The 90’s was an interesting time for comics. A lot of modern fans tend to act like it was the dark ages of comics, with variant covers, holofoil covers, massive storylines and changes that often get protested in ways long before the Internet became the primary way to vent our frustrations. Personally, looking at a lot of things that have happened in comics since then, the 90’s were not as bad as we like to think. And the comic story that inspired this game is no exception. And of course, we are talking about one of the most ambitious superhero games of the 90’s, the one and only Maximum Carnage starring Spider-Man and Venom.
For those of you unfamiliar with the comic epic that this game is based on, let me explain (grab a drink, it’ll be a long explaination. Feel free to skip if you know this all already): Spider-Man needed a new great enemy. In the 80’s, we were given Venom, the amalgamation of bitter reporter Eddie Brock and Spidey’s old symbiotic black costume. As one of the few villains privy to Peter Parker’s secret identity, and the only one who starts out with that knowledge, Venom made a major impact with fans. His similar powers, his ability to cloak himself, to not set off the nearly unbeatable Spider Sense, and his sheer determination to kill Parker and threaten everyone the webslinger loves; fans just ate it up. In fact, I personally love to think that Venom works as a villain when his only motivation in evil is his bitter hatred of Peter. However, popularity led to Venom being developed in further appearances, and more development on his character revealed that while he’s a vicious stalker and killer, he would never harm an innocent. And at the end of an epic chase with the two stuck on a deserted island (which is like reading an adaption of Predator starring Spidey), Peter faked his own death. Eddie and the symbiote were glad to just stay on the island and never bothering anyone again.
So, we now had a villain who evolved into an anti-hero, and was incredibly popular. What do we do? We introduce a villain for both Spidey and Venom. And the 90’s were infamous for introducing new villains who were outright sociopaths, creatures who existed to simply up the ante by not being crooks or wanting to rule the world. All they want is kill and revel in the blood. One of the seeds of this was planted when Eddie Brock escaped from jail. Brock was cellmates with a serial killer serving 11 life sentences named Cletus Kasady. Kasady was ready to execute Brock when the Venom symbiote returned, remerging with Eddie so they could have the aforementioned awesome fight with Spider-Man on a deserted island. During the escape, a drop of symbiote fluid landed on him. It later turned out that the alien had reproduced, and its offspring bonded off the bat with Kasady. Thus resulting in the monster adorning this article (that image, by the way, was originally created for the game’s cover art, and has since become the official cover of the comic Maximum Carnage). Spidey had to recruit Venom, resulting in the one enemy who could hurt him at anytime knowing he was still alive. Venom saw Carnage as much as a threat as anyone, and shockingly, the creature was stronger than both of them. In the end, they managed to defeat him through sonic vibrations (a weakness of the symbiotes) and sent him packing. What no one knew was that it bonded to Kasady on a cellular level. Carnage couldn’t be separated. When he broke out again, he gathered other psychos in a Manson-like family (consisting of the psionic femme fatale Shriek, the plague creature Carrion, the hellborn Demogoblin, and the strange Spidey looking beast Doppleganger) and went on a rampage. Spidey and Venom had to team up with an assortment of heroes during the 14 part even called Maximum Carnage, which raised the question of how to stop a monster without killing him.
Why did I have to tell you all that? Because this game is a straight adaption of the story it shares its name with. Every level is bookended with actual animatic cutscenes using the comic book panels from the story. All the levels are inspired by moments in the comic. Literally, without all that backstory, all you know is that there’s a red guy named Carnage starting trouble, and only Spidey and Venom are bad enough dudes to stop him.
This game was made shockingly by LJN, a now defunct company infamous for putting out adaptions of popular franchises that were at best hard to play and at worst outright horrible. And yet, this was a fun game, an arcade style brawler like Double Dragon or Final Fight. And yes, it was on both Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo. Gameplay-wise, they were identical, the only difference being in terms of graphics and sound. And I’ll say it now, the Genesis achieved the comic look better, but the Super Nintendo had better sound quality. Again, my opinion.
Controls were simple. One button to attack, one to jump, and one for the webbing. Tapping the button, you’d shoot a small bit of web that could wrap up enemies. A solid press will cause a webline to shoot out and pull any foe it catches to you so you can knock him out. Hold the button, you make a shield so that you can block. You can also swing through the air when you jump and can stick to the walls in the background and crawl around (which is a good way to deal with being outnumbered, which will be often). During gameplay, you’d find character summons based on the allies Spidey and Venom had during the comic story. Depending on who you were playing, the effects would be different, and as the game went on the effects on bosses would be less. And keep in mind, Spidey and Venom are only cosmetically different, handling exactly the same.
Graphics on both versions are good, with large comic style character sprites with decent animation (I love playing as Venom, just for watching his damn prehensile tongue wag around). The music is awesome, with the title track being done by Green Jelly.
You may remember Green Jelly from their insanely popular music video about the 3 little pigs.
And the rest of the soundtrack is filled with 16 bit versions of heavy metal anthems. As well.
The game followed the plot of the comics faithfully, including moments where you could switch off between Spidey or Venom, and some sections and battle meant only for one of them, given quite a bit of replay value. And it’s still fun to play to this day. There’s just two problems I have:
1) The game is hard, due to adapting the story. In the comics, the heroes often had to fight more than one supervillain at one time. In the game, this becomes nightmarish when in adapting a scene, you’re on your own and getting attacked by three bosses at once. Seriously, some of the hardest moments in the game is when you’re outnumbered in most of the boss battles. Throw in that you only have three lives and limited continues, with no save feature, and you’ll be at this tough nut for a long time. It’d be a lot easier if not for…
2) There is no multiplayer. In an arcade brawler like this, you need multiplayer. Especially since you have two playable characters. No multiplayer is just unforgivable.
When this game first came out, it was available in a blood red cartridge. I still have that red cartridge, and getting to the end of this game is insane. Especially because when you make it to the end of the game, and after the credits Carnage rises one more time for an insanely hard boss battle. There was a sequel, Separation Anxiety, which had more evil symbiotes and actually had multiplayer, but bombed with critics and gamers.
To this day, the game has not been rereleased or placed in a compilation. Nintendo, please put this on the Virtual Console for a new generation to enjoy.