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I hate movie-licensed video games

Brandon Erickson's picture

Prince Caspian

I'm gonna go ahead and admit straight out that I have an almost unshakable dislike towards movie-licensed games. In the same way that certain people are (often unfairly) judged by the legal system as guilty until proven innocent, I look at movie-based games as bad until proven good. I don't know exactly how this notion got cemented in my brain, but there's no denying it. I've tried to trace it back to some specific experience, but I just can't come up with anything. All I know is that I have a universally negative knee jerk reaction to movie-licensed video games.

I haven't played very many of them (mostly because I assume they'll be a complete waste of my time), so my stance isn't based on much experience. Let's see how many movie-based games I can think of right now. Aladdin for the Sega Genesis. I really enjoyed that game at the time. Back to the Future for the NES. Fantastic Four on the GameCube. Batman Begins. The Da Vinci Code. Played it, hated it. That's all I can think of. So far this doesn't really account for my position, because in the case of the last three games mentioned, I actually recall carrying a pretty strong anti-movie-based-game bias going in. As for the really old stuff for the 8- and 16-bit systems, I was much younger, and those were different times.

Is there at least some justification for my prejudice? Maybe I should try going pseudo-scientific here and take a trip over to Metacritic. I'll just search for the first movie-licensed titles that pop into my head. WALL-E. Scored a 51. Batman Begins. 64. Madagascar. 64. Iron Man. 45. Incredible Hulk. 55. Prince Caspian. 56. Those are some crappy numbers. I don't care what anybody says, if Iron Man scores a 45 on Metacritic, I don't need to play it to know that it's a waste of time. So yeah, there looks to be some strong evidence out there for the suckiness of movie games, but I can't say that the low scores are the reason for my dislike of them.

I think what it might come down to is that whenever I see a movie-licensed game, I tend to immediately assume that it was mindlessly cranked out by the developer as a quick cash in. And I think in most cases that's pretty close to the truth. While there are probably exceptions to this, it seems to me that making a video game specifically to coincide with the release of a movie is one of the most creatively bankrupt and baldly commercial endeavors imaginable. I have a hard to believing that anything made under such circumstances could be good, let alone artistically worthwhile. I love the movie WALL-E, but even without knowing it's Metascore I don't think anyone could pay me enough to play the game.

As someone who occasionally reviews video games, I know that I should be more open minded. I realize that I probably dislike these games more than they deserve (crappy though they undoubtedly are most of the time) and probably shouldn't dismiss the whole lot of them. I know I've heard tell of there being good video games based on movies, like Chronicles of Riddick, which is kind of ironic because by most accounts the movie is actually pretty shitty. Maybe only shitty movies can be turned into good games.

Another aspect to this is that games are just so fundamentally different than movies. If I were a developer and someone came to me and said I want you to make Prince Caspian the game, I'd be thinking, "God, what a horrible task." The two mediums are completely different, and the elements that make a great film may have little to no relationship to the elements that make a great game. Prince Caspian isn't exactly a great film, but I think my point still holds. Iron Man, for example, is a good movie mostly because Robert Downey Jr. is so hilarious in it. How the hell does that carry over to a video game? I'm a firm believer that video games are best when conceived as games from the ground up, not when they're based on source material from another medium.

Am I wrong? Does anyone feel the same way? Are there cases in which movies provide a good creative foundation for a video game?

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Overall, I agree. The vast

Overall, I agree. The vast majority of movie-based games wang chung. I think it comes down to the fact that, as you mentioned, most games are shoe horned into coming out with the movie they are based on. This was the complete opposite for the one exception that sticks out in my mind: Goldeneye.

One of the high points of videogame history, and definitely the highest point of movie based games, Goldeneye came out ages after the movie was released, probably making most people think, "huh!?" But by loosely tying levels and missions to the movie and expanding on the story, Goldeneye feels like a game that was built from the ground up without a movie tie-in. The killer multiplayer didn't hurt either. The fact that Rare was given time and not forced to finish by the movie release date, the gaming public was treated to a true gem, movie tie-in and all.

Hey Brandon, You are totally

Hey Brandon,

You are totally right. Whenever I encounter a video game title based on a movie, then the exact same thoughts go through my mind.

And to strengthen your opinion: it's holds true the other way around as well. Do you know any really good movie based on a video game?

Not even starting talking about the Uwe Boll's flicks, I thought Silent Hill was ok - have to admit that I've only played the first hour of the second game, cos it's too damn creepy - but most video game based movies are a pile of crap IMO.

Now that I think of it however, I do like 'FFVII: Advent Children' and 'FF: The Spirits Within'. Maybe it has something to do with the movies being 'complementary' to the games instead of trying to replicate the experience or the exact same story on the silver screen. I liked 'Advent Children' because it continues an awesome game narrative with an just as good 2 hour movie narrative. And although 'Spirits Within' was a totally new FF story, it did share FF-esque themes. So, I really hope the new CG-animated 'Resident Evil' will be great as well.

Talking about Resident Evil. The first movie was passable, although I expected it to be more an experience like Hitchcock's 'Psycho' and Cameron's 'Aliens'. The second and third movie were a totally waste of time and money. The RE franchise is actually an IP, for which I wish they stayed more true to the narrative, plot and style of the first three games.

Maybe games and movies based on the same IP CAN co-exist, as long as they are produced by companies and people who understand the differences between the two mediums and as long as they are made with a qualitative target to the highest standards of it's own respective medium. But as long as those movie-games and game-movies are made as quick cash-ins with the highest return on investment against the lowest risk, then we won't see many more.

I agree that games being

I agree that games being released to go along with a movie are pretty much bad. I don't agree with the notion that a game based on a movie license in bad though.

Sure, there are a ton a bad games based on movie licensed, but the Star Wars games have been pretty good, going back to the days of the 2600 and PC. The Empire Strikes Back (2600) may seem pretty lame today, but it was a solid title back then. X-Wing vs. Tie-Fighter is considered one of the best of its time.

The Xbox had several solid Star Wars games in Star Wars: Battlefront 1&2, Kotor 1&2 and Obi-Wan.

The N64/PC had Rogue Squadron and the GC had Rogue Squaron 2.


I keep playing movie-licensed games in the hopes that "this one will be better," and I agree with you.

Like others have said, I think part of it is the rush to get the game out to coincide with the film release:"Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" was difficult only because of its bugginess. (Maybe games like the old "Aladdin" and "Lion King" weren't so bad because less could go wrong in the 16-bit days).

I also think that when you try to shoehorn an interactive game into the linear structure of a movie, something gets lost in the translation. A lot of movie-based games seem nothing more than a path of plot points that players are ushered towards. All the advances in graphics/CGI and sound (with ubiquitous voice acting) have made games look more like films, so this pitfall has become more tempting, I think.

And there's a lack of game design creativity, too. I tried to play "Beowulf" (I could only stand it for 5 minutes) and the very first thing you do is fight a huge sea monster. Can you say "shameless God of War knockoff"?

I really like the "Lego [Star Wars/Indiana Jones]" games because they don't try to tell you their movies over again. And they also have a good gameplay hook. (The whole "everything is made out of Legos" thing).

Star Wars Games

Given the volume of Star Wars games, is it really fair to call them 'movie-based' any more?

At this point, I think of Star Wars as a series of games that also have some movies you can watch if you want the backstory.

Oh, and BTW - The DaVinci Code game rocked. Well, not rocked, obviously, but it was a solid entertainment, and the best DVC product there was.

Hey, Nice of you guys and


Nice of you guys and gals to bring up the subject. Since you've all made good points, I'll just add my 0,1 cents here :

Goldeneye made me buy the N64 after playing it over at a friend's house... This game is most definitely one of THE games for me, no comment. Hell, I may have my memory mixed up, but I think it even made me like the film (which is my favorite in the franchise) and consequently the whole JB movie franchise even more...

This game should be mentionned in all and every articles and studies about videogames.

Aladin and Lion King bring up some very good memories, thanks for mentionning them !

Toy story, though I've really enjoyed the movies, especially the first one, was not that good a game, same as for this other movie-based game I can't remember the name of...

It's funny, it's like we gamers are somehow biased towards games that are based on other mediums, because when I read your article, I pretty much felt the same way.

A skeptical person would say, maybe it is because the videogame medium itself should be put into question ?
So let's give movie-based games a fair chance, shall we ;-)

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