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Spider-Man & Venom: Separation Anxiety

Genre: Beat-‘Em-Up Developer: Software Creations Publisher: Acclaim Players: 1-2 Released: 1995

At some point in life everyone has experienced the unfortunate phenomenon of sequels turning out worse than the original, often to the point of being not just bad, but downright insulting to the beloved predecessor. Usually though they at least have the decency to wait until the fourth installment before becoming unbearable, giving the audience a wide range of increasingly bad titles to become desensitized to until the impending downfall of the franchise. Sadly, this was not the case with Separation Anxiety, which took the fast track to failure.

Separation Anxiety looks embarrassingly bad when compared to the previous Spider-Man and Venom release: Maximum Carnage. In fact, it almost feels like the creators made a checklist of all the things that Maximum Carnage did well and made a conscious effort to carefully downgrade each point. This includes graphics, sprites, animations, cut scenes, music, in-game detail, level design, and gameplay. Nothing was spared!

The graphics are not good, plain and simple. There is no nice way to put it, no positive light in which to view it; visually the game looks like crap. Graphically it would be below standard if it was released in 1991. It came out in 1995, and if anything it is visually comparable to Game Gear titles released that year… The levels are plain with very little detail. While the streets of New York looked gritty and distressed in Maximum Carnage, they look sterile and boring in Separation Anxiety. In fact the entire game palette is very dull, with Spider-Man’s high contrast costume seeming very out of place anywhere you go. There are some exceptions like the forest level, where everything is an obnoxious, unnaturally bright green and brown, but again the level of detail is still lacking and the palette is an eyesore.

Another massive, and logically perplexing downgrade is the presentation of character sprites. While they were large and highly detailed in Maximum Carnage, and in SA they are small and lacking any distinguishing features. Not only that, they are just badly drawn. Spider-Man looks less like a chiseled superhero and more like the victim of severe constipation when walking, and his jumps and flips are awkward at best. Venom does no better, and looks like a disproportionate blue play-dough figure. His colour isn’t even right…

Also gone are the detailed animations of spin kicks, flips, throws and tentacle shields, they are replaced with boring, static two-frame moves that not only look bad but are borderline useless in action. While both Spidey and Venom retain most of their moves from the previous game, much of them have lost their practicality, limiting the gameplay to mostly punching and jumping. The ability to call helper characters returns but likewise takes a dive in presentation and usefulness. You are limited to calling Captain America, Ghost Rider, Daredevil and Hawkeye. The first three perform essentially the same questionably useful projectile throwing attack, and all of them look very on screen: small sprites, poor animation, terrible design (Ghost Rider appears in a one-piece purple jumpsuit). Small details like enemies looking up when Spidey crawls up a wall are also missing.

There are no digitized comic panel cut scenes to advance the plot, instead the storyline is revealed via a static wall-of-text that appears between equally uninspired levels. There is no variation in gameplay between stages, they’re all just straight forward brawlers; walk left to right and punch everything, sometimes you get to walk right to left. The enemy variation is likewise very low, and while this is typically true of most 16-bit brawlers, better games like Maximum Carnage or Streets of Rage 3 offer nice little details like enemy names. (An unreal sense of satisfaction can be achieved from beating a fat guy named Edshirt). Separation Anxiety takes a minimalist approach of displaying a tiny icon of the enemy’s face and a barely visible health bar. This combined with the generally boring enemy designs makes combat about as exciting as sock laundry. Most of Spidey’s villainous foes in this game are faceless goons in differently coloured HAZMAT suits, even some of the bosses are just palette swaps of Venom.

The music doesn’t help spice things up either, it is forgettable at best, annoying at worst. Though supposedly some of it was composed by punk rockers Green Jelly who did the soundtrack for Maximum Carnage, how much of that composition actually made it to the game is debatable.

On the upside, Separation Anxiety does feature a password save system which comes in quite handy since it is a fairly long and difficult game. The controls are also decent – the ugly little characters respond well to button commands and the flow of combat isn’t interrupted by stiff or unresponsive controls, so you can perform all those useless attacks to your heart’s content. The only other improvement over Maximum Carnage is the inclusion of a two-player co-op mode, which is quite welcome if you can find someone willing to play this game. If…

Overall this is not a good game. As a sequel, it is a complete failure, other than the added two-player mode and password system it doesn’t improve upon anything from the previous Spider-Man and Venom title, it is in fact worse on many accounts. I’m amazed that Software Creations went through the trouble of making this game from the ground up. They would have been better off using the same engine and sprites from Maximum Carnage and just making new levels.
Bottom line is: if you enjoyed Maximum Carnage you will not like this game, and if you didn’t like Maximum Carnage then you’ll have even less love for this one. Looked at solely as a brawler on its own, Separation Anxiety is still inexcusably bad. It is ultimately a boring experience with unpleasant graphics and highly repetitive gameplay. The gameplay mechanics are there, the controls work and the in-game physics make sense, but that’s really about the best experience to be had. Even diehard fans of the comics will find this game tedious.

SCORE: 4 out of 10

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