It’s weird to think about now, but years ago, I used to have a gig reviewing comic books. I certainly wasn’t long for that world, given how quickly I eventually soured on the product. The world of comics, much like that of video games, goes in cycles, though infinitely more transparent ones. The universe that my favorite heroes inhabited never really evolved at the same rate I seemed to.
As a kid, I was far less discerning; most of my action figure roster was ripped straight from the pages and I stuck with Spider-Man during the whole two agonizing years the Clone Saga lasted. Sure, it was terrible, but there wasn’t a lot of alternative media at the time that fared much better. Games based on comic book heroes tended to be very basic side-scrollers featuring characters that may not have even resembled their namesakes. In field saturated with generic beat-em-ups, Maximum Carnage was… one of them.
Though I don’t remember the story arc in exquisite detail, I’m fairly certain most of the panels didn’t involve Spider-Man slowly walking through the streets punching bystanders under the influence of human growth hormone, nor do I recall his greatest threat coming at the hands of teenage girls with a tendency to whip their hair at him. At the time, it really didn’t matter. Playing as Venom was reason enough to warrant a rental and the game was often so unforgiving that you’d likely need to spring for a second week just to conquer the threat of classic Spidey foes such as “Mike” and “Ron”, most of whom are dressed like Poochie the Dog. Even though Final Fight did it previously, I never quite understood the need to know the name of every generic mook. Unless you were reading Spider-Man in 1993, chances are you probably hadn’t heard of most of the marquee players away.
Maximum Carnage, if nothing else, serves as a nice time capsule to an very precise point in comics, when it was still okay to like Venom and Demogoblin was a thing. I miss those days, personally. The 90s are an easy time to mock now, but there was a charming earnestness to the era, when chugging a Surge was still permissible social behavior and being EXTREME TO THE MAX was an admirable life goal. The game itself is nothing special, though it does have the distinction of being probably the best title ever released under the LJN label, which is equivalent to being the world’s fastest sloth. Considering my most vivid LJN memory was of Arcade’s Revenge, a game so vile that the soundtrack may have actually been the screams of starving children, it was an improvement.
And the cartridge is red. That’s pretty cool? And that cover is kinda neat?
Look, it was a simpler time. We were able to name characters “Carnage” and no one blinked. We took what we could get.