When I decided to focus on video games based on Marvel and DC superheroes, I had Maximum Carnage in mind. This was one of the most memorable video games that I’ve had the chance to play, and I’ve been dying to get a chance to play it again. I was really looking forward to checking off each playable superhero video game off my list, as each one brought me closer to this game.
So let’s talk about one of my favorite video games of all time and see if it aged well!
The Comic Book Storyline
I can’t talk about the video game without first talking about the source material. Maximum Carnage was the first comic book crossover that I was able to collect personally and as it was happening. I was a big Spider-Man fan when I was younger but comic books weren’t readily available to kids in my country. So I’ve only read a handful of Spider-Man comic books before Maximum Carnage came out.
The storyline itself was pretty simple and had some major plot holes. Essentially, Carnage regained his symbiote and is out in the open again. Other minor supervillains start to join him, such as Shriek, the Spider-Doppelganger, Demogoblin, and Carrion. The group doesn’t really have much of a goal beyond killing as many people as they can.
Spider-Man gets involved, as does Venom. Unable to defeat Carnage and his group alone, the two form a truce and team up. Other heroes start to join them as well, such as Black Cat, Cloak, Firestar, and Morbius. During this time, Spider-Man has to deal with an internal struggle. Does he cave to an urge inside to become more violent, like Morbius and Venom? Black Cat and Cloak start to lean towards wanting to fight fire with fire, but Firestar helps keep Spider-Man from committing fully.
Despite a numbers advantage, the heroes lose and split up. Venom continues to chase after Carnage with Black Cat and Morbius. Eventually, they lose as well and Carnage is able to capture Venom. Meanwhile, Spider-Man and Firestar are joined by Captain America, Iron Fist, and Deathlok. Spider-Man’s team manages to defeat Carnage’s group after Dagger is resurrected. Carnage manages to escape, but is stopped after one final confrontation with Spider-Man and Venom.
The official title for this game is Spider-Man and Venom: Maximum Carnage, but I’ll refer to it as just Maximum Carnage from here on out. This is a single player beat ’em up game that was developed by Software Creations and published by LJN under Acclaim. The game was released for both the Sega Genesis and the SNES, but I’ll be talking about the former in this article.
For better and for worse, this game follows the events of the comic book storyline very closely, with barely any deviations. You start the game as Spider-Man but after a couple of stages, you’ll be able to choose between him and Venom. There are set points in the game when you’ll be able to make this choice. The strict adherence to the said storyline also limits the game when it comes to stage locations, enemies, and bosses.
Spider-Man and Venom have similar moves. However, there is a distinct difference between the two. Spider-Man is noticeably faster, while Venom does feel like his attacks do more damage. Sometimes, their sections are different and that’s because they weren’t always together in the comic book storyline. The game has some replay value in that, if you want to see all of the stages, you’ll have to do a second playthrough at the very least.
The stages in the game are planes instead of platforms, and there aren’t any pits that you’ll need to jump over. You start the game with three lives and only one continue. But, you can earn more of both by finding power ups all throughout the stages. The game does not have any difficulty options, passwords, or a save system. So like most games of it’s generation, Maximum Carnage is meant to be played in one sitting.
One of the things that I really loved about Maximum Carnage is how capable Spider-Man and Venom are in terms of fighting. They’ve got a bunch of moves at their disposal. They can move in any of the four directions and can jump. There’s no crouching in the game. Both can do web-swinging and wall-climbing. It’s a good idea to climb walls to see if there are hidden power ups.
Both attack via punching, and tapping the attack button results in multi-hit combos that can involve kicks and other moves too. They both have jump kicks, swinging kicks, and even have drop-kicks when they come off walls. One move that you’ll need to learn to use is the backflip, which is done by pressing back and jump at the same time. This move is both an attack and an evasive maneuver.
Both characters can grab unto enemies by simply moving towards them. You can punch a grabbed enemy for up to three or four times without getting counterattacked. However, to throw an enemy, you have to press up to lift that enemy above your head. This is another move that you’ll need to get used to, because throwing enemies into each other is one of the most effective strategies in this game.
Finally, when you manage to land all your attacks , your health meter will start to flash. This will enable your character to do a “Power Hit” attack which does a lot of damage. Usually, your combo finishers turn into Power Hit attacks. You don’t need to do anything different, just keep attacking and avoid missing.
Spider-Man and Venom: Maximum Webmasters
I really love how the developers incorporated webbing into the combat mechanics of Maximum Carnage. Pressing and holding the webbing button will create a web shield that you can use for defending against attacks. Tapping this button shoots out a web line that ties up enemies from a distance.
Pressing forward and the webbing button will shoot a continuous web line that can pull enemies toward you and into a grab. This is an important move because it will allow you to grab enemies from a safe distance. It also works against offscreen enemies. You also have the option to hold back just before you grab the pulled enemy, which will make you toss that enemy behind you.
Occasionally, you’ll find yourself right in the middle of two enemies. When you tap the webbing button, you’ll automatically shoot out two web lines. When they hit both enemies, you’ll swiftly pull them and smash them against each other. This move does a lot of damage but it’s hard to time. It can also whiff, if one of the enemies end up moving out of range. The move looks and feels amazing when you pull it off.
The Amazing Friends
Somehow, the developers managed to find a way to include the numerous superhero guest stars in Maximum Carnage. In the game, each superhero is a special attack. You’ll start finding these icons in the game, which corresponds to a different hero. Each icon allows you to call on them twice. They’ll also appear in the game based on when they appeared in the comic book storyline.
Not only does each hero have a different attack but some also have different effects depending on whether you’re playing as Spider-Man or Venom. Iron Fist, for example, heals up Spider-Man’s health bar completely instead of attacking. When you’re Venom, he does a screen clearing flying kick instead.
These are limited, so they’re best saved up for the boss fights with Carnage and his gang. It’s quite satisfying to see them swoop in and help out Spider-Man or Venom. A minor spoiler alert – two of these summons work really well against Carnage. Firestar and Spider-Man/Venom with the sonic gun can take out Carnage in one hit.
Addressing the Repetitiveness
One of the most frequent complaints that I’ve seen about Maximum Carnage is it’s repetitive nature. And yes, it is quite repetitive, but that’s because the developers were truly adhering to the source material. The comic book storyline involved five specific supervillains, and the heroes fought them repeatedly.
Adding different supervillains would have been a deviation from the source, so early stage bosses are just regular civilians. These early bosses become regular enemies in succeeding stages. So when the game starts out, you only fight two kinds of enemies. But as you progress, you’re facing more and more different enemy types.
As for the main bosses, I think it’s just a matter of perspective. Fighting a boss character once tends to make both the fight and the character forgettable. But having to fight these bosses over and over makes them become a little more memorable than the typical boss.
And it helps that each villain in Maximum Carnage feels unique. The Spider-Doppelganger is hyper active and is fond of jumping around. He’s got a rolling attack and shoots razor webbing. But his most dangerous move is his grab, which deals massive damage. Shriek is content with keeping her distance. She’ll keep shooting at you and can fly in and out of trouble.
Demogoblin throws exploding pumpkin bombs and will occasionally hop on his glider. You’ll have to use aerial attacks to hit him when gliding. Carrion floats around, always looking to grab you. He’ll drain your health if he catches you. He’s got low health but you need to hit him twice or thrice to do damage. Backflips work well against him.
The Final Battle
Maximum Carnage does a fake out at the end, wherein it will start an end credits sequence. Carnage will then pop out, starting your final two battles with him. Normally I’d leave this out but I need to talk about this specifically because this changes the gameplay up somewhat.
Don’t save your hero summons because you’ll all lose them when you get to this part. Instead of being able to call on your friends, you’ll be able to swap between Spider-Man and Venom on the fly. Both will have his own lives count and health meters. And believe me, you’ll need all of them in these fights. You get a few invulnerability frames when you swap, which you can take advantage of.
Carnage is fast and is even more hyper active than Doppelganger. He’ll move all over the place, making it hard to catch him. He can also extend his limbs so he’s got a reach advantage over both Spider-Man and Venom. Webs don’t work on him at all. So to win this fight, you’ll have to rely on your skills and a little luck.
Visuals, Sound, and Presentation
The graphics of Maximum Carnage are amazing. Sprites are large and detailed. Animations are quite fluid. And the stages all look great too, even if the venues being represented are just regular locations like generic streets and rooftops. If I were to nitpick, I’d say that the quality of the hero summon sprites isn’t very consistent.
What this game has over most 16-bit games is it’s amazing soundtrack. During the time of this game’s release, part of it’s marketing was about how this band called Green Jello (now known as Green Jelly) wrote and produced songs for this game. I loved this game’s rock tunes so much, I would load this game up and let it play as background music. The themes of this game are a perfect fit, not only to the themes of the game (violence and chaos) but even the sequences they’re matched up to.
Another thing that I really loved about this game is how they used art and panels straight from the comic books in order to tell it’s story. Having collected these comic book issues myself, I’m able to recognize each panel this game is referencing. I also like how the panels read like a digital comic, with word bubbles appearing and disappearing in time with the dialogue. I’ve never seen any other game come close to how the developers used this aesthetic in this game.
The developers also don’t limit themselves to this. Whenever possible, they also use in-game graphics as cutscenes for other key moments in the story. One good example of this is how Doppelganger’s assault on Cloak and Dagger’s church was depicted using in-game graphics.
When it comes to Spider-Man and Venom: Maximum Carnage, I’m definitely biased. The source material has sentimental significance to me, especially as a former comic book collector. So it’s strict adherence to the source material is a huge positive for me. Looking beyond that, this game is still really good. It’s got excellent graphics and a rocking soundtrack. The presentation techniques used are one of a kind. And this version of Spider-Man is the most capable fighter we’ve seen thus far. This game just feels so good to play.
It can get repetitive, but personally I don’t mind it. It’s limited to single player, but that’s how I usually play my games anyway. Other people may see these as big negatives, and it’s fine if they’ve got that opinion.
Lastly, this game is somewhat difficult. You can’t simply play this game and expect to beat it. But you can beat this, once you’ve learned where most of the extra lives and continues are, and you’ve mastered grabbing and backflips. This game is very challenging, but beating it will feel quite the accomplishment.
Spider-Man and Venom: Maximum Carnage is a game that you simply have to experience if you’re a comic book superhero fan, a Spider-Man fan, or if you like beat ’em up games. If you’re a Sega games collector, make sure you get a copy for your collection.