Weekend Roundtable: Best & Worst Videogames Based on Movies or TV

Hollywood loves to cross-promote its movies and TV shows with videogame tie-ins, and the videogame industry loves to license movies and TV shows for their instant name-brand recognition. This seems like a match made in heaven. Yet, as anyone who’s played these things already knows, most licensed-based videogames suck. (Brian helped to explain why this keeps happening in a post last year.) Still, every once in a blue moon, a decent game will slip through. In today’s Roundtable, we look at some of the best and worst videogames we’ve played solely because they were based on properties we liked.

Daniel Hirshleifer

While the movie it was based on was nigh unwatchable, the ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine‘ tie-in game (for the first solo film, not the upcoming new one) was actually a blast. It understood the appeal of the character: He rips everything to shreds. From that simple premise, the developers crafted a fun hack-and-slash game that wasn’t high art, but satisfied the basic gaming urge to kill people in mass quantities using adamantium claws that jut out of your hands. I can probably count on one hand the amount of movie tie-in games that are good at all, but this is the only one I can think of where the tie-in was better than the movie.

Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)

Whenever I’d visit my mom’s folks in the sleepy little town of York, South Carolina, I’d pass the time by attacking their Atari 2600. You’re already one step ahead of me: Yup, I’m complaining about the completely incomprehensible ‘E.T.‘ videogame. A cash-in hammered out by one developer in the space of a few weeks, ‘E.T.’ is notorious as one of the absolute worst videogames ever made. Heck, it’s frequently pointed to as ringing in the death knell for the industry in the early ’80s. Back in 1985 or whenever, I was blissfully unaware of all that, of course. All I knew was that I liked ‘E.T.’ the movie and had no friggin’ clue how to play this game. I just kept falling into pits and was pretty terrible at levitating out of ’em afterwards. I kind of wish Grandma and Grandpa’s copy had been dumped in that New Mexico landfill with the millions of other copies of this catastrophic failure.

As for the best game based on a movie, my kneejerk reaction is to point to ‘Spider-Man 2‘. Unlike most videogame tie-ins, which wind up being extremely linear, ‘Spider-Man 2’ was a sandbox game. It nailed the web-swinging mechanics so perfectly that it was a blast just flinging myself across the city and shrugging off the storyline. Add in some fairly epic boss battles, eight hojillion guest stars, Bruce Campbell (!) fielding all the snarky narration, and you’re looking at one of my very favorite games of that generation. Just try not to remind me about that stupid kid who keeps losing his balloon.

Wayne Rowe

What is the best or worst licensed property videogame I’ve played? Well, personally, I’m not sure I’ve played many of these sorts of games. In fact, I had to double check with a good pal in the industry to make sure I was even considering titles that fell under the category of “licensed properties.” Once I had my head on straight, I realized that I haven’t played many because they have, for the most part, all looked absolutely awful. Or at the very least, been universally panned. That said, I really wanted to mention the Lego games. The first ‘Lego Star Wars’ game was great. However, my absolutely favorite was the first ‘Lego Indiana Jones‘. It truly followed the movies, including all of the great John Williams music. I must have spent days playing it over and over again.

Brian Hoss

Worst: On its face, ‘Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen‘ is not the worst movie tie-in game ever, but looks don’t always meet the eye. About halfway through the otherwise crummy tie-in to an insubstantial film, you have a series of missions where, playing as Bumblebee, you have to protect Megan Fox’s character, Mikaela. That pretty much breaks down into attempting to fight a dozen generic Decepticons while Mikaela hides in a warehouse whining and ultimately berating you. Worst movie tie-in game, ever.

Best: ‘Top Gun‘ and ‘Top Gun: The Second Mission‘ for the NES. Remember that part of the ‘Top Gun’ movie when every single pilot crashed and burned while attempting to land on a carrier? Maybe that was in the director’s cut… Anyways, playing the two (quite popular) ‘Top Gun’ games was an excellent recreation of those events, which makes them classics.

Luke Hickman

The only videogame that a studio has ever sent me as part of a press kit was just about the worst videogame that I’ve ever played. Paramount, thank you for the swag, but ‘Transformers: The Game‘ is a huge waste of time. The graphics are cheesy, but that’s not the worst part. The gameplay is so ridiculously bad that it feels as if it was programmed by a group of first-year college students or interns. Everything about it is limited – the boards, the character actions and the amount of options. At first, it resembles a game made for 12-year-olds who hadn’t discovered good gaming yet, but after 15 minutes, I hit a challenge that made no sense. I couldn’t figure out what I was supposed to do to move forward. After 30 minutes of trial and loads of error, including unsuccessful help from my college roommates, I gave up and never played it again. To this day, it still sits collecting dust at the bottom of a stack of Xbox 360 discs.

Tom Landy

I’m not much of a gamer at all. The last game I remember playing based on a film property was ‘The Goonies‘ for my Laser 128 back in the 1980s. I’m not sure if it was a poorly made game or if it was just me, but as much as I tried, I couldn’t get past the second level. After a few days, I just gave up playing it and went back to ‘Lode Runner’.

Bryan Kluger

Friday the 13th‘ for NES is a love/hate videogame for me. I love it for its nostalgic value, the musical score, and being based on a horror film franchise that I love. I hate it because it’s a boring, drab and uninteresting game that doesn’t follow the movies. Basically, you play one of six camp counselors at Camp Crystal Lake, where you have to survive three days and nights and kill the big bad Jason Vorhees. Along your way, you’ll have to kill wolves, birds and zombies, which makes no sense. At some points, you can battle Jason in the vein of ‘Mike Tyson’s Punch Out’, which cracked me up. You can also battle Jason’s mom, who is more of a floating apparition than a real person. Just talking about this game makes me want to find a copy and play it again. At the same time, I’d hate myself for it.

Josh Zyber

I’m an old-school gamer, so my choices in both categories will go back a few console generations. For best movie tie-in, I love the ‘Batman‘ game for the NES, based on Tim Burton’s first Bat-film. At the time, its state-of-the-art 8-bit graphics for cut-scenes that vaguely resembled shots from the movie were awe-inspiring. I was all like, “Hey, I remember that! That was totally in the movie! Whoa!!” Of course, gameplay had very little to do with the movie. Blatantly based on the mechanics of the hugely-popular ‘Ninja Gaiden’, your little purple Batman (because black wouldn’t show up very clearly against the dark backgrounds) climbs up walls and tosses little Batarangs at random henchmen. But ‘Ninja Gaiden’ was great fun, and this was an excellent knock-off. To this day, the 8-bit theme music still runs through my head at random moments.

As for the worst… Ugh… Fool that I was, I thought that ‘South Park‘ was a property well suited to gaming, and eagerly bought the first game based on the show for the original PlayStation. That was a mistake. Anyone remember this thing? Allegedly inspired by a Thanksgiving episode, it’s a First Person Shooter (already, wha…??!!) in which you run around town as Cartman throwing snowballs at turkeys. Let that sink in. First Person Shooter, throwing snowballs at turkeys. That was that game. Really. What a crapfest. I’m made to understand that there have been other videogames based on ‘South Park’, and hopefully some of them turned out better than this one, but I never tried them.

Surely you’ve also played videogames based on movies or TV shows in your day. Tell us about your experiences in the Comments.

21 comments

  1. Ryan M

    I can’t believe nobody mentioned Goldeneye. Back when this was released for N64, my friends and I spent countless hours playing this over and over. To this day, it is one of my favorite games, period.

    • Goldeneye was actually the first game that sprang to mind, but I sat out that entire generation. (I got a Genesis in 1992, an Xbox and GameCube in 2002, and a whole lotta nothin’ in between.) I didn’t think it would be fair to write about a game I’d seen some of my friends in college play but shamefully never sat down with myself. I definitely know it by reputation but not much more than that.

  2. I failed to get a submission in for this week’s roundtable, but since no one else has mentioned it, my pick would have been 1997’s PC game of BLADE RUNNER. It was basically a point and click adventure, but I found it wonderfully detailed (for the day) and a whole lot of fun. I also liked how every time you booted up the game, you got to hear “They say you Blade Runner.”

  3. Elizabeth

    I’m going to suggest Willow, both the arcade game and the NES game. I remember dropping many a quarter in the machine trying to make my way to Bavmorda.

  4. Peter Whitney

    I agree with N64 Goldeneye. But as I read this, I kept thinking about the Ghostbusters where they had the original cast return including Annie Potts, William Atherton, and Bryan Doyle Murphy

    • Totally forgot about Ghostbusters (the one for the PS3)! One of the few games I was able to complete without too much frustration, and it very much felt like the second sequel we never got. That’s a good pick.

  5. Scott H

    I would have to say the best movie tie-in game I have played was the Terminator 2 arcade game. I put a lot of quarters in that game and though I didn’t do so well, it was a lot of fun as Terminator2 is my favorite film. Another that was fun were the Star Wars games on the snes, as I remember it was like Mario except with the Star Wars license. Also can’t forget the Jurassic park game on the sega genesis as well as the Jurassic park lost world game on the ps1 which featured great music composed by Michael Giacchino.

  6. The worst would have to be Back to the Future on the NES. Just a huge mess of a game that felt even more awkwardly thrown together than E.T. on the Atari 2600

    The best would be Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher’s Bay on the original Xbox. If you have an Xbox 360 or PS3, I highly recommend playing the HD remake with the Dark Athena expansion.

  7. Anthony Gianotti

    Best-Golden Eye(N64), Jurassic Park(SEGA Genesis), Batman: Arkham Asylum (Xbox 360)

    Worst- every other one I have played!

  8. William Henley

    Best, hands down, is the Harry Potter series of games. Not just the 8 movie games, but Quidditch World Cup is still one of my all-time favorite games – I play the hell out of that still. And Lego Harry Potter… AW YEAH!

    Also greatness are the Disney Interactive games of the 90s.

    I can’t even think of where to begin on awful movie games. Angry Video Game Nerd covered many, but I got a few of my own. The worst that comes to mind (yes, I hate it worse than ET) has got to be Home Alone. MAN, is that game BAD! Horrible play control, awful graphics, insane difficulty, horrible music and sound effects. There is no redeeming quality to this game.

    The original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was bad. I just don’t get it, it was like the game developers had never even seen the source material, and couldn’t figure out the objective. I think the game was impossible to play without the maps in Nintendo Power.

    Oh, and don’t even get me started on the suckiness that was The Adams Family games. I think the game was pretty much complete as a generic platformer, they licensed the franchise, and changed a couple of sprites around to make them look like characters from the show or movie.

    One of the most annoying movie-tie-in games I can think of had to be Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventures for the NES. You know, instead of going off on how bad this game was, I am just going to post this link – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1A5B8fXp0aU

  9. EvilResident

    Of the ones I have played…
    Best:
    Jurassic Park Operation Genesis
    Peter Jackson’s King Kong
    Evil Dead: Regeneration
    Trespasser: Jurassic Park (While the gameplay was incredibly disappointing, the story presentation, atmosphere, and music were amazing. I only wish we could get a remake using new tech.)

    Worst:
    Aliens: Colonial Marines
    Clash of the Titans
    Beowulf
    …you know what? I could fill this list.

    • William Henley

      I had forgotten about the Jurassic Park games. They were really good – I can’t think of one on any system that I didn’t like.

      • ‘Chaos Island’ was pretty meh, and the 3D0-version is said to be very weird (even replacing the real actors with impersonators for the cutscenes). The Game Boy and SNES-versions were awesome, though.

        • William Henley

          I was thinking of the SNES and the Saturn versions, both of which I really liked. I haven’t played the 3DO version.

  10. I always had a soft spot for ‘The Pagemaster’ on both Game Boy and Mega Drive/Genesis. Crisp graphics, fun gameplay and the game actually followed the movie.

    I played ‘Sourh Park’ on N64 and I liked it back in the day (especially the perfect intro video). But, yeah, looking back on it, it’s quite mediocre.

  11. EM

    Not just one of the best tie-ins but one of the best video games ever, Parker Brothers’ Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back for the Atari 2600 puts players in the snowspeeder pilot’s (and gunner’s) seat during the AT-AT attack on the Rebel base on Hoth. The game does a great job of re-creating a memorable, exciting movie sequence and provides plenty of action at an escalating pace.

    Poor 2600 E.T.—it’s not one of the platform’s greatest games, but it’s much maligned out of proportion. Despite its faults, it’s actually quite playable (perhaps not so much by people who don’t read manuals), and the game’s quality is not responsible for the fact that someone at Atari ordered far too many copies (as in far, far more than the number of 2600 consoles already sold and reasonably expected to be sold). A far worse game is 20th Century Fox’s Alien, also for the 2600, which utterly drops everything interesting about its source film in favor of a tepid Pac-Man clone.

    • William Henley

      E.T. is even beatable in under 2 minutes.

      http://youtu.be/TyqU8FPTO-U

      The E.T. I had as a kid was probably picked up at a garage sale – I had no clue growing up that 2600 games came in boxes. In any case, I got rid of my 2600 by the time I was 8 in favor of an NES, so I probably would not have read the manual anyways. I remember beating the game once or twice, and not having a clue how I did it.

  12. Mike

    There are a few that come to mind … Batman on sega genesis based on Burton’s 1st film was a pretty good gm. The Thing on xbox taking place after the film events was a good i still play & From Russia With Love on xbox I love playing to this day. And a few more of course.

  13. CriticalMass

    I’ll throw in another shout out for Spiderman 2!

    Not only a great-movie tie-in, but still stands out as one of the great sandbox games of all time.

    As Adam Tyner said above, the web-slinging was so perfect and felt so natural that simply exploring the city and gameplay mechanics were equally as satisfying as the story campaign.