Movie tie-in games get a bad rap, don’t they? Perhaps rightly so, usually being rushed, unpolished, short and horribly insincere. Gone are the days of the early 2000s however where every big screen release needed to have a video game product to accompany it. This was likely slowed due to the increased investment needed to make the product alongside the diminishing returns because of the typically lacklustre review response, impacting sales.
Creating a game from an existing medium should be easy though, the world building and character work is already established, so all you need to do is create gameplay to accompany it.
Sadly, it isn’t that easy. The teams working on these titles often just seemed to phone-it-in, choosing not to explore the wider possibilities in the world, or places which the film they spun from didn’t quite have chance to go. They never take advantage of this new medium, it isn’t as simple as throwing in some jarring live-action cutscenes ripped straight from the movie.
Now, the games in this list don’t all go beyond the source material, or flesh out new ideas not present in the cinematic version, they’re just good games. The people who worked on these at least cared to some degree and that shows when you are playing through them.
Obviously, there is also some bias. As a kid I wouldn’t have bought a game based on a series I didn’t like, so you will have to bear that in mind I guess, I didn’t like Peter Jackson’s King Kong that much. I’d also like to give an honourable mention to the Lego games, all of them – if they weren’t based on Lego and were directly tied in with the movies, they would absolutely be on this list.
Scott Pilgrim Vs The World
This is an easy one for me. One of my favourite movies, one of my favourite graphic novels, and one of my favourite beat ‘em up games of all time. This captured the spirit of the movie perfectly, complete with all the nerd references you would expect and a story which more closely followed the comics, which is a neat feature if any players haven’t read it yet. If you haven’t read the series you will likely be totally lost by the time the Katayanagi Twins roll around.
Since it doesn’t rigidly follow the film, there is more freedom and certain features can be exaggerated in ways that just wouldn’t be possible on screen, for example the aforementioned mech battle with the Twins at the Halloween party.
The best thing about this though is just how “Scott Pilgrim” it feels; it is a game which I can imagine Young Neil, Steven Stills and Scott sitting down to play together. It’s also really cool to see the 1-up from this game actually appear in the film. Edgar Wright clearly cares about the property and staying true to this ‘geek’ heritage, and that sentiment is shared by the team who worked on this. There is so much to talk about, the soundtrack by Anamanaguchi is wicked and I will surely have to revisit this again in another piece.
It is a real shame then how difficult it is to actually play this game now, as there are all kinds of blockers in the way due to licensing issues and other corporate junk. The only place I have access to it is on my dusty old PS3, which does get booted up from time to time to play this very title.
Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
When I bought my Nintendo Gamecube, fairly late on in the console’s lifecycle, I had two games for the first week or so: Super Monkey Ball and this. What did I play the most? You guessed it, this. Going through all the classic scenes from the films was a total joy, Helms Deep, Minas Tirith, The Black Gate. All your favourite characters were playable in free mode too, my favourite thing to do was to level up the hobbits as strong as they could be, and put them into battles they didn’t belong in. It was like a toy box in this way, how would Gandalf fight Shelob? What if Merry and Pippin were at Helms Deep?
The counter mechanic was super broken, allowing for even the weakest characters to one-shot the strongest Uruk-hai. This also helped the fun little storylines I created in my younger years, with Merry being a total badass.
It was a fun beat ‘em up romp and it had fantastic couch co-op. Much like other games on this list, one which holds many fond memories for me.
Toy Story 2: Buzz Lightyear to the Rescue
This was one entry where nostalgia really helped with securing a spot on this list. It is a great light-collect-athon. Not as many maguffins to grab as something like Banjo-Kazooie, but enough to keep you busy for a rainy weekend in a quiet seaside town. Toy Story 2 takes full advantage of the scaled down toy perspective, much like how I praised Unravel 2 in my review. The playground of Andy’s room makes everything a challenge, getting up the stairs, scaling the sofa and ascending to the attic, it all feels real. Playing through this stage as a kid, it was an absolute joy to explore the house which I had seen so much, over and over on VHS.
Other standout stages include The Neighbourhood and Al’s Toy Barn. It’s quick to finish and I can still remember where most of the Pizza Planet tokens are found in each level, so it made an impression on me there for sure.
If I had criticisms with the game, they would be the controls felt a bit slippery and not as precise as other platformers on the market, even at the time. But, come on, I was like 6 when I played this, I didn’t care then, and I certainly have memories too precious with this title to care now.
The only game on this list which I would consider to be a technical marvel at the time of release. I hate to use the cliché reviewer spiel, but it really did make you feel like Spider-man. The fact that each web has to be attached to some object within the game mode added another tiny decision to each swing that just made you think like the webslinger himself. There are some great interviews with the game designer Jamie Fristrom about this mechanic, one of which can be found here.
The campaign itself was average, held together mainly be the swinging mechanics which are just that good they carried the entire game. Seriously, anyone who played this didn’t care much for the missions, saving kids balloons or delivering pizza. It was all about the swinging, and the swinging was ace.
Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone
Recently resurged in popularity due to the “weird looking Hagrid” screenshot, I genuinely loved this game. This is probably the game on this list which has aged the least gracefully. There is some terrible, and I mean really terrible writing in this game, which at the time I didn’t even notice and playing it today almost adds to the charm when combined with the nightmare-inducing faces.
I completed it in just a single day, me, my brother, and my two cousins. It was a great day and I remember it well. This explains why the spell ‘flipendo’, which never made it into the movies, is drilled into my brain so hard that only a lobotomy could excavate it.
I could still play through this game today, but I would have a lot more fun if I was drunk. That doesn’t sound like a bad Saturday night to be fair.
P.S. Screw Greengotts Bank, that mission sucked.
There is still hope
So, those are my favourite movie tie-in games, probably not a whole load of surprises there. This just shows how there is still hope for these big-screen adaptions, I think a rule-of-thumb is to not stick too rigidly to the cinematic version and just have fun with it. Explore themes the films never could, use that world to the best that you can and you’re sure to delight the fans.
Here’s hoping for John Wick, the game looks good so far and certainly is looking to adhere to the advice above; it is expanding the universe with a standalone story, using a visual style reminiscent of the films, lot of pink and purple. Not to mention a unique set of mechanics (who thought John Wick would end up being a turn-based strategy game). I trust Mike Bithell to do a great job and consider me hyped.
Oh, I heard the Mad Max game was pretty good too, shame about it being released the same month as Metal Gear Solid 5, a new Destiny expansion and Fifa. Good job guys.