Lights. Camera. Nostalgia!

Four words… first word… film? Second word… three syllables… sounds like… silences? Licences! Ah! I know ‘film licenses are shit’. *Touches nose*

See we can all be Lionel Blair and we don’t even need a cheat mode. It’s a universal truism. Film licenses are indeed shit. Every chance they get they’ll churn out some piss-poor movie tie-in for people who just have to experience life on Avatar’s Pandora or need to walk a mile in Hayden Christensen’s shoes after watching Jumper. Whatever floats your sick and twisted boat. But whatever the movie, it’ll more than likely turn out to be an awful game. There are a few reasons for this. The game’s development period is tied in with the film’s – they’ll often share visual assets and actors – which leads to them being rushed through with the cold efficiency of Kylie Minogue, and mainly they are always, without fail, third-person action games with shitty combat, awful puzzles and collectathons that’ll make you wish your parents had aborted you.

Mostly though, it’s that the publisher knows that the film will help sell the game and no amount of bad reviews will stop a kid from wanting a game if it features something they really, really like. This is why my second ever game was the, frankly abysmal, Transformers game on the ZX Spectrum. Megatron? Megawrong mer like. And so on.

These days you can walk into any branch of Gamestation and see shelves full of utterly blaverage film tie-ins provided you prepare yourself for the awful possibility, make that probability, that they’ll be playing a My Chemical Romance album at frankly obscene volumes (ie: anything over zero) with the express reason that shitty emo music will make you impulse buy anything if it gets you out of the shop quickly enough to run to your nearest chemist for mind-wiping drugs.

But I’m not here to teach you how to suck eggs. A list of bad movie tie-ins is like a list of bad things about David Cameron’s face. We all know that he’s secretly wearing rubber skin and spends his dinner times eating guinea pigs whole, but what if he had really, really beautiful eyes? Where the fuck am I going with this metaphor? To the fucking hospital. The thing is, and prepare yourself young ‘uns, film licenses used to be good. No I mean it. Really good in fact. You don’t believe me, or perhaps you’ve missed this entire introduction because your floppy fringe dropped in your eyes. Well it’s true and I’m going to prove it via the medium of revisionist review compiling.

Batman: The Movie. ZX Spectrum. 1989.

Ever danced with the devil under the cyan moonlight?

No, not that movie. Not the one with Christian Bale. He’s shit now. Method as fuck, yes, but still shit. It’s the silly growly voice. Let’s not even mention Terminator: Salvation… eesh.

Anyway, Batman: The Movie was (am I really going to say this?) based on the 1986 movie ‘Batman’ which remains the best non-Adam West Batman movie thanks to it featuring the brilliant Michael Keaton squaring off against a frankly loopy Jack Nicholson (in the Joker role, natch) within Tim Burton’s comedic and grandly atmospheric interpretation of Gotham City. This was before everyone realised that Tim Burton was a massive ponce, so liking his movies was still shame-free back then.

The game license (like most licenses at that time) was snagged by Ocean and they wisely handed the job over to Mike Lamb (the better-than-everyone-else-ever programmer of Renegade and Target Renegade) and Dawn Drake who did a fantastic job recreating Gotham City in basically two colours.

The game was a five-stage platformer/driving/puzzle-em-up that saw you running around various scenes from the movie, despatching henchmen and generally saving the world. It was varied, looked beautiful (albeit in a very monochrome way) and it played like a dream. The driving sections jarred slightly but they were playable enough and were an enjoyable challenge.

Play it on the ZXSPIN emulator which is available, with the game rom, from www.worldofspectrum.org – it’s the law.

Alien 3. SNES. 1993.

...yeah, but it's a dry heat.

Firstly, stop it. Alien 3 isn’t a rubbish film. It’s an amazing one. Admittedly the CGI alien looks awful and, yes, we all wanted Hicks and Newt to live, but it’s great thanks to its tremendous cast, bleak atmospherics and a nerve-shreddingly suspenseful plot. Also, if you haven’t watched it, the Director’s Cut is vastly better than the theatrical one.

Anyway, the license hit all the major 16-bit computers and consoles of the day. While the Amiga and Megadrive versions (which were more or less identical) were half-decent romps around Fury 161, it was the superb SNES version that makes it into this feature. Thanks to Probe deciding to give the SNES a version that exploited the graphics and processing power of Nintendo’s best console.

Wisely dropping the lone-alien premise of the movie, this game saw you in the role of the shaven-headed Ripley as she takes on a mindless, drooling horde. No, this doesn’t mean it’s set in Stamford Bridge. The game is still set on Fury but now all of your murderer buddies are cocooned up and need rescuing and the levels are packed with aliens all looking to make horrible sex with your face.

A straight-up 2D shooter/platformer in the Metroid/Vania mode, it’s a bit of a sprawler and the levels are a little too mazey for my liking, but the sheer joy of blowing apart those angry xenos with Ripley’s combo of machine gun, grenade launcher and flamethrower makes this a great pick up and play arcade game. It’s also worth typing ‘OVERGAME’ into the password screen to see the queen-squishing end sequence (unless you think you’ve got the chops to get there without assistance).

Play it now on ZSNES or SNES9X, they’re both full-speed.

Hudson Hawk. Amiga. 1991.

Yes, in 1991 Bruce Willis still had hair and was routinely chased around museums by badly-drawn rhinos.

This well-forgotten Bruce Willis vehicle was a fairly awful, but big-hearted, comedy turkey that got roundly panned by the critics. If it had starred Bill Murray we’d all have loved it. That’s the power of the Murray and don’t you forget it.

Anyway, despite the shoddy celluloid, Hudson Hawk generated something of a gaming hit thanks to Ocean turning the whole thing into a breezy, platform adventure. Of course, if Ocean had won the license for the Olympics they would have turned that into a plaformer as well but nevermind.

Putting you in the cat-burgling gloves of Hudson himself, the game tasked you with stealing Leonardo Di Vinci paintings from various museums. To deal with the security you had rudimentary melee attacks and *sigh* a ball to throw at them, but despite the by-the-numbers early 90s platform game blueprint being followed to the letter, it was a very enjoyable game and one that is remembered especially fondly by Amiga fans who were desperate to see their machine compete with the 16-bit console behemoths of the day.

Play it now on WinUAE. ROM and emulator available at http://www.lemonamiga.com/

The Thing. PS2/PC. 2002.

You've got to be fucking kidding.

Dmm… dmm. Dmm… dmm. Dmm… dmm.

Coming a mere twenty years after John Carpenter’s epoch-making masterwork, the game of The Thing is something of a rarity in that it recognises what made the film great (tension, gore, Kurt Russell) and recreates it with a true reverence to the source material.

Tantalisingly, the game is set just after the events of the movie and sees you investigating the burnt remains of the camp as you try to discover what happened to McReady and his team. However, whilst it works wonders for eradicating trace evidence in cars on council estates, the fire hasn’t quite wiped out the pesky cells of the intergalactic bastard creature that caused all this mess and soon you’ll be inundated with the dog-absorbing fuckers.

Working in a team with whoever you can find, you’ll proceed through various locations wiping out monsters and uncovering the truth. However, that team member that’s covering your back could just be one of those goddamned things, so you need to keep them on a short leash as well in case they bug out on you and start throwing spidery dog heads at your gob.

The game’s final third also sees the special forces turning up to fuck with your life, as is de rigueur whenever a dangerous alien turns up on a Government’s radar, but this actually turns out to be the most enjoyable part of the game, being a tricky but satisfying section to play through and also a timely change of pace. Add to that a lovely fan-service ending and you’ve got yourself a game that deserves to be canon in the ongoing story of The Thing. Although if the planned remake (of the remake) movie goes ahead, I’ll go round his house and absorb the director’s dog.

The Great Escape. ZX Spectrum. 1986.

Achtung! Ealing! Hammersmith!

Okay, it wasn’t exactly an official license but Denton Design’s The Great Escape did an exceptional job of mirroring the well-crafted tension of the movie and is a license in all but contract. Using cold, bleak isometric visuals to portray life within a concentration camp, The Great Escape placed you in the prison-issued size tens of an unknown prisoner of war whose sole task was to escape the sausage-eaters and high-tail it back to Blighty.

Life in the camp is the same every day, following a strict routine. If you want to fall in, just let go of the controls and your P.O.W. will attend meals, role-call and exercise periods. When the coast is clear, you can take over and investigate areas of the camp in order to snag items to help you escape from Red Cross packages, to wire-cutters, uniforms and even fake identity documents.

From the maze of tunnels underneath camp to the search lights that threaten to expose you at night, every detail of The Great Escape is perfect and the game expertly balances great puzzle-solving with an utterly-reasonable fear of the Germans. Especially when the camp’s Commandent turns up and threatens to shove you into solitary which causes your morale to drop. Let it drop too far and you’ll lose control altogether as your broken hero shambles sorrowfully around the camp until you hit the reset button.

As with Batman, get the game and emulator from www.worldofspectrum.org. Schnell!




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8 Comments

  1. Lee says:

    spiderman 2 on the playstation 2 wasnt too bad, the wolvereen game last year was ok too (if your victor) but in general they are arse.

  2. Lorna says:

    Great piece – I never did get to play The Great Escape, but since I have the Spectaculator Speccy emmy, there is no excuse. I remember being impressed with the look of Alien 3 for the Snes and it got glowing reveiws from everyone at the time, back in the good ole days of C&VG. Never got to play it too much, but stilll have the cart, so if I get my arse in gear and crack on with my ‘retro only’ weekend soon, it will be at the top of my list.

    I actually really enjoyed the Addams Family game for the Snes (Ocean again, natch)….of course it was a bastard and I ended up getting stuck, but it was actually a great platformer. The follow up, Pugsley’s Scavenger Hunt was fucking gorgeous, lush colours and imaginative levels…and again, I would still always get stuck. Never found so much as one single item but always had a great time playing it, so no matter.

    And the Alien 3 movie sucked balls. No Michael Biehn, no go.

  3. The Rook says:

    I had played Batman on the Commdore 64 and loved it, I also played Aliens 3 on the SNES and I think I did beat the game once. As for The Thing, I had watched the movie again before playing the game and both were awesome. The other games you mentioned I have not played.

    One other that I’d mention is The Warriors, I wasn’t overly fussed on the movie by the time I got to see it (too many people hyped it up) but I did appreciate it after time. The game started out telling its on story about the gang with the last third of the game playing along the story of the movie, and it worked great. The fact that you got a big prologue to the story of the movie and got to see the origins of the gang was brilliant, and then play out the movie and featured well re-created cut-scenes.

  4. Edward says:

    Seeing as I didn’t really get into gaming (Because I’m cripplingly young) until the Gameboy/’N64 era, I missed out on all of these games :(
    Great piece :D

  5. MarkuzR says:

    I hated most movie tie-in games and was bitterly disappointed by Tron… I expected it to look JUST like Tron. Stupid, I know, but hey… a guy has to dream! My favourite tie-ins were Addams Family, Star Wars (the original vector game) and Return Of The Jedi and I STILL want a sit-in cabinet of Return Of The Jedi even today. I remember one of the weekends that Lorna and I spent in London, she took her SNES with her and we hooked it up to the TV in the hotel and played Addams Family together before both giving up, so I sat back and watched her play Zombies… never heard so much swearing in my life actually!!

    I have to say though, I absolutely adored playing Batman: The Movie when it came out and although I didn’t like the platform shooter style levels, I thought the driving and flying levels were great fun… chucking out that grappling hook to turn corners could be a real pain sometimes and involved a high degree of pixel perfect precision.

    Anyone remember that abortive attempt to turn a movie inspired by a game (Street Fighter The Movie) into an actual movie tie-in game of Street Fighter The Movie: The Game? It was awful, and even Kylie’s hot little arse couldn’t save it. I never played it.. but I saw it at a friend’s house and almost cried. Maybe I did actually, I can’t remember… I’ve tried to erase it from memory by watching video clips of genocide.

  6. The Preacher says:

    Most movie games are shit, but very occasionally one comes along that isn’t too bad. The old Star Wars trilogy arcade games were awesome (went from Plymouth to France on a ferry once, the entire trip was spent in the arcade playing Return of the Jedi) and they have a few other Star Wars games about like TIE Fighter, Supremacy and Empire at War that are worth playing.

    I quite liked the Iron Man movie tie-in game, though most critics slammed it, and I know that our own Victor hates it too (though he played Hannah Montana, so what does he know, heh). It looked alright, and the gameplay was fun without being too taxing until the novelty of being Iron Man wore off. It was fine as a casual experience.

    I’ve only recently looked at the old Batman: The Movie game again too, on my Atari ST (had to blow a lot of dust out of the floppy, but got it going in the end), after you and Mark reminded me that it was pretty fun in places after my recent Batman retrospective.

  7. Greg says:

    Its really funny that the generalisation is always made these days that all film licences are bollocks, considering that over the course of time there have been some true gems. Goldeneye for example – often cited as a major stepping stone in multriplayer FPS’s and certainly one of the best games on the N64 – movie licence. Batman of course we have aready covered. There were other Ocean greats (Total Recall anyone?) which of course followed the same basic template (5 levels, Platform, vehicle, puzzle, vehicle, platform) but of course there were always bad uns too. At the end of the day I think the only reason that there is a higher than average ratio of shit movie games is that there are so many movie games, and most are done alongside the film. Goldeneye was released a good while after the film if memory serves, and The Matrix Path of Neo was well after the end of the filmic trilogy and while it wasn’t superb, it more than made up for the abortion that was the first Matrix game.

    Good piece sir – thoroughly enjoyed that trip down memory lane :)

  8. Adam says:

    I think I must have had one too many bad experiences with Movie Game crossovers as a kid as I won’t go anywhere near them these days and have blotted out the vast majority of them entirely from my memory.

    I do remember playing the SNES and Game Gear Versions of the Star Wars Games. Their was a lot of ‘WTF -That didn’t happen’ stuff in both games but it was entirely forgiveable as they made decent platformers and were well broken up with the dodgy vehicle sections. It had nothing at all to do with having a lightsaber to play with.

    The only recent ones I can think of that I actually played was probably Enter The Matrix on the PS2. It wasn’t strictly a movie game, more of a movie game bridge for the worst decisions in movie history. It wasn’t perfect, it was bugged to high hell and clearly more money went into it than talent and thought, but I really got a kick out of living in the Matrix through Ghost and Naobi. I played all of the last gen’s Lord of the Rings games (Save for the Fellowship) and enjoyed the Golden-Axey ness of them all. It was really fun to play out the massive set pieces of the game and go through some of the material from the novel and I’m looking forward to the new batch of games that they’re throwing out.

    It’s obviously criminal for games to direclty copy the source material in movies. Most movies are just not designed to play as games and a little adaptation here and there doesn’t even begin to fix it up. I love titles that work around movies or just run off into distance inside the games world with it but at this point, what credit can be given to the movie at that point.

    A intresting education on brighter times Richie! Stil lovin the deadpan <3

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