Traditionally, video games that are released to correspond with the release of a blockbuster movie, and piggybaqck their success for some easy sales, are pretty bad. And I mean bad, the kind of bad that resulted from you’re parents buying it because it has the same image on the front as that popular children’s movie. While that used to be the case though, there have been more and more tie in games that are actually worth playing coming out.
Of late I’ve been noticning that games with close ties to a particulat movie have been breaking the default, bad game, assumption and have actually turned out to be worthy of the movies they are based on, in some cases even better than their source material. I can think of games that slot into all of these critieria, but for now, let’s list things that can make or break a movie tie in game.
In my opinion, the best games of this sort are the ones that take a step away from the movie they are based on. As counter productive as that sounds, a game which is simply a retread of events of the movie is just boring. Not only is this a story you’ve seen before, the game will often be restricted to the events of the movie too and unable to expand upon it and do anything new.
If a game wants to work, it needs to distance itself from it’s adaptation. Be a prequel or a sequel like The recent Amazing Spider-Man game was or alter the movie’s story, and retell it in their own way, like the X-Men Origins: Wolverine game did. They could even make a game that has nothing to do with the movie, like the Prince of Persia tie in, although that had the benefit of being a game in the first place.
When I play a game, I don’t really want to be seeing the same events unfold as the movie I saw the night previously, if i’m going to do that, i might as well just watch the movie again. I want an experience that is, while spiritually the same as the movie, is a completely new story.
All of the best games I’ve played have taken the characters, setting and themes of the movie and continued to use them, but did something original and of their own making. It is possible to go too far, to retcon the early events of the movie as a passing gesture for example.
So, in short, I feel these games should take the opportunity to expand upon a story rather than just retell it, provide a new experience rather than a one we’ve already seen. Of course, there are exceptions to this, there always are. You could argue that the first LEGO Star Wars was a tie in to Revenge of the Sith, but we all still loved that. Although that was for reasons concerning the following area of discussion.
If I enjoyed a movie, and I decide that there is something about that title that grabbed my interest enough that I would go out and but a video game based upon it, more often than not, it’s the gameplay that makes or breaks the experience i was expecting. The classic example of this would be the various Spider-Man games that have been released over the years based on the movies of the same title.
In the movies, Spider-Man swings around the city at high speeds, flinging himself through the air, doing some flips and then catching himself on another web line before doing it all again. This is, arguably, the part of the movie that everyone watching it would love to emulate. Not only is it something unique that makes the character who he is, it is his primary method of getting around. So any developer worth his salt will try to emulate this experience in their game, and the same is true of any movie game, a developer should look at the most defining or exiting feature about a character and try to recreate that in their game.
Look at Wolverine, a guy who fucks shit up for a living, what do you do in his game? very little but fucking shit up. And it’s done well; care has been taken to make players really feel like they’re playing the same Wolverine they saw in his incredibly shitty movie. Does this make it a bad tie in? If it completely outdoes the movie it is based on? I suppose you could argue that, a bad movie should have an equally bad game. I’d say the opposite though, that game took what was actually good about the movie and amped it up to the nth degree.
Another, and maybe unfair, example would be Prince of Persia The Forgotten Sands, a game that was brought out to coincide with the release of the live action Prince of Persia The Sands of Time movie. While the movie was based on the game, Forgotten Sands was a completely original story in the series that went out and tried to recreate the spirit and gameplay of the original Sands of Time that came out in 2003. Despite being as lose as tie in’s get, it was piggybacking on the hype of the movie and was, once again, actually a more entertaining product.
On the flip side, developers can be really lazy when making these games and make what is essentially a ‘by the books’ game, something that has obviously had little to no thought put into it. Being something a title that was shoved out as quickly as possible in order to try and get some easy sales. These are the games that give us the bad taste in our mouths about movie tie ins, they’re not at all original and are usually little more than generic hack and slash or platform games with a hasty coat of some movie painted over it.
Look at Street Fighter The Movie (The Game), this did this complete opposite of what Prince of Persia did and tired to replicate the movie as much as it could, to the point where it motion captured the actors to be used as sprites in the game, making it look like a Mortal Kombat game rather than a Street fighter one. This was a game that was riding the hype of the movie but actually provided very little to the actual fans of the games.
While it did capture the essence of the movie quite well, it had the misfortune of being originally based on a video game, and thus had to compare itself to the likes of Street Fighter II. If this had been based on anything else, then it might have gotten away with being an okay game, but having the Street Fighter logo on it, and the dynasty of games that goes with that as ended up labelling this game as one of the worst tie ins ever.
I’m going to come dangerously close to contradicting myself here. While I before that the better tie in games are the ones that take a step back from their source material and do something different with the story, in the end, they’re still supposed to be tie ins. Chances are, if you bought the game, it was because you liked something about the movie, and you’d feel a bit ripped off if you bought a game that was nothing like the film you liked to much.
I think the most important thing a game, which is also is aiming to ride the success of a movie, can do is at least try to capture the spirit and the character of the movie. Even if the two are completely unalike when compared critically, if it manages to capture something familiar, then I think you can be a bit more lenient with everything else. Even older games, that come from a time of limited gaming capabilities were able to achieve this if done properly. Look at the original arcade Tron, I mean, it had the advantage of being a movie with a heavy theme of gaming surrounding it, but the four mini games the arcade game provided recreated parts of the movie perfectly, in spite of the limitations.
In the end, the best movie tie in games are the ones that actually remember that they’re supposed to be video games as well as being a cash grab. So many of these games are so phoned in that it’s easy to see why people usually brush them aside without a second glance. And it’s a shame because now there are enough good games out there that gamers might be missing out based on this assumption.
I’ll admit that most of the decent tie in games that come out today are based on super hero franchises, that actually have a ton of background information to work from aside from the movies, but super hero movies are what our cinemas are showing at the moment, so yeah. There are plenty of ones that aren’t brilliant, Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters and Thor: God of Thunder never stuck out as anything other than mediocre, it all comes down to how much the developer put into the game and how pressured they are to simply put out a game in time for a movie release.
A popular movie is more than capable than producing a great game to share in it’s success, but the time it takes to get it to coincide with the release of a movie is probably one of the biggest issues facing this sub-genre. It’s just such a shame that sometimes we get humped with a awful game tie in to that movie we loved, all so a studio can get their bit of extra money in from shoppers who don’t know any better.
This was just my thoughts on the topic rather than a real structured article. If you have any opinions of this topic you’d like to share, then please leave them in the comment section below.
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