Video games based on motion pictures often draw a wary eye. Perhaps, we, the consumers, are the ones to blame for thinking games based on Space Chimps, Night at the Museum, and The Polar Express would deliver reasonable amounts of fun. Curiosity sometimes gets the best of us – we can’t be faulted for this troublesome human instinct, right? For a fleeting second, some of us (including a development team and publisher) thought platforming as Ben Stiller sounded like it would be worth $60. We didn’t listen to that little voice in our head that said, “this is probably a disaster.”
Ever since Atari rushed a game adaptation of E.T. to production in six weeks, a storm cloud has hung over most games that sync up with new releases in movie theaters. The video game industry should have learned from that example. Rushing out a game to latch onto the marketing wave of a new movie is a horrible idea. You’d think no studio would want to release incomplete garbage, but examples like E.T. persisted for decades, and now the movie games are all but gone.
Maybe the video game industry is better off trying to create new experiences rather than piggybacking on the momentum generated by Hollywood, but for every flop like Catwoman or Street Fighter: The Movie, there is the rare chance of a diamond in the rough like Spider-Man 2 or King Kong – two titles I still adore to this day. The odds of these types of games being good were low, but I bet most of you took a chance on an adaptation or two, even if critics were telling you to avoid them like the plague.
Not having games based on the new Star Wars films seems criminal. Guiding Rey from Jakku to Jedi Knighthood sounds like a blast, and who wouldn’t want to suit up as old man Solo for one last time? I would gladly throw my money at these opportunities, yet the closest we can come is a Lego game and a loose tie-in in Star Wars Battlefront II – a game they want you to continually throw money at.
The same sentiment of “why don’t we have a game based on this” translates to Marvel and DC’s cinematic universes. Just think of what games based on The Avengers, Ant-Man, Batman v Superman, and Wonder Woman would be like. Matching the high bar of quality Marvel has achieved on the big screen would be tough, but the games based on Batman v Superman and Justice League wouldn’t have to do much to be better than their cinematic counterparts. [This is the point where you stop reading to leave an angry comment about how much you love these films.]
Yes, having a development team like Rocksteady Studios make unique experiences based on the Batman license is a better idea that retelling a movie. I hope Insomniac Games can follow in Rocksteady’s footsteps with its forthcoming Spider-Man title. Even though Batman: Arkham Asylum cemented the thought of “this is how you make a licensed game” in the minds of gamers (and probably everyone making games), it hasn’t opened the floodgates. Batman, Lord of the Rings, and Spider-Man are in good hands, but most licenses are treated like poison these days. And that’s not just from an oversaturation of movie-to-game flops. The market has changed.
Games are more expensive to make. A good number of the publishers that made these titles are now eyeing games as services. The viability of a movie-based game isn’t what it once was. Case and point, Ubisoft is once again making an Avatar game based on James Cameron’s forthcoming film, but it’s being adapted as a live game – an even bigger risk and undertaking.
The days of being able to go see a movie and then run to store to buy its game are over. Whether that’s a good or bad thing can be debated until the end of time, but after seeing Black Panther, I immediately found myself thinking, “I wish there was a game based on this.” Being able to explore more of the film’s universes has proven to be worth it in the past. The Star Wars prequel games were bad, but I still had fun diving deeper into the film’s lore, locations, and characters through the game. I also loved the hell out of The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, a game that expanded the story of the movie. It was an experiment that worked, and showed us games didn’t have to tell the exact story as their movie counterparts. They could be prequels or sequels or side stories. I’m shocked that model didn’t take off.
In conclusion, I miss the s—ty movie games just as much as the great ones. Taking a deeper dive into a movie was a unique experience…that was sometimes fun. A good number of kids games (which we hardly see at all now) were based off of motion pictures. An entire sector of games is basically gone, and while we may be better off without them, we are missing out on the potential of great games coming from some of our favorite entertainment franchises.