The movie tie-in genre, often seen as a guaranteed cash-cow, has seen the release of some hilariously bad titles. From the clumsy stupidity of Superman Returns in 2006, to the Atari E.T. game so terrible that copies were allegedly buried in a mass grave in New Mexico, history is littered with rush-released tosh that has no reason to exist other than to make a quick buck.
For a licenced movie game to be successful takes talent, a fair bit of luck and quite often a release date that isn’t tied to the movie. Movie based games that work do so by being great titles in their own right or by capturing the essence of a movie’s character or tone.
Here’s 10 of the best (in no particular order)…
GoldenEye 007 – Nintendo 64 – 1997
For many, GoldenEye 007 remains the king of all movie tie-ins. The quality of the game was certainly helped by having the luxury of being developed years after the film was released. This allowed Rare to take their time and create a game honed around the elements that makes the James Bond franchise so popular, a luxury not afforded to many movie tie-ins.
The game thoughtfully combines espionage and gun play creating a perfectly paced mix that enables the player to feel like they have the starring role in the film. The action, although crude by today’s standards, successfully balances moments of furious action (Oh, those alarms) with quieter moments of stealth and tense anticipation. To this day I can’t walk past a CCTV camera without resisting the urge to reach for my Walther PPK. Add in a multiplayer mode that was the Call of Duty of its day and you not only have a great movie tie-in, but a landmark game, full-stop.
Movie Moment: Having picked up a sniper rifle, you spot a guard patrolling the dam in the far distance. His day ends silently, without witness.
RoboCop – ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Amiga, Atari ST – 1988
Ocean Software struck a vein of gold in the late 80s and early 90s with a string of successful licensed movie games. RoboCop was notable as it was based on an 18 certificate film that many of its players could not see (at least until they managed to grab a copy on VHS, ahem). The game follows the events of the film as closely as games of this type could, with bullets flying as RoboCop progresses through a series of side-scrolling shoot-em up levels.
Murphy’s staccato movements are a replicated perfectly by the technology of the time. This lends the action a rare sense of weight and solidity. The home computer versions of the game also feature an early use of digitized speech, with a fuzzy “RoboCop” dialogue sample played over the title screen. (Although to this young player and his friends it always sounded like he was saying “PurpleCar”). And of course this game features THAT music.
Movie Moment: The action moves into first person with RoboCop having to put down a perp without harming a hostage, beautifully evoking the film’s point-of-view shots (for 1988).
Super Star Wars: Return of the Jedi – SNES, GameGear and others – 1994
Like The Untouchables and Batman, the Super Star Wars games used the same trick of taking iconic moments from the movies and setting them to a mix of platforming action with occasional racing or flying sequences.
Of all the Super Star Wars games it is the third that gets my vote. Like its predecessors it’s incredibly tough, but the sparky graphics, range of characters and well executed soundtrack offset the ‘try, try again’ game play. The game’s ending is a highlight with a frustrating, but nonetheless thrilling, escape from an exploding Death Star.
Movie Moment: The battles atop Jabba’s sand barges have a perilous and visceral sense of speed with some rather nifty parallax scrolling.
Batman – ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Amiga – 1989
Batman was another successful game from Ocean and arrived as part of a merchandise onslaught following in the wake of Tim Burton’s movie juggernaut. The game mixed Bionic Commando style platforming combat with Bat-vehicle racing sections. Each section playing with elements from the movie, such as the Batmobile’s lamppost swing and the Batarang.
As with RoboCop the game also features a wonderful score by Jonathan Dunn. The small sprites are packed with personality, giving the game has a slightly more exaggerated cartoonish quality than its source material.
Movie Moment: Getting your hands on the Batwing was a treat whether you played the side-scrolling 8-bit version or the chase cam view of the Amiga edition.
Spider-Man 2 – PlayStation 2, GameCube, Xbox – 2004
Well, no one expected this. A Spider-Man title that was not only good, but actually rather excellent. In truth, the game element was fairly basic, a third person rough ‘n’ tumble puncher. The true star of the game was not the combat, it was the web slinging. Spider-Man 2 was all about giving the player the keys to the city and freedom to swing and go where ever they wanted.
Traversing the accurately mapped streets of New York is an exhilarating experience, the speed and camera movement creating a rush that, like GoldenEye 007 before it, successfully makes you feel like the movie’s lead character.
Movie Moment: Climbing to the top of the Empire State Building, taking a swan dive and shooting your web at the last moment to avoid a messy demise.