Beat-em-ups as a genre are repetitive by nature: punch some guys, move right, punch some more guys, more than likely ride an elevator, fight a boss, rinse, repeat until games end. What helps alleviate some of the tedium is being able to bring along a friend for the ride. In the arcade, where the games really exploded, cabinets could house 2, 4 sometimes even 6 players, though that number was reduced back down to 2 when they made their way to home consoles. ‘Spider-Man/Venom: Maximum Carnage” was a curious case in that it had top billing for two characters, yet it was a solo affair exclusively. With its sequel, “Spider-Man/Venom: Separation Anxiety,” developer Software Creations fixed this and allowed a friend to come along for the ride. Unfortunately, that’s about all they fixed.
Separation Anxiety shares a title with a 4-issue Venom mini-series but it shares little in common with the story other than the appearance of the five symbiotes spawned from Venom. The game has more in common with the first Venom mini-series, Lethal Protector, that deals with the sometimes villain, sometimes anti-hero returning to his home town of San Francisco searching for a purpose in life and finding it in protecting a hidden under ground city of outcasts. This puts him in conflict with the Life Foundation, whose mercenaries the Jury steal a sample from the alien symbiote to create their own army of symbiotic soldiers that rival the powers of Venom and Carnage.
Unlike “Maximum Carnage,” which cleverly paced itself to match the beats of that story and even used the panels as cut-scenes, Separation Anxiety only very loosely uses the comics as source material (the game’s setting is even in and around New York as opposed to San Francisco.) Software Creations even did away with the panel style cut-scenes in favor of a boring black screen with whatever character you’re playing as in the background with some simple text explaining why one second your on a bridge, then in a forest, then in an underground…shopping mall. The five new symbiote characters that appear on the games cover and exist as replacements for Carnage’s army don’t even get named in-game, and as I didn’t have an instruction manual with my copy, I only knew them as the green one, the purple lady one, etc.
From a gameplay perspective, fans of “Maximum Carnage” will feel right at home in “Separation Anxiety” as both characters carry over their full repertoire of moves from the previous game. The difficulty appears to be toned down, especially if you use Venom whose more powerful attack and screen clearing power hit are way more effective than anything Spider-Man can do. Regular enemies tend to drop more lives and support characters making it more manageable to see the game through to its completion without knowing where the secret bonus rooms are. The last boss, Carnage, who attacks in the exact same manner as he did in “Maximum Carnage,” can also be beaten by something other than pure luck.
For those craving a greater challenge, hard mode unlocks itself upon finishing the game when you’re presented with a password for it, and playing with a friend also increases the difficulty as you have to fight for spare lives. Support heroes make a return here, but they’re fewer in number: Captain America, Hawkeye, Ghost Rider and Daredevil. While I like the roster, they’re made less special here by the fact neither appear in either of the stories this game has cobbled its story from.
Anyone that wanted to play as Venom from the start were probably annoyed in “Maximum Carnage” over how he could not be chosen until a few levels in. Here the character is playable from the opening and although the choice is much appreciated, it does reduce replay value significantly. Choosing either Spider-Man or Venom in the first outing let you experience different levels when you played through again, but in “Separation Anxiety” everything plays out exactly the same no matter who you choose. Playing the game on a higher difficulty does give some incentive to play through the game again, but you’re still seeing the same levels played out.
One of the more endearing qualities from “Maximum Carnage” was its soundtrack which consisted of compressed music from the band “Green Jelly.” It really did a lot to get you pumped and excited to jump in and beat on some bad guys from the opening riffs the second you turn on the game. “Separation Anxiety’s” soundtrack is much more boring than its predecessor, made worse that certain levels feature a remixed version of a song from the first game and it really reminds you of what you’re missing. This also makes the game feel more repetitive and less engaging, especially when you’re playing solo.
“Separation Anxiety” is not a terrible game, and being able to play with a friend this time around is a great addition, but outside of adding multiplayer, Software did little to improve on the “Maximum Carnage” experience in any significant way. Maybe had they chosen a different story line in which to craft the game from, or had they tried to make an original story with some more familiar Spider-Man villains, the experience would be more memorable. As it stands, “Separation Anxiety” is an okay beat-em-up that never reaches the highs of its progenitor.