Video game tie-in’s are a well-documented ghost of the past. No longer will you see a big blockbuster release get a quick cash grab video game tie-in that releases the same day as the movie.
Instead video game publishers are now more inclined to spend time and money creating original licensed properties instead.
And truthfully the results have been all for the better.
Instead of the dreadful days of getting games like Thor or Batman and Robin, we’re getting far superior properties like Marvel’s Spider-Man or the Middle Earth franchise.
And with Mortal Kombat’s trailer providing all the juicy fatalities we’ve been craving, what better time to talk about movies and video games in the same breath.
Before I jump into the list, a few rules to go over. These will have to be games I’ve played since I feel it wouldn’t be fair to assume a good or bad game. The Lego franchises will not be on the list. And no, E.T. – The Extra Terrestrial will not be included.
With that said, let’s jump into it. Here are three of the best and three of the worst video game tie-in’s based on movies.
Best – Spider-Man 2
Perhaps the grand daddy of them all when it comes to video game tie-ins, Spider-Man 2 sure was something special during the summer of 2004.
The game was developed by Treyarch and successfully blended elements of the story while giving us enough extra story to stand on it’s own.
In addition to Doctor Octopus, Spidey also had to face off against the likes of Mysterio, Shocker and Rhino. Other characters to make appearances included J. Jonah Jameson, Harry Osborn and Black Cat.
But the characters weren’t just the only thing to make this game great. The voice cast was stellar as it featured many key players from the actual film.
Tobey Maguire voiced Spider-Man, Kirsten Dunst reprised her role as Mary Jane Watson and of course Alfred Molina returned for Doc Ock. Add these three to an already strong supporting cast and you couldn’t help but feel like you were playing through the film.
The open world of Manhattan is basically your playground as you swing around from area to area. Treyarch was perhaps the first developer to make it a necessity to have something to attach your web to. This made the physics of swinging more realistic than it had ever been.
The world was also alive as you saw many side quests and collectibles you could do. From catching balloons to finding skyscraper tokens to stopping petty crime, it was Spidey’s world, we were just living in it.
It’s tough to recommend a 17 year old game at this point as now we have a much better Spider-Man game more readily available. But if you’re like me and remember playing this game immediately after leaving the theater, the memories make this game worth it.
Worst – Iron Man
Not all video game tie-in games are created with as much love as Spider-Man 2 and that was clear with Iron Man.
From boring, repetitive gameplay to a severe difficulty spike to awful voice acting, the game was terrible.
I remember going to see Iron Man and loving it. I immediately wanted to live that role of flying around blowing stuff up via video game. So I tossed my 60 hard earned dollars at Wal-Mart and drove back home to save the world.
I would not get very far in my quest to save the world.
After the introduction and tutorial missions, the game got ridiculously difficult. Everything and everyone was being thrown at you by the enemies. Bullets, bombs, missiles, lasers, you name it, I saw it and was probably defeated by it.
I remember spending a lot of time trying to get past a level and finally accomplishing the mission. Soon after I discovered my reward was an even more difficult mission that finally broke me.
Much like The Mandarin and the Ten Rings in Iron Man 3, I was a broken man with no hope.
And as it stands I have not returned to or ever beaten the game 13 years later.
This was just the first of many really bad Marvel games published by Sega. The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America and dreadfully Iron Man 2 all received the tie-in treatment.
None were successes and all eventually killed the video game tie-in plans for Marvel.
But hey, all that means is we were able to get Marvel’s full attention with The Avengers game. Surely nothing could have gone wrong there.
Best – Batman Begins
This is controversial because not many people will agree with me but hear me out on this one. The game gave us the entire cast reprising their roles and some early elements Rocksteady would eventually use in the Arkham series. It had a very clear focus on the narrative of Batman using fear to his advantage.
And it gave us this classic clip.
I will admit Batman is my favorite superhero of all time. This game was easily one of the best efforts to allow players to play as Batman prior to the Arkham franchise.
It’s truthfully not that bad given how low the bar has been set for video game tie-in’s.
I would honestly compare it favorably to the likes of Spider-Man 2 in terms of quality. They are two very different games but it can’t be overlooked how exciting it was play as Batman in the Nolan-verse.
The game would use clips from the film to help tell the story while also utilizing in-engine sequences as cut scenes.
The combat and traversal was obviously not as refined as Arkham Asylum would end up being but nothing prior to that game was.
The game was really all about the aesthetic and the voice cast for me. It helped me feel immersed and as if I was Batman.
And it also didn’t hurt that I got it off the sale rack for 20 bucks one day.
Like Spider-Man 2, the game doesn’t hold up particularly well these days but for the time it was fun. But if you’re really wanting a true Batman experience go with the Arkham games or even the Telltale Series.
Worst – Enter the Matrix
Nothing screamed must-have video game tie-in like Enter the Matrix. They were not only using original footage they filmed exclusively for the game but you could play as one of two characters with each one having different narratives and play styles.
And with the Wachowski’s in charge, what could go wrong?
Unfortunately for us, everything.
I’m not going to say this is the worst video game tie-in of all time but I will say it was one of the most disappointing.
You would think the combat would be fun since the fight scenes from The Matrix films were so sick.
The martial arts sequences felt clunky and the gunplay wasn’t much better.
The game allowed us to go into bullet time but that feature became less cool as things progressed.
Perhaps the most infuriating of it all was how rough the story was. The game was supposed to bridge the narrative from The Matrix Reloaded to Revolutions showing what the other characters were doing.
The problem was that you just end up with a strangely confusing plot that should have been the first warning about the quality of Revolutions.
The game’s best aspect was that it gave you a glimpse into what Revolutions would look like with an end credits teaser of the film.
All in all, this game was a disappointment and really did mark the beginning of the end for the Wachowski’s when it came to any creative choices.
Best – Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith
Like Batman Begins, it featured clips from the film to help weave together the story. You started off saving Senator Palpatine from the clutches of Count Dooku and then begin your journey to the dark side.
This all culminated in the fantastic last level on Mustafar where Obi-Wan and Anakin fought in their climatic final battle.
I was tempted to put The Phantom Menace on here but understandably that is a game not many people actually like as much as I do.
This game featured a battle arena type mode where you could compete as any Sith or Jedi you choose and face off in lightsaber combat.
It also featured that secret ending.
Once you defeat Anakin and his turn to the Dark Side is complete, you get to replay the fight. However, this time it’s from Anakin’s perspective.
This allows you to finally prove once and for all that the high ground doesn’t actually matter.
Anakin leaps over Obi-Wan and stabs the Jedi Master before leaving him to die.
A poetic end for someone who forgot about the high ground in his battle against Darth Maul (plot hole alert).
But it doesn’t stop there as you see Palpatine hand Anakin his red saber and dub thee Darth Vader. Anakin then proceeds to kill the emperor and take over the galaxy.
It’s a dark ending but one that makes this game extra special. It had me absolutely shocked that they allowed you to play it out.
Revenge is another game that could get lost in the shuffle of so many Star Wars titles. Overall, I would recommend this one if you ever have a chance to play it. Star Wars fans might get a kick out of it.
Worst – Transformers (2007)
I know what you’re thinking. How can you expect anything good from a video game tie-in based on these trash movies?
Well believe it or not, back in the day there was a sort of hopeful expectation that came with the Transformers license. And after seeing Shia LaBeouf of Even Stevens fame help take down the Decepticons, I was amped and ready to help win the war.
Problem was, the game was absolute trash with the core mechanics, camera and lame missions being a huge issue.
Sure it was cool escapism to be able to be a Transformer but that really only gets you so far.
Unfortunately for me, this game single-handedly turned me off from any future games. The War for Cybertron series went unplayed despite hearing it was an improvement.
I guess when I think back I don’t know if it was the fact that this game plus the unfathomably bad sequels to the movies were the reason for me becoming a jaded Transformers fan.
I grew up with an Optimus Prime and Grimlock toys in heavy rotation whenever it was time to bust out the action figures.
You’d think a game based on a movie based on said action figures would give me the adult equivalent of playing with those toys.
Sadly, you would think wrong.
But hey, the Bumblebee movie was awesome!
Do I miss the days of video game tie-in’s?
Personally, I think we’re better getting the licensed games. I’m already getting an Indiana Jones game after years of waiting. I’ve been able to live out my dreams and save Gotham City several times over as the Dark Knight. And I defeated New York’s worst as Miles Morales all the while having a cat strapped to my back.
So yeah, I’d say we are in the golden age of licensed video games.
Not all will be great. But the freedom and flexibility to allow developers to tell their own stories and make the game without a rushed deadline to meet has given us so many quality titles.
Could you imagine growing up and getting to play a James Bond game from IO Interactive instead of having to play the awful Tomorrow Never Dies game?
Truth be told I could write an entire book talking about bad video game tie-in experiences.
Thankfully that era is long and dead.
Unless like bucket hats and fanny packs, they do come back in style. God help us all if that day ever comes.
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