Comments about the recent release, The
Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, have all without
fail mentioned how movie video games inevitably suck, and how this game
is the one exception that proves the rule. Unfortunately, that's a
rather overgeneralization of how movie video games are, not to mention a
gross oversimplification even of Riddick.
see, Riddick's not the first video game license to succeed with (or
despite) a movie tie-in. And some of them, even now, could easily
qualify as pretty decent games. The point of this article is to go back
in time a bit, pull up some good examples of both failed and succeeded
games, and see if we can tell whether it is that video games based on
movies "always" suck, or whether it's more of a myth in the
video game community - after all, if it were an obvious truism that
movie video games were going to suck, wouldn't we be seeing Hollywood
and the video game industry both shying away from making them in the
We'll start in the
"Good old days". Two movie licenses, one that obviously lends
itself to movie games, one that you'd never think you could make a game
out of. Yes, we'll start with Star
Wars and E.T the
Wars titles in the days of the Atari 2600 were pretty minimal - though
the Arcade Game, as well as the hacked version that became known as The
Empire Strikes Back, did entirely well in the arcades. All in all, there
were four Star Wars titles on the Atari 2600 - The Arcade Game, The
Empire Strikes Back, Jedi Arena, and Return of the Jedi: Death Star
But do they work? The answer
seems to be, unsurprisingly, that only one of four is really any good.
In the first, you're reenacting in a vector-graphics setup the flight to
the Death Star and down the central trench, over and over again. It's
highly addictive, even with the minimal approach of just repeating the
same task through increased difficulty over and over again.
Strikes Back was a silly flying-back-and-forth title, with blocky
graphics that looked pathetic even by the standards of the time; your
goal was to shoot down as many AT-ATs before they reached the end of the
screen, left-to-right. In function, it was similar to Defender, only a
whole heck of a lot more boring.
Arena was interesting, built in the same vein as the Atari classic title
Warlords, but there really wasn't all that much to it, either.
Basically, you deflected attacks from a practice droid with your "lightsaber"
protecting your own shield and trying to hurt your opponent's.
Return of the Jedi catridge was supposed to be the first of multiple
RotJ cartridges, similar to how Star Wars: Episode I later saw multiple
licensed titles - but, unsurprisingly, the demise of the Atari 2600
pretty much finished that idea off before any more were produced. And in
any case, the play control of RotJ was just awful.
Ah, our poor little
Extra-Terrestrial friend - how do we miss you? Not very much,
unfortunately, especially after Spielberg went back and replaced a bunch
of guns with walkie-talkies in a fit of politically correct pique.
friend E.T., unfortunately, got on the wrong end of a
rushed-product-cycle kick. Coded in just five weeks, it featured
(mostly) anguished gamers running around, falling in pits over again,
trying to figure out what screen led to where in an entirely
non-Euclidian geometrical setup, and was just generally BAD. It was also
one of the most overproduced console games in history, with thousands
winding up in landfills, and other people hunting for more
unique ways to dispose of them.
really, so far what do we have - One of five? Not so great odds. But
these were the days of quick builds, where decent games could be
programmed in a couple months - the product cycle allowing one man, for
instance, to program Pitfall pretty much on his own. Today, that luxury
isn't allowed, so you might think that the general ratio of bad games to
good, would have gone down? Not a chance.
to be fair, there were other consoles on which even MORE abysmal titles
were published, like the Commodore 64 and the TRS-80. But still, the
record of movie tie-in games wasn't very strong during the Atari 2600
age, as these games, as well as games like Krull, Spider-Man (at the
time focus of morning cartoon shows and lame live-action made for TV
shows), and Superman all managed to prove.
even worse - the history of bad (and good) movie tie-in games didn't
just stop with the Atari 2600. No, it went on and on - onwards, good
friends, to the days of the Nintendo Entertainment System!