Some comic-book-to-game adaptations manage to seamlessly capture the lucid glee that losing oneself in the mesmerising sphere of superheroes and villains epitomises. Others, well, others are The Amazing Spider-Man and Captain America in Dr Doom’s Revenge! Spider-Man’s first foray into video game collaboration, and a strong contender for the Amiga game with the longest title and least substance.
It did in fact ‘win’ a couple of awards that are unlikely to be spotlit as achievement of the century on the developer’s CVs…
Computer Gaming World voted it the 27th “Worst Game of All Time” in November 1996, while ST Format – in August 1991 – were even less enthused, pegging it as 8th “Worst Atari ST Game of All Time”.
In retrospect, weighing up Oxford Digital Enterprise’s platform-puzzler, The Amazing Spider-Man, most people wonder why it wasn’t a scrolling beat ’em up. Something with a bit more va-va-voom and a stronger emphasis on the physical given it revolves around a hero of the action variety. Paragon Software’s one on one brawler, Dr Doom’s Revenge published in 1990 by Empire, is as good an answer as any.
On the surface, it’s a promising proposition. You play alternately as Spidey and Captain America (no two-player option mind you), face a commendable range of opponents, and the scenario is elucidated by the very thing that would have endeared gamers to the offering in the first place; a 20 page, printed, tangible comic book written and illustrated by bona fide Marvel veterans, Danny Fingeroth and Rich Buckler.
On that note, Dr Doom’s Revenge was considered the first interactive comic, although playing the game is in no way dependent on having this narrative prelude to hand. Good luck finding a PDF online today. If you’re curious there’s a very thorough run-down of it on YouTube, or you can buy a copy on eBay. It will typically set you back anywhere between £5 and £You’re ‘avin’ a larf ain’tcha mate?
Nonetheless, everything you need to know is comprehensively documented in the manual/superhero handbook. Even the copyright security checks are based on character biographies found within the same booklet. This is available, so being unable to get your mitts on the comic isn’t the end of the world… or is it? Well, yes, it could be if you fail to put the kibosh on Dr Victor Von Doom’s apocalyptic scheme to nuke New York.
That’s essentially the plot; the despotic hooded sorcerer has hijacked a nuclear ‘Thermo C4V.G’ missile and is threatening to launch it at New York if the US doesn’t accede to his outlandish demands. Demands that once fulfilled would entail the state surrendering their independence to become a Latverian colony. As ‘Supreme Lord’ of the European country no-one’s ever heard of (because it doesn’t exist), he’s quite adamant that this comes to pass.
Spidey and Captain America (aka Steve Rogers) adorning the box cover and featuring in the game’s title, it should come as no surprise that they’re the patriotic duo drafted in to save the day. Tag-teaming back and forth they must breach Dr Doom’s fortified castle, seize the doom-mongering missile before it can be detonated, and finally apprehend the purveyor of pain himself.
Building up to the ‘seismic’ event we encounter his minions, plus a few random, generic foes to make up the numbers.
Villains such as Hobgoblin, Gorilla, Boomerang, Electro, Batroc, Saran, Machete, Oddball, Grey Gargoyle, Eduardo Lobo, Electro, Rhino…
…and Rattan (a TMNT wannabe created exclusively for the game).
Even the misunderstood good-guy-beneath-the-surface, incredible Hulk, puts in a cameo…
…though it later transpires that he’s only an illusion conjured up by Mysterio.
Often the villains will be pitted against the wrong superhero, or will be missing key attributes that define them in the comic books. Mostly though they’re accurately depicted and immediately recognisable. Punchy, multi-frame comic cells interspersed throughout further help to add an air of authenticity and set the scene without the need for tortuously long-winded apologue.
What should have made the fight mechanics interesting is that the execution of specific moves is determined by proximity to your opponent (close combat, mid and far). Moves such as the intriguingly dubbed ‘commando low kick’, ‘star-spangled leaping kick’, ‘corporal K.O. lunging wallop’, ‘power-packed low shield toss’, ‘destructive mighty shield hurl’, ‘jaw-crusher blow’, ‘rib-breaker strike’, ‘crippling low kick’, ‘black widow tomahawk kick’, ‘whirling low web shot’, and ‘dynamic high web shot’.
This, in theory, confers three times more ways to kick bottom, expanding the versatility of the standard one-button joystick and ramping up the challenge.
In practice, the controls are so irreparably broken it’s a miracle if you can trigger any sort of manoeuvre you actually intended, at the time you hoped it would occur. I’m not at all convinced there’s the remotest connection between what you do with the joystick and what happens on screen, making a mockery of the ‘interactive’ claim to fame, and the hyperbole surrounding the profusion of creative manoeuvres at your disposal.
For what it’s worth Captain America comes equipped with his signature adamantium (and therefore indestructible) shield. Only here he spends more time chucking it as a projectile boomerang, or pretending it’s a tickling stick. Perfect then for pulling off an impromptu Ken Dodd impersonation. Not so much where deploying it as any kind of self-defence mechanism is concerned. If weaponised befuddlement fails he can always fall back on his other schtick; death by belly-busting Budweiser gags.
Spidey, of course, has his webs. Not that they’ll be of any use in the Tarzaning department. It appears that swinging has been outlawed on health and safety grounds, although you can still dangle from the ceiling to stay out of harm’s way.
Whatever we whack them with, enemies won’t so much as flinch to indicate we’ve made contact, so we must instead keep an eye on their energy bar to decide if we’re wasting our time with the current course of action. We certainly are generally, though that’s beside the point.
Our health too will deplete incessantly, and isn’t restored between bouts as you’d expect having played the likes of Streetfighter and co. That and the one life deal will have your nearest and dearest scouring the net for a funeral director before your Amiga has even begun to warm up.
Make no mistake, DDR isn’t bad because it’s effortlessly easy in the same way that Rise of the Robots was. It’s atrocious mainly because it’s artificially and accidentally difficult courtesy of the incompetent design. It doesn’t help that one player dying means it’s curtains for both. Funny that, they don’t look like Siamese twins.
RotR’s visuals are its one mitigating asset. DDR doesn’t even have that in its corner. Ineptly drawn Spidey and Cap sprites jerk from one bewildering, mortifying skirmish to the next like patients suffering from advanced-stage Parkinson’s syndrome, impelled via no more than a handful of erratic, limping frames of animation between them.
To travel between scenes Pennsylvanian developers Paragon devised something that breaches the gap between flip-screen and smooth scrolling. It can best be described as jolting; it’s not all that dissimilar to riding a public bus into Manchester during ‘rush’ hour, halted by jams every 30 seconds and lurching in and out of each and every eternally neglected pot-hole.
Occasionally the musically unaccompanied ‘action’ is broken to introduce fireball…
…or missile dodging bonus stages, which vary slightly between ports, while remaining too vacuous to be worth mentioning or including pictures of. Oops.
Like the duels, they rumble on far too long with no variety to the patterns generated by what I hesitate to call ‘AI’.
At least in the PC version there’s the option to enhance the background aesthetics if you should possess the CPU muscle to cope with the extra demand. It’s not a tall order to be honest. I’d be more concerned about my sanity reserves if I were you.
If you can persevere through to the finish line – most likely aided by that more potent superhero, Jack Daniels – you’re congratulated by George Bush Snr. I suppose that’s the silver lining we’ve been desperately searching for; released a few years further down the line and it would have been his son. In his lasso twirling, double-gun-saluting excitement he may well have pushed Nuke York’s Big Red Self Destruct Button himself.