo game. It’s just a shame that they couldn’t be more detailed.
Spawn is a side-scrolling beat ‘em up. You know how it works, you go from level to level beating up the bad guys and at the end of each stage is a boss fight. Taking damage will drain your health and through the use of necroplasm, Spawn has the ability to perform special moves like launching green fireballs, healing, and some kind of flaming uppercut among others. The special moves require specific button combinations and sometimes I had a hard time getting them to register. Using these moves drains your necroplasm, or what I believe the game refers to as the life force meter. Using special moves and dying will drain this meter and if the meter reaches zero, it’s game over. So that’s your incentive to not die or use special moves constantly. You can keep using continues until the meter reaches zero and there’s also a stage select and even a password system where you can enter a password to continue where you left off. The stage select and password system are not ways to refill your life force meter, though. The game will remember how much necroplasm you had when starting each stage so you’ll want to save as much power as possible for the end of the game. The special moves are the only thing that really make the combat interesting. Other than that, it’s your standard fare of punching, kicking, blocking, and jumping attacks. Nothing really new.
So the first level is promising and kind of fun. You travel along city rooftops fighting off thugs. I had no issues and kind of got into it. Well that’s where the game should have stopped because the rest of it just blows. As I play a game for a review, I usually create a pros and cons list and when I was done with this game there was almost nothing in the pros list. I don’t know if this game was considered good or dare I say great back in the day but I honestly found it to be cheap and frustrating. First of all the hit detection is just terrible. Whether it’s trying to land attacks or just trying to avoid obstacles, the hit detection fails. After the first stage, the level design just becomes awful and the bosses battles are unbalanced. Around the sixth stage I got so fed up I began using passwords I found online to start levels with full necroplasm because I just refuse to put myself through the same levels over and over again. And I’m not ashamed.
The second stage is the Warehouse and you’ll have to dodge some of kind of sniper or something. A crosshair appears on the screen and you need to avoid it while wall jumping to the top. I’ve heard many people had issues with this but I honestly didn’t experience much of a problem and it was the only time the wall jumping didn’t irritate me. After this is when the game really starts to go downhill. In the third stage you need to fall down and avoid hazards that you can’t possibly see coming so it becomes trial and error. This where the enemy encounters start becoming ridiculous, too. Trying to jump and avoid lasers while dodging enemy gunfire proves to be extremely difficult making memorization a requirement. Many of the levels contain these horrible platforming sections like having you wall jump onto platforms only to get attacked by some kind of flaming bird firing fireballs. The seventh stage has this terrible quicksand section where you need to jump and wall jump on to platforms and avoid quicksand. The quicksand can eat you up quickly and then you can’t even really save yourself and are forced to watch your health drain. Die and you need to repeat the section again. The eighth stage has you navigating through areas upside down and the controls reflect this so trying to perform the special moves can be even more cumbersome. If you fall down a hole you will lose some necroplasm and turn into this floating green essence thing. You can float for a limited time before you transform back into your physical form. I can honestly say falling into one of these holes and taking the loss of necroplasm was worth it just so I can skip ahead to avoid the tedious platforming.
Enemies include goons with basic melee weapons, guns, and then what I think are demonic enemies later in the game. Some of them are really annoying and often I would get trapped among enemy attacks even when blocking so sometimes it’s feels like I was forced to take damage. You got demons that will light you on fire, electrocute you, and some have spiked shields that can hurt you. With the already horrible hit detection, fighting these enemies feels like a chore more than it feels fun. I mean I suck at these types of games in general but I’m quite certain most of the challenge in this game comes from cheap design. Spawn, himself, feels kind of slow when moving around, including his attacks, and even recovering from an attack. Another problem I have is that the game never indicates when you can proceed to the next area. Some areas require you to kill to all of the enemies before proceeding, other areas just let you go whenever.
The first boss you encounter is Overt-Kill and I thought that battle was good enough for a first boss. The second boss is Redeemer and for some reason he’s one of the hardest bosses in the game. He’s got this laser attack that really can’t be blocked. He starts to flash before he does it which I guess is him charging it up, but you can’t even attack him in this state so you’ll need to learn how to dodge this attack and strike at just the right time. It’s tedious and makes the battle drag on. After that, the boss battles are relatively easy until you get to the end. I was able to exploit the Violator and Spirit Knight battles by just getting them into a corner and pummeling them to death. Tri-Demon is the boss of the seventh stage and this thing is the definition of annoying. You have to destroy different parts of it while not getting crushed. The final two bosses have you dodging lightning strikes and enemy attacks. It’s ridiculous. Blocking attacks doesn’t really prevent you from taking damage so you’ll take chip damage and for some reason these two bosses don’t start taking damage right away making me think something was wrong with the game. Their life bars don’t start draining until after what feels like your hundredth attack or so and the game in no way indicates this. I just kept attacking and thinking “what the fuck?”. A longer life bar or multiple life bars could have worked just fine.
The visuals are the only real thing this game has going for it. As I said earlier the cut scenes look good. There’s some great character sprites and I really liked the enemy designs and the game has pretty good animations, too. The environments and backgrounds all look good and the parallax scrolling is always nice. The music is forgettable and the sound effects are just lacking. The fight against Violator really shows how questionable the sound design is. He has this biting attack but there’s like no sound effects for it making the battle feel kind of stale.
Spawn is one of those games that starts out well enough and then quickly nosedives into bullshit. The character’s first foray into video games proves to be a terrible experience overall. It’s just not fun. Sadly, as of this review this seems to be the case with all Spawn video games to date. Other than being a great looking 16-bit game, it’s plagued with terrible level design and cheap and frustrating gameplay. There’s not even difficulties to choose from. Maybe die hard Spawn fans would want to give this a shot but everyone should just steer clear. There are far better beat ‘em ups to choose from. The fact that this one is based on Spawn may make it stand out but unless you’re a collector, I’d highly recommend you give this a pass.