Ever since Atari, there have been tie-in games. The trend started even before the birth of the modern video game. Collectors of obscure promotional artifacts may recall board games based on everything from Close Encounters of the Third Kind to Jurassic Park. But video games seem to be the more obvious link from cinema to home entertainment. From Raiders of the Lost Ark to X-Men Origins: Wolverine, there’s rarely been a hit action film that didn’t birth a video game.
Most of them are rightly forgotten, due to their poor design, awkward controls, and generally poor translation. It’s worth noting thought that one of them nearly killed the entire industry. When E.T. for the Atari was rushed out to coincide with the movie’s release, copies were overproduced, the studio and the design team naturally assumed it’d be a hit. Instead, it caused the great video game crash of 1983. Only the release of the Nintendo Home Entertainment System two years later ensured the future we live in now. Unsold copies of E.T. were allegedly buried somewhere in the Nevada desert.
Expecting more than a middling game from licensed material is unrealistic, although there have been exceptions. The aforementioned Wolverine game surpasses even the film. Spider-Man 2, with its sandbox world and easy swinging abilities, defied expectations. Other games, however, are both sinfully bad and terrible representations of the material licensed.
Here are just a handful that clearly never even watched the movies they were adapting for gamers.
15. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein Makes You Evil
Kenneth Branagh‘s indulgent adaptation of Mary Shelley’s novel killed a trend before it could even begin. Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula was a critical and commercial success, but Branagh’s overlong, brassy mess of a movie flopped miserably. The one aspect praised was Robert De Niro‘s sensitive portrayal of the monster – a tortured soul and outcast who only yearns for understanding.
The game throws that out the window, instead turning the monster into, well, a monster. You rampage through city streets, killing villagers willy nilly. Had the film gone that route, any empathy De Niro tried to portray would be lost – and this is a film that has him ripping out the heart of a woman on her wedding night, yet you’re still kind of on his side.
14. Batman Flat Out Shoots People. Often.
In case you’ve been asleep for the past decade, Christopher Nolan‘s Batfilms are a wildly popular trilogy that stay truer to the character than any other interpretation. More than anything, Nolan clarified Batman’s steadfastness to his principles: he just won’t kill anyone. Even the video game tie-in for Batman Begins has the caped crusader stealthily knocking out guards and henchman. And the Arkham series only has you beating villains unconscious (though there’s no way a few of those slow motion final moves didn’t lethally break a neck or two).
It wasn’t always that way. Early Batman games – from the tie-in film adaptations to independent games like Batman: Return of the Joker – has you killing. Depending on how you interpret eight to 32-bit graphics, it could be said that Batman literally punches henchman until they explode. In the Gameboy edition, he even carries a gun. One wonders if this was the Batman Zack Snyder grew up with.
13. Fight Club Has No Split Personality, Just Punches
Fight Club is the movie your irritating college dormmate kept a torn poster of above his bed. It’s the ultimate bro-movie, and it hasn’t aged well at all. Basically, it amounts to a depressed white dude with a comfortable job who feels unfulfilled by Ikea because #whitepeopleproblems. But Twitter didn’t exist at the time, so instead he literally invents another personality to act out his inner-bro. At the very least, the ending of the film ultimately rejects that fully (though your roommate’s brain turned off after the supposed “twist”).
The game, instead, is your roommate’s understanding of the film on steroids, a simple fighting game in the style of Street Fighter 2. How much does it love the fighting in Fight Club? There’s an X-Ray mode that allows you to watch your opponents’ bones break. There is a “story” mode with very little story – you play as an anonymous character who joins the club after leaving his girlfriend. Winning the game puts you at the right hand of Brad Pitt‘s Tyler Durden. You don’t even get to be the hero of your own game – you ascend to the level of main flunky. You do, however, get the privilege of unlocking a character everyone no doubt wanted to beat senselessly: Fred Durst.
12. Star Wars Kills Darth Vader Multiple Times
Since before second generation consoles made their way into homes, there have been Star Wars games. Early arcade versions included a lightsaber training game and a depiction of the trench run in A New Hope. Perhaps the strangest of the long list of games based on the various films is the Japanese Star Wars on the Famicom and NES from 1987. George Lucas intentionally kept the menacing Darth Vader alive, hoping to continue his story all the way to the Gungans if the studios allowed. In the sidescroller, however, Luke Skywalker fights Darth Vader in the first level. And, like Princess Daisy in Super Mario Brothers, Vader transforms into some strange animal. Technically, there’s some justification for this. In Empire Strikes Back, Luke has a vision of decapitating Vader while training with Yoda, only to find himself behind the black mask. But that’s stretching it.
11. Platoon Is About the Horror Awesomeness Of Killing A Lot of Dudes
Platoon is a film about the senseless atrocities that occur on micro and macro levels during a war. It’s considered one of the best films about the Vietnam War and the psychological damage participating in such violence causes. And it was written by a man who knew it first-hand; Oliver Stone requested a Vietnam assignment when he enlisted in 1967, but became disillusioned quickly.
Platoon, for the NES, is about…a platoon. More specifically, it’s about a guy in green shooting guys in black as he wanders through identical jungle landscapes. Occasionally, you have to turn up, trying to find villages (much like in the style of Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street). Then, at the end of all the wandering, instead of a deeply disturbed Charlie Sheen flying away on a helicopter, surveying the damage done to the landscape, this jackass looks at the camera and has the balls to give you a thumbs up. Congratulations, you won Vietnam!
10. Rambo: The Video Game Allows You To Mow Down An Entire Precinct
First Blood is about a Vietnam vet who is harassed by a local police chief, which triggers his PTSD and finds him reliving the war in a small Washington town. It was a dark, psychological study of a seriously damaged individual – and it nearly ended with star Sylvester Stallone putting a bullet in his head. James Cameron was tasked with writing the sequel, which did away with all the damage and pain and essentially found John Rambo re-fighting the Vietnam war, rescuing top secret POWs.
So the NES game, simply titled Rambo, seems to take its cues from Cameron’s script. But Rambo: The Video Game, released for the X Box 360, takes you through the full trilogy. That means the first levels involve you running around in a PTSD-inspired frenzy, blowing away the police in a small town without remorse. Rambo only killed one cop in the film, and even then it was by accident. Here, you surpass Grand Theft Auto in number of first degree murders.
9. The Hunt for Red October Allows You to Blow Everything Up
Of the Tom Clancy film adaptations, The Hunt for Red October is one of the most successful. Alec Baldwin‘s version of Jack Ryan is secondary only to Harrison Ford‘s, who replaced him in the two follow-ups. They’re the least jingoistic and offensive of Clancy’s ouvre, which is normally the kind of stuff that brings Newt Gingrich to climax.
The NES adaptation removes any spy intrigue – or anything else that made the film successful. Rather, you’re simply a submarine blowing things up. By socio-political and foreign policy standards, there’s a good chance you’ve started at least a handful of full blown World Wars, plus a whole bunch of genocide.
8. Watchmen: The End Is Nigh Removes Any Psychoanalysis, Replaces It With Killing
Alan Moore’s Watchmen is one of the most complex, rich graphic novels ever written. It changed all the rules, putting out a bold literary work that answered the question once and for all whether or not comic books are just for kids (they’re not). Zack Snyder’s adaptation received equal amounts of praise and criticism for lovingly recreating it nearly panel for panel – making the ending only slightly more palatable for a general audience.
But the psychological complexity of the novel could never transfer well to a video game. While some games have plots that are deep and well-constructed, it’d hardly be fun having a level in which serial killer/superhero Rorschach sits in a prison taking ink blot tests.
7. Rocky Super Action Boxing Is Punch-Out With Rocky
Apparently, director John G. Avildsen and Sylvester Stallone almost came to blows about Rocky‘s ending. Stallone stood steadfast, defending the idea that Rocky lose the fight but win Adrianne’s love (in an early draft of the script, he threw the fight and used to money to help Adrianne open a pet shop). Avildsen didn’t like it, but Stallone turned out right, with Rocky taking home Best Picture. In Rocky, it’s the little, personal triumphs that matter.
In Rocky Super Action Boxing, a title that is blatant in it’s Japanesed English, it’s all about beating the hell out of the other guy. The game, released for the ColecoVision, differs only from Punch-Out in that it allows a two player mode.
6. Reservoir Dogs Shows the Heist
Quentin Tarantino‘s debut film is a clever crime caper in which we are never privy to the crime in question. Flashbacks only reveal the circumstances surrounding the robbery, a few character deaths, and the events leading up the cluster#$%! in which the characters find themselves. The film’s elliptical nature is part of the joy of watching it, allowing the audience to fill in unnecessary blanks and stripping it of cliche.
Reservoir Dogs, released for the PS2, leaves nothing to the imagination. You portray a different member of the heist team each level, with many of your characters dying at the end of their tenure as a playable character. Way to take the air out of any tension.
5. Jurassic Park: Rampage Edition Turns Alan Grant Into A Spree Killer
Sega Genesis’ Jurassic Park was wildly different from versions released on other consoles. It was an independent game which found a well-rendered (for 32 bits, anyway) Alan Grant loose on Isla Nublar, firing tranquilizer darts and smoke grenades to knock out dilophosaurs, vel0cirapt0rs, brachiosaurs, and other assorted dinosaurs. Occasionally, you’d have to deal with the odd human opponent, and you’d tranq him and be on your way.
The game’s sequel, Rampage Edition, rams up the intensity, pitting Grant (who’s basically a pacifist in the film and first game) against a barrage of employees trying to set up a new park. So how does Grant react? By mowing them down with Tommy guns, shotguns, flame throwers, and rocket launchers. He also has no problem nuking mother nature, flat out killing any dinosaur that gets in his way. To hell with paleontology, Grant has taken up mindless murder. That kid who smirked at the velociraptor skeleton in the first film better watch his ass.
4. Scarface: The World Is Yours Applauds Mindless, Bloody Ambition
Brian De Palma‘s Scarface is that other poster on your roommate’s wall. Bros and select hip hop artists worship at the altar of Tony Montana and all his money-getting, women-having, power-loving ways. It’s a shame they missed the ending of the film, in which Montana’s empire collapses around him due to his own hubris, greed, and creepy sister stuff. The whole crime doesn’t pay theme is lost on a whole generation of filmgoers.
Those same people developed Scarface: The World is Yours, which opens at the climactic scene of the film, as Montana shoots an army’s worth of bullets at his opponents. Unbeknownst to him, a silent assassin lurks behind him, just waiting for the right moment to blow a hole in the mob boss. Alas, you have the ability of turning around and mowing him down with a machine gun.
The game follows that “what if” motif, as you rebuild your empire by dealing cocaine, laundering money, and taking out rival gangs. It’s basically Grand Theft Auto starring an Al Pacino impersonator and even less of a narrative.
3. Darkman Can’t Disguise Himself Worth $#!%
Sam Raimi created Darkman, his first foray into the superhero genre, because he couldn’t secure the rights to The Shadow. The duties of adapting that comic and radio show fell to Highlander II: The Quickening‘s Russell Mulcahy. Guess what the better film is?
Darkman, starring a young Liam Neeson and Frances McDormand, understands the language of comic book movies so well that Raimi re-purposed identical shots from the film when he brought Spider-Man to the screen in 2002. One of the major plot points of the film is Darkman’s ability to generate synthetic skin masks to impersonate his enemies and frame them for crimes, pitting them against one another. The NES game devotes mini-levels to this, during which you have to take snapshots of your prey so you can impersonate them in the next level.
You begin the next level in disguise, so naturally assume you should be able to bypass villains rather than attack them. But they still attack you anyway, and your disguise vanishes within seconds of gameplay.
2. The Godfather Follows the Movie, Misses the Story
When plans for a Godfather video game were announced, director Francis Ford Coppola was up in arms. He thought the idea was absurd at best and offensive at worst. Several stars did reprise their roles for a paycheck – including James Caan, Robert Duvall, and Abe Vigoda. Even Marlon Brando, in what turned out to be his final role, recorded some dialogue. Only Coppola and Al Pacino were holdouts.
The Godfather fills in a lot of off-screen moments in the film, such as placing the horse’s head in the bed of producer Jack Woltz and planting the gun Michael Corleone uses to kill Solozzo and Captain McCluskey. You play a low level enforcer who works his way up through the ranks to be, like Fight Club, a right hand man. It doesn’t even give you the honour of being a character who, in the film, would be lucky if his death scene was onscreen. For a film about family, the game makes you a lowly outsider.
1. Die Hard Arcade Gives John McClane A Partner
Part of what made Die Hard so intense were the odds; Bruce Willis‘ John McClane had them stacked against him in every way imaginable. He was at his most vulnerable, even before his feet were sliced with broken shards of glass. And for a lunkheaded action star (and awful blues musician), it’s Willis’ best performance, mixing the wisecracks and machismo with honest fear and fragility. There’s a reason it was the role that convinced Terry Gilliam to cast him in 12 Monkeys.
Die Hard Arcade, ported to the Sega Saturn, doesn’t even try to follow the film. In fact, McClane is first seen leaping through the building, fighting endless terrorists alongside his partner Kris Thompsen (who you can also control). You aren’t even trying to rescue your wife from the clutches of the terrorists, but rather the president’s daughter. It’s also an early draft for Quick Time Events that populate many games today. That said, it does pit John McClane against robots.