The sins of the movie tie-in are well documented. In rushing to meet that release date deadline, so many things are overlooked, so many things are often left unfinished or underdeveloped. Sometimes the scope and ambition itself is cut short right at the start to accommodate for time constraints. More's the pity. Because it's not impossible to make a good tie-in game. In fact, we have a list of ten games that defied mediocrity and expectations to actually make something of themselves.
A little note before we begin. There are some corners of the industry who believe that games such as GoldenEye and The Warriors count as film tie-ins. This is simply not the case. GoldenEye was released two years after its original source came out and The Warriors, well, we're talking decades. To include such titles would be cheating, excellent though they are. We're not just talking licensed games here, but games released alongside a movie in the hopes of boosted sales across a wide range of media. Proper tie-ins. For this reason there'll be no Lego Star Wars, no Die Hard Trilogy and no Godfather. It's all a matter of timing you see...
Let us begin!
10. Star Wars Trilogy Arcade
The bloated cash-cow that is the Star Wars franchise was milked heavily back in 1998 with the re-release of the original trilogy as a digitally remastered boxset. To help promote the trilogy, LucasArts descended upon the arcades with Star Wars Trilogy Arcade, a rail shooter that took the player through the narrative of the original three films and had them battling TIE fighters over Yavin IV and gun running it down the Death Star Trench. Then it was onto Hoth, taking out probe droids and AT-ATs before switching to the Falcon to aid in the escape. Lastly the action moved to the forest moon of Endor, with speed bike sections and, finally, jumping into Wedge's X-Wing and taking down the second Death Star.
No, it wasn't a patch on some of Treasure's finest work, but it was a good use of the Star Wars licence...which is much more than you can say about the majority of the newer films.
Tron did wonders for the movie tie-in sub-genre. Instead of trying for a complete cinematic representation of the actual events of the film, Tron instead opted for providing the player with twelve increasingly fiendish levels and four sub-categories of gameplay pertaining to games inspirde by those found in the movie.
I/O Tower, for example, saw the player destroying Grid Bugs with Tron's disc; you could face off with Battle Tanks, guiding your own tank through a maze while blasting enemy tanks; MCP Cone saw a Breakout style game that had you destroying a multicoloured wall before destroying the MCP; and, finally, there were the Light Cycles themselves, a fast paced series of games ghat saw you trying to force the yellow Light Cycle to crash into walls, whilst avoiding its own trail. Tron was an enormous hit at the arcades, but then again it was a movie all about life-threatening games in virtual reality.
8. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
Believe it or not, some tie-ins have actually won awards. Return of the King won two DICE awards back in 2004 - one for Elijah Wood's voice acting, and one for outstanding sound design - and stands out as one of the finest movie games since...well...the beginning. The combat - enjoyable both by oneself or with a friend - was fantastic, the combo system worked incredibly well and the variety of playable characters was great too. No more mincing around at the back as a wizard, hell no, Gandalf was a melee mage and you could fry orcs with lightning bolts from his staff as well as hacking them bits with his sword.
And that sound award? Utterly deserved.
7. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
Although released in time for the Michael Cera-starring movie of the same name, this one actually owes far more to the aesthetic stylings of Bryan Lee O'Malley's original graphic novel. A side-scrolling beat 'em up seemed to actually be the perfect genre for Mr. Pilgrim, the fiendishly catchy 8-bit chiptunes, cutesy retro graphics and old school gameplay proved to be an excellent match for the whimsical, geekily nostalgic adventures. Although it really should have had drop-in-drop-out multiplayer, it was still an utter riot with mates.
6. Kung Fu Panda
Kung Fu Panda, based on Dreamworks' excellent film of the same name, stands up as one of the finest straightforward tie-ins of all time. It's colourful and funny, the puzzle-platform gameplay up there with dedicated IPs that would no doubt look down on it if the games industry were a playground. It's better than it has any right to be, surpassing most Crash Bandicoot titles ever made. The puzzles are fairly inventive, the combat is a blast and it's a film tie-in that actually makes you laugh deliberately...not just at undesired mediocrity.
5. X-Men Origins: Wolverine
The movie was fairly awful, but the accompanying game to X-Men Origins: Wolverine was actually pretty good. Doing away with family friendly, cheeseball shenanigans, the game instead channelled the beast within, offering up a gory hack 'n' slash that was far more entertaining and enjoyable than it deserved to be. Indeed, this game holds a special place on this list for being the one of the few film-tie ins here to be significantly better than the source material upon which it was based. There were a few nds to Gavin Hood's film, and Hugh Jackman did some nice voiceover work, but thankfully Raven (let them make more games, Activision!!) stayed true to form and served up violent treat.
4. Star Wars: Episode One Racer
Before Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader, he was a deeply annoying little boy with a bowl haircut who raced clunky deathtraps made from tin cans and loose cabling. But, aside from Darth Maul's awesome lightsaber, it was the pod racing that was actually the most enduring aspect of the film. Released two days before the film emerged, Episode One Racer was much better than the straightforward action, button-masher that was the movie's other gaming companion. Racing was responsive, thrilling and fast, with plenty of upgrade options, unlockables and track variety. The arcade versions even saw massive moulded pods being installed, with dual-throttle controls lifted straight out of the movie.
You could probably insert any number of 2D platforming Disney games in here from The Lion King to The Jungle Book to Hercules...they were all perfectly playable. But this was a perfect movie accompaniment. Released alongside the film, the Mega Drive saw Agrabah's most famous street urchin come galloping into the gaming world with a side-scrolling cartoon feast of excellent platforming (those retracting bricks in the dungeon level were fiendish test of my underdeveloped skills), apple-chucking combat and a number of visual gags to boot.
There's a lot to be said for getting the basics right, and Aladdin did just that, giving the Mega Drive a nice little boost in the process too.
2. Spider-man 2
If there's one thing that a Spider-man game should let you do, it's plonk you down in New York City nd let you swing about the place to your heart's content, and that's exactly why Spider-man 2 was such an enjoyable game. Far from cheating film fans out of their money, instead it gave us exactly what we wanted, giving us a large sandbox to websling around in, beating up goons and flinging ourselves skywards.
But it managed to do this realistically too. You could trace the tentacles of wrist-spun gloop to fixed points. No towers, no airborne antics. It was immensely satisfying fun that should have set the bar for everything to follow. Well....actually it did...it's just that Spider-man 3 completely failed to live up to it.
1. Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay
Often, the better film tie-ins are the ones that go beyond the events of the film to tell a companion story. Escape From Butcher Bay is one such game. Released alongside the mixed bag that was The Chronicles of Riddick, Escape From Butcher Bay was an utter triumph for Starbreeze and Vivendi. A fantastic FPS stealth-em-up, it played out almost like a futuristic spiritual successor to the Thief series. The mechanics were outstanding - both for the stealth parts and the louder more combat-oriented stages towards the game's finale - but the presentation was just as good too. Butcher Bay was brilliantly designed, the graphics on a par with next-gen contemporaries such as Doom 3, and the voice acting - with Vin Diesel (obviously), Ron Perlman, Cole Hauser and, amusingly, Xzibit - was excellent.
It was one of the finest games the original Xbox had to offer and sold well on the platform, the well-executed marriage of genres, polished development and engaging gameplay proving that tie-ins didn't have to be awful. On the contrary, making a really good game paid dividends. Another game that was far better than its source material, critically speaking, it was this game, not the film, that actually kept Riddick as a franchise alive.