Can I get a side order of game adaptation please
Sit down, close your eyes (actually don’t I need the views), and take notice of your breathing, leaving behind all distraction. Still with me? Great!
It’s December, 2002. You have just seen The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers in the cinema. You thought (for some reason) Legolas was the greatest fictional hero of all time. Christmas is around the corner and your family is frustrated with your repeated retorts of “surprise me” when they ask what you want for Christmas. Upon leaving the movie theatre, it comes to you—You NEED the game version!
Does that sound familiar to anyone else out there? Once upon a time, the video game industry was dominated by not just endless Call of Duty releases, but also a ceaseless stream of direct game adaptations of movies. We don’t see this much anymore, so what happened? They were financially viable, some extremely successful and sometimes, they were even good.
No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to buy
Dun dun dun dun. This writer attributes the restart of this craze with the critically lauded GoldenEye 007, released on Nintendo 64 back in 1997. This game helped move forward the FPS genre with stealth sections and local multiplayer battles. It was critically acclaimed and made a bucket load of money, so naturally enough it presented an opportunity for rebirth for the movie adaptation business.
Disclaimer time. Now when I say “movie adaptations” I mean direct versions of movies, into video game form such as GoldenEye 007 and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and not games based on movie franchises. Examples of those would be more like the recent Predator: Hunting Grounds or Terminator: Resistance. These are a separate thing altogether and commonly turn out quite a lot better, when the adaptation isn’t beholden to the (rough) story and events of a movie.
Anyway! GoldenEye came along and opened the eyes of publishers and developers alike, to see that there was a LOT of money to be made from game versions of their summer blockbusters and Christmas hits. Soon, the movies of the Disney renaissance period, more 007 movies, and everything in between were receiving video game transformations and a lot of money was indeed made. Soon after Star Wars and Harry Potter followed suit and the world was dominated by these games.
Well, were they any good?
Quantity over quality
Generally, they were not very good. This is not just simply a statement of opinion, based on what I have played personally, but it is a widely acknowledged opinion held by many. The main reason seems to be that they were generally rushed, with little to no care over their quality. At the end of the day, these were created to be sent out to shop shelves at the same time as the movie to maximise profit. These were not designed to target critics and receive great reviews, no, more that their release was perfectly timed to get more money and did they fly off the shelves like hot cakes.
Their popularity was immense despite their generally bad quality. There are a few reasons for this as far as I can tell. One thing I am certainly partially guilty of, is franchise loyalty. While a bit off topic, I bought and nearly 100% completed Mass Effect: Andromeda out of my love for the original trilogy. It wasn’t great and I partially regret investing so much time into it. This is also true for these kinds of adaptations - Fans of the movie, if they are feverish enough, will buy in as well. It’s the most clever and probably expensive kind of marketing out there, while also attracting the videogamer audience to your movie.
Another reason for such blind purchasing of sub-par games is simply - Kids. I remember it well enough myself. One Christmas I explicitly recall wanting Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets game on PS2 so badly, and I wasn’t even a massive fan of the series. But as I was annoying my mother so much about it, she obliged and I can’t blame her if it meant I shut up about it. I wanted it regardless of the standard it set and didn’t care if it was terrible. I was 11/12 and I had more important things to worry about, like feeling included talking about it in school. The things we do to feel like we belong, eh?
Of course this wasn’t always the case and there were sometimes great direct adaptations to be found. I fondly remember going into GameStop when Batman Begins was released and playing it on their demo Xbox in there. I never bought it but have great, positive memories of it. Another example is Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. I don’t believe I ever owned this before however similar to Batman, I have played it and have great memories of it. For every rule there is an exception of course.
Back in the day (before my day, to be precise)
This all happened before—as they say, history repeats. Back in the 80’s you would have seen game versions of Gremlins, Star Wars and of course ET, which is widely considered one of the worst games ever released and was a huge commercial failure. These releases never actually stopped as such but it wasn’t until GoldenEye, in my estimation, that their popularity soared to new heights.
It’s difficult in the modern context to judge these older games, admittedly. Take Super Star Wars for example. This was based on the original movie, later subtitled A New Hope. It’s a side-scrolling platformer, similar in style to approximately one million other games of the time. In today’s age of more complexity with countless different systems, it’s hard to really make a critical judgement on this - I simply can’t tell if it would be considered good by yesteryear’s standards. So ya know what? I won’t comment too much on that, and I’ll stick to what I do actually know.
So why don’t I see these on store shelves anymore?
They exist in a different form now, quite simply. This is all guesswork, but, it is fair to assume that AAA game development for every single “blockbuster” style movie under the sun became unsustainable. Costs of development over time have increased and after a certain point couldn’t have been worth the expense. Not only this, publishers, especially big ones (you know who I mean) are rather eh.. Risk averse. I think it’s fair to say that myself and readers alike can think of more than a few companies who would rather bust out sequel after sequel every year in the same tried and true franchise, than take a few steps back and start developing movie tie-ins once again.
The success of the game hinges somewhat on the success and popularity of the film it is adapting. If your movie is recognised to be s**t, this will not do any favours for the video game sales. As discussed above, of course there is going to be some blind loyalty at play, but it’s unlikely to be enough to make it a hit. These games are commonly found on mobile now. If you do a quick search on the Google Play Store or App Store, you are bound to find countless Minions, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Star Wars applications, just to name a few. We all know the score, they’re free and include micro-transactions and often clones of already established game types. This is certainly a win for some people - Less space taken up on shelves for consumers and less expensive development for professionals. I do however rarely find that these are strict adaptations, in the context I have defined in this article, and more fall into the category of something based on a franchise.
I’m glad we live in a time where developers choose to make licensed games, based on movie properties, as opposed to direct tie-ins. This actually leaves room to be creative while not having to work to horrendous deadlines (hopefully) while the player gets their fix of Batman, Star Wars, whatever it may be!
As harsh as it sounds, everybody wins with the death of direct tie-ins as we know it, from developers to impressionable kids and their parents. Long live the era of the quality licensed game!
Check out James’ reviews for some IPs we all know and love below here:
All images taken from the following press kits:
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