If there are two things we’ve come to realize as games cross over with other media, it’s that movies based on games are bad, and equally bad are the games based on movies. Often times, film-licensed games are used as cash-grabs, a simple tie-in created in order to wring more money from your wallets. Hidden amidst the mist of the unplayable haze, however, is the rare beacon of light, a guide to shepherd you through the storm. Rare as they may be, there do exist good games based off of movies. With Warcraft out, and Assassin’s Creed later this year, it is quite apparent that video game-based movies are going to continue to be made, and thus is equally the case with movie-based video games. Let’s take a look back at some of the better licensed games and hope that games of this caliber will continue to be created.
Aladdin (Capcom, 1993)
From the very beginning, as home consoles became more and more of a popular household item, film companies realized they could make more even more money by selling licenses to developers and having them create games based on their franchises. But just because they threw money at these tie-ins didn’t mean the product had to be bad, and although there were a number of seriously bad licensed games on the early consoles, there was one company whose licensed games were once considered masterpieces. Capcom, popular for the Street Fighter franchise, made a game based on the Disney classic Aladdin, and the game is as much of a classic as the film. It’s your standard platformer, traversing obstacles across Agrabah and the desert to defeat the evil Jafar and rescue Jasmine. Typical video game stuff, but each of the levels lifted from the movie have their own fun and quirky personalities to them. The levels that are new, like the pyramid and the dream world, are full of their own personality. The platforming itself is tight, satisfying, and gives the player a great amount of control over the nimble, eponymous hero. The versions for each console were also unique, as the Genesis version had Aladdin carrying a sword. It’s weird to think that a colorful and charming game such as this could be created by Shinji Mikami, the man who would go on to create the Resident Evil franchise.
Goldeneye 64 (Rare, 1997)
Though a staple now, first-person shooters were not as popular as they used to be. While Doom and Quake were respected among the hardcore community, the genre had not yet been received by the gaming community at large, many of whom were buying consoles for the first time. That changed quickly, however, when the company known for Battletoads and Donkey Kog Country made a game based on the somewhat-recently released James Bond film Goldeneye. The controls and graphics, though they have not aged well at all (Note to nostalgic fans: Before writing me hate mail, please go back and try it for yourself. They’ve honestly aged like bad cheese), were fantastic at the time, giving a new realism not yet experienced in consoles to that point. Stealth and shooting felt fluid and natural, and the number of guns available to players gave variety to how Goldeneye could be played. What really set the game apart was the multiplayer mode, added literally in the last few weeks of development. Players would be pitted in various deathmatch-style competitions, each with various variations and rules, with additional settings that could be toggled for each game and content unlockable through the single-player campaign, giving endless replay value. It was heralded as the standard for FPS design, until Halo: Combat Evolved was released in 2001. For four years, the best multiplayer game was developed by an inexperienced team to tie-in with a movie. It was a recipe doomed for failure, but, under miracle circumstances, became something more.
Spiderman 2 (Treyarch, 2004)
The film industry has been pretty tough on Spiderman. The first one starred an awkward Tobey Maguire opposite an irate Marilyn Monroe. Spawning a better sequel and considerably worst third film, the franchise has since been rebooted and received much worse critical acclaim. I can only hope this newest iteration of the wall-crawler will turn out well. But at the height of his presence, Spiderman had two successful films and was accompanied by a game following in the footsteps of the highly-praised sequel. At least on the consoles, Spiderman 2 was extremely well-received by players. Loosely following the plot of the film, it featured a sprawling open-world with all of Manhattan to explore, utilized a web-slinging mechanic still revered today, and empowered players to really feel like a superhero. The PC version, on the other hand, suffered from a drastically-different plot and dumbed-down mechanics (take THAT, PC master race). At least on the consoles, the game will be remembered as “Grand Theft Spiderman” by adoring critics and fans.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (Raven Software, 2009)
One of the many life lessons I’ve learned watching Mythbusters is: Yes, you can, in fact, polish a turd. I don’t think there is any clearer indication of this fact that the existence of the X-Men Origins: Wolverine game. For those of you lucky enough to have not seen nor remember the film, allow me to quickly sum it up: it was a clichéd, bland movie, filled with plot inconsistencies, unsatisfying visual effects, and horribly distorted portrayals of beloved characters. In short, it failed on every front to be an interesting and entertaining prequel. Despite all of this, however, some good was able to come of the disastrous flick, in the form of the video game. It’s excessively brutal, but in the best way possible. You can mow through enemies in a very satisfying way, tearing their limbs apart with your adamantium claws. Equally as awesome is how your foes’ attacks affect you. As Wolverine takes damage, more and more of his viscera and metal skeleton become exposed and, over time, his body utilizes his healing factor and returns to normal. Although the gameplay, reminiscent of God of War, is repetitive and often times falls flat in terms of entertainment value, and the versions of the game available for PlayStation 2, Wii, and DS are considered worse ports, the power you wield in your hands as Wolverine is more than enough to allow you to overlook some shortcomings. It may not be perfect, but just like the character on which it’s based, it gets the job done.
Back to the Future: The Game (Telltale Games, 2010)
It’s quite common to think of movie licensed games coming out around the same time as the film on which it’s based. It helps to boost a franchise’ popularity. But sometimes, a game developer acquires a license years after a film has been released. This is because not only do they want to build a continuation to a well-known series, but they feel that they can do it justice as well. And as part of a licensing deal made in 2010, Telltale Games was able to create a five-episode adventure series taking place six months after the final Back to the Future film. The game itself is an excellent homage to the source material. Time travel and alternate histories play an (obviously) key role in the plots, which echo the stories of the films. The gameplay itself uses typical adventure mechanics, picking up items and interacting with certain people in order to solve puzzles. What ultimately made this game stand out in my mind, however, was how much it felt like a Back to the Future movie. AJ Locascio does an incredible job of imitating Michael J Fox’s voice, while Christopher Lloyd returns to play as Doc once again. Their performances transport me back to the same, childish state I was in the first time I watched the trilogy. Perhaps nostalgia has gotten the best of me, but the new story, fun dialogue, and often-times difficult puzzles make this a worthy successor to the franchise. I think Greg Miller’s analysis of the first episode is the most poignant, as he writes, “It’s a movie-inspired game that doesn’t suck.”
I know these are only five examples, and there are plenty of movie–licensed games that you can use to devalue my argument, but the existence of these games shows the potential that licensed games can have. If used in the right way, to further the universe of the film in fun gameplay, to be inspired by the source material rather than imitating it, then a tie-in can result in an excellent accompaniment.
What’s your favorite movie-licensed game? Let us know below!