When most people think of video games based on a movie, this is usually what immediately springs to mind...
Even E.T. himself looks bored of his own game on this cover...
Or even possibly this...
Seal of Quality my fanny! And what is a "Power Play" series, anyway?
Okay, it's a common known fact amongst gamers that most video games based on movies are usually rushed out to the market without proper testing to make sure they are even playable. Or, the companies buy a big movie license, and then slap together a product they know is bad, but will sell anyway, because it has a famous name or celebrity face on the box. This kind of stuff has pretty much been happening as long as there has been video games based on movies.
But, as always, there are exceptions. There were a small handful of dependable third party companies that would routinely do a good job of making a game based on a movie, even if most of the time, the game itself did not really follow the film's plot all that closely. Of course, we didn't care. All we cared about is that we were actually playing a movie-based game that did not feel like it was a cruel joke being played on kids. So, let's take a look and salute some of those games.
BATMAN (1990) FORMAT: NES PUBLISHER: SUNSOFT
Sunsoft's Batman is probably the king of the movie adaptation games when it comes to the NES. The dark graphics created an atmospheric mood that perfectly captured the feel of Tim Burton's 1989 summer movie juggernaut. So what if Batman was purple in the game? Sure, it looked kind of silly at first, but he needed to stand out amongst the dark backgrounds. Besides, you got over it quickly enough.
Batman was one of those games that did not really even bother to follow the plot of the film. All it had to do with the movie is that you were the Caped Crusader and you were fighting the Joker. Hey, that's all kids needed! The game gave the Joker an army of killer robots for you to fight, and even though there was the occasional cinema scene between the level, it didn't really even try to follow the movie's plot, or even tell a story at all really. This didn't matter much when you started playing the game. Seriously, the gameplay here was awesome.
Seriously, why is the Joker's face green?
You were given a wide variety of gadgets and weapons that Batman could use aside from his basic punch attack. And trust me, you were going to need them in this game. The enemies were relentless, and the stages were filled with a lot of spike or electric traps that you would have to traverse that only got harder as the game went on. And who can forget Batman's awesome wall-jump technique which would allow him to make his way up shafts and passageways by latching onto and jumping off walls? Sure, it was hard to get the hang of, but once you mastered it, it looked and felt so awesome.
This music isn't from the movie, but it should be.
And seriously, who can forget the music for this game? Again, none of Danny Elfman's famous score was used in the game, and you also didn't have to listen to any music by Prince (thank God). Instead, you got an incredible soundtrack that still sticks in my mind as some of the best NES music ever. The music that plays in the first level, Streets of Desolation, is easily the most memorable track in the game. It's driving beat and main melody really gives you a dark yet intense feeling. It's the perfect way to kick off this awesome game.
This one really did have it all, and while it was ridiculously hard to beat, it was so much fun that we kept on coming back for more punishment.
LITTLE NEMO: THE DREAM MASTER/NEMO (1990) FORMAT: NES/ARCADE PUBLISHER: CAPCOM
This is a weird one, because we didn't even know that this game was even based on a movie when it came out! Little Nemo: The Dream Master for the NES was actually an adaptation of an animated film from Japan that came out over there in 1989, and itself was based on the classic early 20th Century comic strip by Winsor McCay. The thing is, the movie (Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland) did not come out in the U.S. until 1992, two years after the game had been released.
So much awesomeness in one game...
But honestly, it didn't need a movie source material to be an awesome game. In this game, you're the pajama-clad title hero, Little Nemo, as you make your way across the dream world of Slumberland, and ultimately into the deepest reaches of neighboring Nightmareland, in order to save the ruler of dreams, King Morpheus, from the evil Nightmare King. Again, the game did not really try to follow the plot of the film too closely, or even tell much of a story. However, there are some levels that are based on scenes from the film, such as riding on the giant toy train or visiting a ruined city in the sky (which was just a small moment in the movie, but apparently Capcom liked that part so much, they made it into a level in their game).
Is it me, or does Nemo look stoned in this picture?
What made the game fun was that Nemo could bribe some of the local animals to help him. Certain animals like bees, lizards, mice, or gorillas could be tamed if Nemo fed them three pieces of candy. Once they were tamed, Nemo could either ride or sometimes become the animal, and use their abilities to help him get through the stage. He was going to need all the help he could get, because this game was very hard! Don't let the cute characters and kid's movie theme fool you. The difficulty in this game was set high, but not so high that you wanted to rage against the game. The levels were huge, had lots of secrets, and you really had to explore every inch to find the keys needed to open the door at the end of the level.
What most people don't know is that Capcom also released an arcade game based on the movie, simply called Nemo. I don't think it got a very wide release in arcades in the U.S., so few have played it, or even heard of it. This is a 2-player game, with one player controlling Nemo, and the other playing as Flip, a clown whom Nemo befriends in the film. This game does a better job of following the movie's plot than the NES game, with Nemo and Flip generally causing chaos in Slumberland for the first few levels, and then accidentally opening the door to Nightmareland, releasing the Nightmare King. The graphics in the game are colorful, and the sprites are large as well. It even has good music. However, I kind of prefer the NES Little Nemo game, since its deeper, longer and more challenging.
Little Nemo: The Dream Master for the NES has become somewhat of a cult classic over the years, and rightfully so. It doesn't matter if you've seen the animated film or not, this is a challenging and extremely fun game.
SWEET HOME (1989) FORMAT: FAMICOM (NES IN JAPAN) PUBLISHER: CAPCOM
Here's another movie-based gem from Capcom, this one based on a Japanese horror film. Sweet Home was never released in America, and its easy to see why, since its dark horror themes wouldn't be able to fly with Nintendo of America's censorship policies at the time. However, it has received an English translation since then, and the ROM can be downloaded on line for emulators.
The horror. The horror.
Sweet Home actually got a lot of attention back in the mid 90s when the game was revealed to be the inspiration for another horror-based game from Capcom, Resident Evil. The creator of Resident Evil, Shinji Mikami, was inspired not just by the game's theme of being trapped in a haunted mansion, but also it's survival-based gameplay. Sweet Home plays as a turn-based RPG, similar to Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy. You play as a team of five characters, each with their own special ability, who have to survive the horrors of a haunted house. The thing is, you have to divide your characters into groups, and that can take some strategy, as the items that the characters carry (such as a lighter to burn barriers, or a medical kit to heal the characters) are very valuable, so you have to choose wisely what you will need.
Be afraid. Be very afraid.
Unlike most RPGs, whenever a character died, there was no Phoenix Down or potion to bring them back to life. This not only added to the intensity and horror feel to the game, but it also would change the ending that you would see when you beat the game. The game was all about survival and keeping your team close together, in case you needed their help, and keeping them alive. Another thing that stood out about the game (and probably a big reason why it never got released in America) was the background story behind the mansion you're stuck in and why it is haunted. As you slowly uncover clues during the course of the game, you become enthralled, wanting to know more. And when you finally learn the full truth, it's truly terrifying and somewhat tragic.
Sweet Home is an incredibly atmospheric and gripping game. While the graphics may be somewhat simple, the fantastic soundtrack and wonderful story really pulls you in and actually makes you feel a little uneasy at times. This is definitely a game worth checking out.
GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH (1990) FORMAT: NES PUBLISHER: SUNSOFT
Hmm...Are you starting to notice a pattern here? The best movie-based games on the NES seem to be coming from either Sunsoft or Capcom. While the video game of Gremlins 2 may not be as well known or as famous as Sunsoft's Batman game, it's still a high quality experience with wonderful graphics, great music, and gameplay that keeps you going right to the end.
The Electric Gremlin, one of the cooler creatures from the film, makes an even cooler boss battle.
The Gremlins 2 movie really did not have much of a plot. It really was just 90 minutes of the monsters causing chaos in a New York high-rise building. That's why it's so amazing that the game actually does a fairly good job of following the movie's structure. You play as Gizmo the Mogwai, and even before the Gremlins show up in the game, you have to escape from the science lab where you've been held captive. Once you clear the science lab level, there's a short cinema showing Gizmo getting wet and creating the evil Mogwais who eventually become Gremlins, and you spend the rest of the game having to battle the evil creatures in different settings based on the movie, such as a TV studio (where you fight through a cooking show set and horror show set).
Gizmo auditions for Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!
Sunsoft really did a great job staying faithful to the film, as there are a lot of characters and enemies taken directly from the movie. Even some of the more seemingly-random events, like Gizmo fighting giant bouncing tomatoes in the first level, is actually taken from a small scene in the film where some scientists where experimenting with a tomato that acted like a bouncing ball. More importantly, the game is incredibly fun to play. It's a platformer displayed in an overhead view. You start out armed with tomatoes that you throw, but you get a chance to upgrade at the end of each level, getting a stronger weapon, until you finally get the flaming bow and arrow from the movie that Gizmo made when he decided to go Rambo on the Gremlins.
Sure, Mr. Wing died at the beginning of the movie, but it's cool they put him in the game.
The levels are fairly basic and straightforward. There's not a lot of exploration involved. The emphasis here is on really tight platform jumping and fighting. The game can be tough, but you have really great control over Gizmo, and can even control his jumping while in mid-air, which really helps a lot with some of the jumps you're required to make. Not only that, but you can also find a store run by Mr. Wing (Gizmo's original owner) where you can buy 1-ups, health, balloons that can save your life if you fall down a pit, and even weapon power ups. There are a wide variety of Gremlin enemies, most of them taken from the wide variety of creatures appearing in the film, so you're never fighting the same enemies over and over.
This guy was always one of my favorite Gremlins.
This is a seriously underrated game, and one that has kind of faded from mind of most gamers. If you're into retro titles, you should really try to track this one down and give it a chance. It's yet another high quality game from Sunsoft, which graphics and music that really push the limits of what the NES could do.
Another game from Capcom, and the last title I'll be covering that hit the trusty NES. Willow was obviously based on George Lucas' fantasy adventure film from 1988. And although the game adaptation came out well over a year after the movie did, it was worth the wait.
Willow for the NES was basically a Legend of Zelda-style action RPG, with a heavier emphasis on RPG, since you could gain levels, get magic spells, and get equipment. Like a lot of the games featured in this article, the game pretty much used the movie's plot as a jumping point to go off in its own direction. Sure, you were still trying to save the baby Elora Dannon from the evil Queen Bavmorda. And most of the memorable characters from the movie like Madmartigan and General Kael make appearances. But, the programmers pretty much decided to go their own direction here, introducing a lot of side characters and plot elements not in the movie.
Seriously, I don't remember Willow fighting this thing in the movie.
I remember renting this as a kid, and thinking it was a really great game. However, I could never get very far into it, because I was not used to playing RPGs and having to grind for experience in order to get far in the game at the time. I tried this again a few years ago as an adult, and frankly, I fell in love. This is one of the better RPGs for the NES, with a lengthy quest, detailed graphics, good music, and a fast-paced battle system that makes grinding seem less like a chore. My only complaint is that I wished the game had given you control over some of Willow's friends during the game, like Madmartigan or Sorsha.
Willow for the arcade
Just like Nemo, Capcom released an arcade game alongside the NES game. This was your standard side scrolling platform game that allowed you to switch control between Willow and Madmartigan between certain levels. It's also more closely based on the movie, with levels inspired by scenes. Like a lot of Capcom's arcade games at the time, it is fun to play, and features gorgeously detailed graphics and animation. But, like Nemo, I kind of prefer the depth of the NES version.
Whatever format you choose, you really can't go wrong. This is a retro gem worth checking out.
GHOSTBUSTERS (1990) FORMAT: GENESIS PUBLISHER: SEGA
Let's face it, video games have not been kind to the Ghostbusters. You would think that the films and the video game format would go hand in hand with each other, but aside from the game that was released for the PS3 and the 360 a few years ago, few if any Ghostbuster games stand out as being any good. Well, maybe that's because a lot of people are overlooking this game which came out early in the Sega Genesis' life cycle.
Wow, here AND there? That sounds serious!
Rather than base the plot on either of the two movies, Sega decided to come up with their own story. It's nothing special, but it's serviceable. Basically, you take control of Peter, Ray or Egon (no Winston), and go to different houses or buildings that are reporting ghost problems. The levels are massive and sprawling, and there's usually a mini boss battle or two before you fight the main boss at the end of the level. You can choose to do these levels in any order you like, similar to the Mega Man games. However, once the standard levels are clear, you learn that an ancient evil spirit has been awakened, and has kidnapped and possessed the two other Ghostbusters that you're not playing as. So, you must descend into an underground realm, save your friends, and defeat the evil entity.
My best friend at the time owned this game, and I remember enjoying it because of the small amount of strategy there was behind the game. You could earn money by busting ghosts, and then buy new equipment at a store. This equipment could make some of the tougher levels in the game easier, so the strategy came from choosing the right order to tackle the levels. Sure, all the levels were beatable, but if you tackled the levels in a certain order and built up your cash, you could afford the best equipment when it came time to tackle the toughest levels.
Ray vs. Egon, who is possessed by a ghost.
The levels in this game (which ranged from houses to high-rise apartment buildings) were massive and maze-like. However, you were often only allowed to explore a small amount of the level at a time. You would then face a mini boss, and when you won, that would open up more of the level. When you beat a boss, it's spirit would be flying around, and you would have to use your proton beam to capture it and pull it into your ghost trap before it got away. If you were successful in catching it, you would get bonus money at the end of the level.
Wow, Mr. Stay Puft looks evil here...
At its core, the game was a standard platform game with decent challenge and fun gameplay. I remember as a kid liking the "big head" look for the Ghostbuster characters, because they sort of looked like the actors. I also remember enjoying the little graphic touches, like when you're scaling the high rise building, you could see the Marshmallow Man watching you from outside through the window. (You would have to fight him as the level boss when you reached the roof.) The game even had strong music, including a pretty faithful 16-bit recreation of Ray Parker Jr.'s theme song.
Feed me, Seymour...Oops, wrong Bill Murray movie...
At the time, this seriously beat those awful 8-bit attempts to make a Ghsotbuster game (both on Nintendo's and Sega's systems), and was probably the best game based on the films until the previously mentioned PS3/360 game came out. Like a lot of these games, this one deserves more attention than it got.
SUPER STAR WARS TRILOGY (1992-1994) FORMAT: SNES PUBLISHER: JVC/LUCASARTS GAMES
Star Wars and video games are pretty much joined at the hip. There have been so many games based on the franchise, it's hard to keep track of them all. But the series I grew up with was the trilogy of games based on the original three Star Wars movies that were released for the Super Nintendo.
From 1992 to 1994, we got a game based on Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. Of course, since this was Super Nintendo, they all had to have "Super" before the movie title. All 3 of the games were platformers that followed the plots of the films rather closely. Pretty much every major scene in each film was recreated in their respective game, These games were actually considered technical marvels for their times. I still remember how the Mode 7 Hoth battle level in Super Empire Strikes Back dropped jaws. It really was as close as console games had gotten to recreating the Star Wars universe.
The games also had incredible sound, with music taken directly from John Williams' iconic score, and voice samples taken from the movies. I especially loved how a lot of the levels in all 3 games allowed you to play as a different character. Over the course of the series, you got to play as Luke, Han, Chewbacca, Princess Leia, and even Wicket the Ewok. Of course, it didn't really matter which member of the Rebels you played at, you were almost certain to get your butt kicked. Yes, this series is notorious for being ridiculously difficult, especially Empire Strikes Back. Very few can claim to have beaten the entire trilogy of games without the aid of a Game Genie.
Still, I loved the games, because at the time, it really did feel like you were playing the movies. While there were definitely better Star Wars-related games coming out for PC at the time, when it came to consoles, this was as good as it got.
ALADDIN (1993) FORMAT: GENESIS PUBLISHER: SEGA/VIRGIN GAMES
Back on the Genesis, Sega had a very successful teaming with Disney that led to some great games like Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse, and Quackshot Starring Donald Duck. But the highlight of the partnership was easily Aladdin.
Watch out for the camels! They spit![/align] One only needed to look at the game to see why. The game literally looked like the cartoon. The reason being that they actually hired Disney animators to work on the game. Everything was so smooth and fluid in the game, as you got to relive most of the key scenes, as well as some levels that were created for the game, like when you got to explore the inside of the Genie's lamp. Pretty much every major character in the film appeared in the game at some point, and you can tell that the programmers at Virgin Interactive were really devoted to keeping the action and the humor within the game as close to the movie as possible.
Don't walk on that, Aladdin! You don't know where it's been!
And yes, there were some funny touches to keep an eye out for in the backgrounds of certain levels. At one point, Aladdin passes by some restrooms, and they are labeled with pictures of "Men" "Women" and "Genies". In another level, you saw some laundry hanging out to dry, and there were a pair of Mickey Mouse ears hanging amongst the clothes. These kind of touches obviously did not affect the game in any way, but you admired the effort that the graphic artists for putting them in there.
The Cave of Wonders...I hated this level.
At the time, there was also an Aladdin game for the SNES, which was completely different and released by Capcom, who also had enjoyed a very long partnership with Disney at the time. One of the big gaming debates of the day is which game was better. They were both high quality games. Capcom's Aladdin did not have as good of graphics as the Sega game, but it did have some interesting gameplay, as it emphasized jumping and acrobatic platforming, while Sega's game was more or less a hack and slash adventure. The answer really is subjective. I enjoy both, but I just think the Sega game stands out just a little more, because of its graphics and humor. That's why I included it here. There's no wrong choice here.
Oh great, Genie just shot Iago...
Virgin Interactive would try to recreate the success of Aladdin by releasing games based on The Jungle Book and The Lion King for both the SNES and Genesis. And while they were fine games, they never quite reached the heights of Aladdin, which remains one of the best movie-licensed Disney games ever made.
HOOK (1992) FORMAT: SNES/SEGA CD PUBLISHER: SONY IMAGESOFT
Hook for the SNES and Sega CD is a game that has been woefully overlooked by most people. In fact, I sometimes feel like I'm the only person who has played it. And while this is not a standout game, it's still a lot of fun, has an amazing soundtrack (especially the Sega CD version) and great animation for the characters.
The game is exactly the same for both systems, only the Sega CD version has some bad voice acting and better music (more on that later). Basically, the game takes the basic premise of the film (Peter having to save his kids and restore his memories of being Peter Pan), and then go off in their own direction. In this game, Peter gets his memories back of being Pan after the first level. Apparently all he has to do is kick the butts of the various Lost Boys, and defeat Rufio at the end of the level. Once you do that, you're Peter Pan. You even get your golden sword back, which is a stronger version of your regular weapon, and can shoot beams of energy at enemies. Unfortunately, you lose this sword the moment you get hit, so don't get used to it, unless you can find it on another level.
Apparently, Peter decides to take the scenic route to get to Hook's ship and his kids, as he has to go through mermaid waters, dense forests, snowy mountaintops, and haunted caves to get there. Peter can naturally fly, but only for a short while, and only when he finds Tinkerbell, who can refill his flight meter. Whenever Peter does take flight, you really get to admire the animation, especially the way that Peter's hair and clothes blow in the wind. You can even do some fancy dives and cartwheels in the air, which really adds a level of fun to the flying mechanic. Unfortunately, Peter's flight meter runs out fairly quickly, so you don't have a lot of time to fool around. Of course, you can always fly back over to Tink and refill your meter, if you want to play around some more.
What made the game stand out for me was the amazing music. On the SNES version, you got some very good symphonic-sounding recreations of John Williams' music score from the movie. But what made the Sega CD version special is that it actually used the music from the movie. It was so cool playing through the level, and hearing music performed by a live orchestra playing in the background. I was new to CD games at the time, and I remember being in awe that I was listening to John Williams music while playing a game. The Sega CD also has some cinemas with voice acting to move the story along, which is generally very bad, as was common with acting in video games back then. Let's just say the actors they got to play the characters here are not exactly Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman or Julia Roberts.
Hook is a fairly standard platform game with good graphics, and the music and flight mechanics mainly being the big standouts. I can see why most people ignored it, since the graphics could be better, but they really missed out on a short and sweet little game. Check it out if you can find it cheap.
GOLDENEYE (1997) FORMAT: NINTENDO 64 PUBLISHER: NINTENDO/RARE
Okay, this is the big daddy of movie licensed games. We've had some good ones on this list, and some great ones, but nothing comes close to the impact that Goldeneye had. The fact that it's still remembered as being a classic today makes it one of the few if only movie-based games that has stood the test of time.
You have to remember the impact that Goldeneye had back in 1997, not just on players, but on the industry itself. Back then, first person shooters were pretty much known for being only on PC. Sure, there had been some attempts to port Doom or Wolfenstein to consoles at the time, but they were usually halfhearted ports. Goldeneye broke all the rules, by not only being an original first person shooter, but one that truly rivaled what a lot of PC games were doing at the time. It did not matter that it was a movie-based game, or even if its source movie had come out back in 1995. This was a truly great game on its own for the time.
Of course, what everybody remembers about the game is how it created and popularized the multiplayer deathmatch for console games. I was in college back when this game came out, and I remember a lot of people having all night Goldeneye parties, where they would get together and just battle against each other all night long. I remember once hearing that the four player battle mode was literally added to the game at almost the last minute, as the plan was originally to just include the story mode that followed the movie's plot. Sure, the game would have been great as it was, but it was truly the deathmatch mode that made the game the experience that it was.
Has Goldeneye become dated? Oh my, yes. This is probably one of those games that's better off left in nostalgia than going back to, as it feels kind of archaic today. Even so, you can still admire the game for what it pulled off so successfully. You have to remember, there was really no template for an original first person shooter for consoles at the time. Nintendo and Rare were pretty much flying blind here, and there was a lot of doubts before it came out if the game would even work. The game was a huge gamble, and wasn't even a primary title for Nintendo when it was first launched. But then, the game started selling...And it kept on selling. Word of mouth was so strong that Goldeneye was selling well into 1998, and became one of that year's best-selling titles a full year after it came out.
The Nintendo 64, while a good system, always seemed to struggle against the Playstation when it came to most game genres. There's no denying, however, that Nintendo's best titles for the system were some of the most innovative for their time, and Goldeneye definitely fits that bill. There was truly nothing like it out there on consoles at the time.
Wow, that was some list, wasn't it? People who say that there are no good games based on movies, or say that Goldeneye is the only one, really need to look a bit further back in their memories. There are actually a few more games I wanted to include, but this article is long enough already. Maybe I'll do a Part 2 someday. Anyway, I hope this article opened some eyes, and maybe introduced you to some games that you didn't know about. Give all of these games a try. They just might surprise you.