It seems like eons ago – long enough that younger generations may not understand what it was like – that, if you saved up your allowance and finished all your homework, your parents would load you into the station wagon and take you to the local video store. These stores featured hundreds of videocassettes (as we knew them, VHS) and NES cartridges for rental. Mom and dad might pick up the latest Harrison Ford action film, but you were there for the latter.
But this was before the world was connected through a series of tubes, so all you had to go on was the occasional screen cap from the most recent issue of Nintendo Power, maybe a friend’s recommendation and absurdly inaccurate box art. You were promised to be transported to a land of knights, Batmen, vampire slayers and Mega Men. With scant information, you shelled over the rental fee comprised of sweaty, crumbled bills, quarters and pennies and hurried home.
And you’d be met with a screen filled with incomprehensible clusters of pixels and a repetitive 8-bit score.
The video game section of Blockbusters were a minefield of awful knockoffs, confusing gameplay and the occasional gem. The worst of the bunch were the ones based on films, hypnotizing you with lies of playing as the Terminator or James Bond. Video game aisles could never contain a complete system’s catalogue however; and there are only so many weekends in a year.
Here’s a few of the licensed games you may have never stumbled across, regardless of quality.
20. Dirty Harry – NES
Only recently, with games such as Manhunt, has it become acceptable to play as a psychotic killer. Even then, however, was it met with great controversy. The first attempt to let a preteen butcher innocents was this Atari adaptation of Tobe Hooper’s 1974 masterpiece.
You do get to play as Leatherface running around an open field, jamming your chain saw into helpless victims for points. This was, however, 1982, so your chain saw looked like…um…a few pixels near your midsection that jutted out. Nevertheless, parents were in an uproar. And the game’s sales suffered terribly when retailers refused to stock it next to the likes of Pacman.
18. The Evil Dead – Commodore 64
While there are plenty of you aware of the series of Evil Dead games feature the groovy voice talents of series lead Bruce Campbell, less familiar is the bizarre 1984 release. Set at the film’s creaky old cabin, you play as Ash, who has to frantically run from room to room closing doors and windows to keep the evil out. You also later gain Ash’s signature weapons including a chain saw and shotgun.
By modern standards, it may entertain the gamer for a few minutes, but it was well-received upon release. Unlike Texas Chain Saw Massacre – the first horror themed game – it’s graphics confirmed that, at least at the time, video games were incapable of the kind of gore a film might scare children.
17. Ghostbusters II – NES
Based on the successful release of the Dan Aykroyd-scripted 2009 game (for which even longtime holdout Bill Murray showed up to lend his voice), game designers and players alike were kicking themselves for not realizing the amazing potential Ghostbusting game had. But there were in fact numerous attempts to transform the 1984 comedy hit into gamer gold. The most infamous was the NES release which featured the “All your-base-are-belong-to Us”-level typo:
Conglaturalation!!! You have completed a great game! And prooved the justice of our culture. Now go rest our heroes!
However, less known is the sidescrolling sequel. Featuring five levels based on scenes from the film (including a Nintendo-controlled Statue of Liberty), Ghostbusters 2 makes the inexplicable decision of scrolling right-to-left as opposed to the traditional, then commits the sin of not even featuring a pause button.
16. Three Ninjas Kick Back – Sega Genesis, Sega CD, SNES
Who was clamouring for a Three Ninjas video game? Worse, who was clamouring for a Three Ninjas videogame based on a poorly received sequel? The game itself is a standard beat ’em up platformer in which you take control of Ricky, Colt or Tum Tum (you know, the Three Ninjas. Everyone knows the Three Ninjas) as they search for their master’s legendary dagger. Villains included your standard random enemies of wolves, bats and ninjas (if ever they had released a game called Wolves, Bats and Ninjas, it would sell like hotcakes). Much the like the franchise on which it was based, most people responded to the game with a resigned shrug.
15. Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker – Sega Genesis
The jokes to be made from the home console version of Moonwalker are legion. You play Jackson, walking through bars, pool halls, city streets and graveyards battling gangsters and zombies by throwing magic at them and letting out high pitched, 16-bit “woos.” Each level, you must search closets, bushes and crypts to find crying little girls. Once you’ve found all your children, who are quickly whisked away back to Neverland Ranch, your pet monkey Bubbles lands on your shoulder and directs you to battle Joe Pesci.
But if the idea of Michael Jackson hunting crying little girls hasn’t made you shake your head in disbelief, it gets worse. You have a limited supply of sprinkle death magic. Once you run out, pressing “up” on the D-Pad allows you to grab your crotch and shout. To summarize: You play an alleged magic pervert who grabs his crotch in front of crying little girls. And Jackson’s people signed off on this?
14. Mad Max – NES
While Fury Road and its video game counterpart were both received warmly by critics and fans alike, the 1990 NES game was balked at. An early sandbox game in which gasoline is more sparse than in the film itself, the game pits you against enemy cars and roadblocks as you collect items to sell in return for auto repair. Once strong enough, you enter the arena to do battle with an enemy boss. You can also enter mines and encounter other survivalists in a poorly rendered 3D environment.
13. Lethal Weapon – NES, SNES
Of course the audience-friendly pairing of Riggs and Murtaugh, with its built-in action setpieces and explosions, would make for a great video game. This just isn’t that game. It’s a difficult side-scroller, with a nonexistent story (though a rather well animated map) in which you play as one of two cops. Due to video game logic, punching or kicking an enemy is far more effective than the endless barrage of bullets you would otherwise shoot them with.
It took years to figure out you can actually switch between Riggs and Murtaugh during the game by walking offscreen and pressing the A button. As though one of them got too old for this $@^! mid-game and went to the video game world equivalent of Craft Services.
12. Land of the Dead: Road to Fiddler’s Green – XBOX
If video games have found a kindred spirit in the world of horror films, the past decade has taught us it’s zombies. What better enemy than a shambling, faceless mass with no anima but to attack the player? Kill them by the thousands, free of that pesky conscience thing your parents work so hard to try and impart upon you. Just slide in Left4Dead or Dead Rising and waste away the hours committing guilt-free genocide with just the touch of a few buttons.
But even after the watershed success of the Resident Evil franchise, the concept wasn’t foolproof. This adaptation of George A. Romero‘s fourth foray into the world of the undead was a critically reviled attempt at a first person shooter. Of course, the game had no room for the politically charged allegory with which the film was preoccupied.
11. Porky’s – Atari 2600
Porky’s antics, like so many films of its kind, are based entirely around the 14-year-old desire to catch a glimpse of young, nubile flesh through peepholes. It was an era long before the internet, when the best a growing boy could hope for was to catch a glimpse of something on the scrambled pay-per-view networks or in their older brother’s crimpled magazine collection.
So, naturally, Porky’s was the most successful Canadian film ever released at the time. The atari game is absurdly faithful to that quest. In an era where adult-themed video games were sold under the counter for your parent’s risque key parties (google Custer’s Revenge for the most offensive of such games), Porky’s centered around your pixel sneaking into the ladies’ locker room. Like most Atari games with a plot more complicated than Pac Man, the controls are inexplicably complicated.
10. The Thing – PS2, XBOX
John Carpenter‘s 1982 sci-fi/horror hybrid drips with a nerve-wracking sense of dread and paranoia in every frame. Amazingly, the film was viciously panned by critics upon release. Revisionists have since named it the best of its kind. Throughout the early 2000s, rumours of a sequel – potentially a Sci-Fi channel original miniseries – were working their way through the internet. Eventually, the result became a prequel-in-name/remake-in-spirit film starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead.
Throughout all of this, Carpenter had essentially retired from the filmmaking business, content to collect royalty checks, smoke boatloads of weed and play video games. He did, however give his stamp of approval on this sequel game, which follows a new team investigating the events of the first film. Attempts to recreate the paranoia in-game are hampered by weak A.I. and poor controls. But plot-wise, Carpenter (who also lent his voice to the game) says it’s the closest to an actual sequel we’ll ever get.
9. The Lawnmower Man – Sega Genesis, Sega CD, SNES, Gameboy
Ah, the mid-90s. So fascinated by the trappings and potential of virtual reality that the science fiction genre was dominated by poorly rendered polygon-based animation. Brett Leonard’s The Lawnmower Man features scientist Pierce Brosnan attempting to use the wonders of VR to stimulate the dormant parts of a mentally handicapped Jeff Fahey‘s brain. All goes well, until Fahey’s cyber-linked mind gets a little too powerful.
Lawnmower Man is best remembered as the film Stephen King – famous for allowing anyone adapt his work on a dollar and a handshake – sued to have his name removed from the title. The tie-in game is a standard shoot-em-up side scroller, with submissions set in those embarrassing VR worlds that wouldn’t properly evolve for another decade.
8. Jaws – NES
We know what you’re thinking. “Of course we know Jaws: Unleashed. It was voted the worst game that everyone played by Gamespot in 2006.” But long before you could terrorize Amity Beach as an awkwardly controlled great white, LJN released a lacklustre adaptation in which you played a tiny pixelated Lance Guest (Mike Brody in Jaws: The Revenge) set on collecting conch shells to buy equipment as you sailed around the Bahamas.
Yes, oddly the worst film of the franchise had the most tie-ins – including a bizarre novelization and this mess of a game. The eponymous great white was the main boss, however you are never leading up to a big battle. Instead, the beast just randomly attacks you. That’s the say nothing of the odd bonus levels in which Michael Caine‘s airplane drops bombs on jellyfish.
7. Mission: Impossible – N64
Brian De Palma‘s 1996 update of the classic TV series launched a franchise that has passed the reigns to a new director with each entry, allowing filmmakers new and old to put their individual stamp on the brand. The game is mostly faithful to the film, though rather than recreate the film’s set pieces (save for the climactic battle atop a train), it elaborates on plot points to create a mix of stealth, first and third person shooter. It always seems as though Nintendo 64 had the requisite graphics for an elaborate spy game, but no real coherent way of how to put them together.
6. Platoon – NES
Oliver Stone‘s Best Picture-winning (and autobiographical) meditation of the horrors and brutality of war is one of the most powerful indictments of the conflict in Vietnam ever committed to screen. So naturally, who wouldn’t want to endure the psychological trauma in a side-scrolling adventure?
This fiasco amounted to little more than a soldier wandering an endless jungle of identical backdrops and shooting black-pyjama-clad enemies that re-spawned ad nausea. Though this writer would have loved to see a more faithful adaptation in which the player earned points by smoking hash out of your dead friend’s skull.
5. Hudson Hawk – NES, Gameboy
Hudson Hawk is only memorable as a word of caution to Hollywood: No matter how much money Bruce Willis‘ last actioner pulled in, do not indulge him a vanity project. It’s always a bad idea to give a balding, middle-aged white actor the chance to croon to Sinatra standards (you also should refrain from letting him handle a harmonica on stage).
It was a miserable flop and a dour theatrical experience. The forgotten game features a microscopic cat burglar avoiding security cameras, rhinos (?), a kangaroo and other foes in an effort to steal Da Vinci’s works from the Vatican. Very few players stuck around long enough to see the end result.
4. Bram Stoker’s Dracula – Sega, Sega CD, SNES
Francis Ford Coppola‘s lush, mesmerizing and mostly faithful adaptation of the classic gothic novel was a success at the box office and took home a few Oscars for Best Make-Up and Costumes. The game takes the least compelling aspect of the film (Keanu Reeves with a stunted British accent) and had it fight various incarnations of the titular vampire.
The Sega CD version at least had cinematic ambition, including hugely pixelated clips from the film in between unplayable gameplay.
3. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein – Sega Genesis, Sega CD, SNES
Shortly after the success of Coppola’s beautiful adaptation, Hollywood and Kenneth Branagh saw an opportunity to merge faithful, literate adaptations with box office. Unfortunately, Branagh’s ego took centre stage of his take on the classic monster. Despite an interesting turn from Robert De Niro as the creature, the film flopped miserably.
Branagh returned to Shakespeare, Hollywood to tried and true blockbuster formula, but not before crapping out this awkward cash-in. You play the fragile, confused monster rampaging through the streets of Bavaria, seeking revenge against the doctor who rejected you. With pale-grey scenery, the game is about as bland and pedestrian as the film.
2. Demolition Man – Sega, SNES
Demolition Man has a strange place in the history of mid-90s action films. It makes strangely accurate predictions – including a creepy reference to a killer named Scott Petersen, Arnold Schwarzennegger‘s political ambitions and Wesley Snipes being a wanted criminal (though the cryoprison of the film seems a rather harsh sentence for tax evasion).
The tie-in game is arguably the best and most underrated on the list, with gritty, noirish backdrops and pulse-pounding action. It also offers more than one style of gameplay – with a standard sidescoller mixed with a top down, Smash TV-esque perspective.
1. Rambo – NES
There have been several Rambo games, but non as confused or bizarre as the Acclaim-made first, in which a shirtless war veteran wanders Vietnam lobbing grenades at giant spiders. The game begins much as First Blood part 2 does, with Colonel Trautman recruiting an imprisoned John Rambo to go back to the jungle. After a while, you get weapons and shoot at actual enemy soldiers, but prior to that, you are the world’s most hardcore arachnid exterminator.
The game only makes sense if it is viewed as John Rambo’s acid flashback shortly before, as in the film’s original ending (and the novel’s), he commits suicide.