Eventually, Hollywood is going to run out of comic books and YA novels to turn into reliable cash-generating movie franchises, so the search is always on for the next big thing. Some analysts believe that video games will be the next big source of inspiration, leading to a mad dash by studios to snap up the film rights to popular franchises and well-known characters; with most of the attention being focused on currently-popular modern gaming staples like Assassin’s Creed, Warcraft and a new version of Tomb Raider. But some ambitious producers have opted to bypass these trendier products and instead seek licenses for classic games of the medium’s 80s and 90s Golden Age, such as the adaptation of Rampage, set to star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
A few days ago, fans of classic gaming got another unexpected surprised when producer Mark Platt announced plans to not only develop a feature film franchise based on Shinobi, a classic arcade and console title of the 1980s, but a potential series of films based on vintage games from legendary developer Sega.
One of the advantages to seeking inspiration from the arcade era rather than the world of post-Xbox console gaming (apart from older, more obscure licenses typically being less expensive) is the promise of a much more diverse lineup of unique aesthetics and unusual characters. While modern mainstream gaming remains largely dominated by multiplayer shooters and gritty open world action titles, the limited space and power afforded to older games meant that developers had to be extra creative – often resulting in fancifully-strange games set in bizarre worlds and starring eye-catching oddball heroes. And while Sega’s stabled of original characters in particular may not have endured as strongly as those of rival developer Nintendo or certain franchises owned by Capcom, it includes a staggering number of fondly-remembered classics that could easily inspire unique films in a variety of different genres.
With that in mind, here are 15 Sega classics that should follow Shinobi (and Sega mascot Sonic The Hedgehog, whose live-action feature film adaptation was was already announced back in February) to the big-screen.
15. ALTERED BEAST
A staple of the 80s arcade scene, this gonzo dark fantasy button-masher mixed cutting edge graphics, music and sound with a bizarre gameplay gimmick: The screen scrolls endlessly, forcing the player into conflict with waves of strange enemies as they gradually collect power-ups that boost their physiques to Mr. Universe-levels of absurd muscularity… followed by a final evolution into one of five animal/human hybrid forms (werewolf, dragon, bear, tiger and a different, more powerful werewolf) at which point they battle the level’s boss.
While often criticized from a modern perspective for repetitive gameplay, thanks to its unique aesthetic combination of Greek Mythology and Frank Frazetta/Boris Valejo-inspired “high fantasy” art design, there’s still nothing that looks or feels quite like Altered Beast – making it a prime candidate to become a singularly original action movie.
14. ALEX KIDD
Sega’s console mascot prior to the development of the (now) better known Sonic the Hedgehog, Alex Kidd was a Mario-esque platforming hero who battled enemies using cartoonish weaponry, martial arts (like Dragon Ball’s Goku, he’s said to have been inspired by the Buddhist folklore figure Sun Wukong: The Monkey King) and power-granting costumes.
In his original storyline, Kidd was the long-lost heir of an alien royal family pressed into action when his planet’s rightful king was usurped by an evil tyrant. Subsequent adventures involved battles with ninjas and a planet inhabited by masters of the game Rock, Paper, Scissors; potentially making Alex Kidd prime material for a surreal kiddie adventure feature in the vein of Spy Kids.
13. GOLDEN AXE
One of the most popular arcade series of its era, Golden Axe took the multiplane beat-em-up game popularized by titles like Double Dragon and Renegade and moved the action from crime-ridden urban streets to a Medieval fantasy setting. Confidently straddling the line between Tolkien-esque epic journey narrative and the brawling Hyborean action of Conan creator Robert E. Howard; the original game featured a barbarian, a dwarf and an amazon teaming up to take down the supervillain Death Adder.
Screenwriters would need to flesh out a deeper narrative for a feature film, to be sure, but the series’ famously varied selection of enemies and locales (including a famous level set in a village built on the back of a gigantic turtle) would ensure a visually-dynamic production from a faithful adaptation.
12. STREETS OF RAGE
In a crime-ridden modern metropolis, a group of dedicated police officers hand in their badges in order to fight crime vigilante style – which translates to hitting the streets night after night to fight their way through waves of vicious gang members in hand-to-hand martial-arts combat.
Not the deepest narrative in the world, but it’s been a long time since Hollywood has produced a street-level gang warfare epic in the vein of cult-classics like The Warriors or Streets of Fire. Plus, recent international hits like The Raid: Redemption (and The Raid 2: Berendal) have shown there’s plenty of life in “endless brawler” action features; and the Streets of Rage series also boasts an admirably diverse cast of heroes to root for.
11. CRAZY TAXI
One of the biggest arcade hits of Sega’s later years, Crazy Taxi put a fresh spin on the driving-sim genre by foregoing race and rally gameplay in favor of giving players wide-open city landscapes in which to rack up points by picking up and dropping off taxi passengers; with exaggerated physics and a cartoonishly-invulnerable vehicle encouraging players to take insane shortcuts and other high-risk driving tactics to hit higher scores – all to the tune of a soundtrack of quintessential late-90s hard rock staples, most iconically The Offspring’s “All I Want,” which effectively became “the Crazy Taxi song” in the parlance of popular-culture.
The taxi business has inspired a surprising number of feature films from Taxi Driver to D.C. Cab to Luc Besson’s long-running Taxi series in France, and the embattled modern state of the industry could even provide a ready-made comedy setup for a feature: It’s not too hard to imagine a struggling cab company deciding that getting a little “crazy” is the only to compete with an influx of Uber-esque competitors, is it?
10. ECCO THE DOLPHIN
A surprisingly small number of games allow you to play as a fish (or, rather, aquatic mammal in Ecco’s case) in an oceanic setting, which would have made Ecco a unique title all on its own. But this ambitious cult-classic always had bigger things on its mind: Inspired in part by the writings of psychedelic neuroscientist John Cunningham Lilly (who claimed to have discovered a pantheon of cosmic deities called the Earth Coincidence Control Office or “E.C.C.O.”), Ecco The Dolphin has long been praised for it’s uniquely-beautiful graphics and earnestly offbeat storyline; in which a dolphin discovers an extraterrestrial plot to mass-harvest Earth’s oceans for food and sets off on a quest to stop them which involves legendary sea creatures, the lost city of Atlantis, time-travel to the Prehistoric era and an assault on the alien invaders themselves. Finding Nemo meets War of The Worlds? There have been stranger pitches.
9. ARABIAN FIGHT
A rare Sega arcade title that never received a port to consoles, Arabian Fight was a beat-em-up staged in a Middle Eastern fantasy setting. While not as fashionable today, swashbuckling adventures like The Thief of Baghdad and Sinbad The Sailor were once the toast of Hollywood, and with a push for diverse characters and international appeal increasingly important to Hollywood studios, there are certainly worse ideas that taking a modern swing at the genre.
8. JET GRIND RADIO
Originally titled Jet Set Radio in its native Japan, this fondly-remembered Dreamcast classic featured gangs of rollerblading graffiti artists using their skills to battle an evil conglomerate whose CEO threatens to unleash to power of a vinyl record reputed to summon demons.
It’s as bizarre as it sounds, but just-for-fun youthful rebellion never goes out of style. Far from dated, the game’s playful scenario seems tailor made for an era of social-media protest and street-level activism.
7. PHANTASY STAR
A scifi/fantasy RPG with a unique interplanetary setting, Phantasy Star is one of Sega’s most enduring series. Unlike many other games of the time, the original Phantasy Star broke ground by focusing of a female protagonist – potentially music to the ears of film producers always on the lookout for the next Hunger Games-level phenom aimed at the YA set.
6. SPACE HARRIER
Space Harrier doesn’t have much in the way of a story: You’ve got a jet pack, an arm cannon, you’re in “The Fantasy Zone” and you fly around in pseudo-3D third-person dodging surreal obstacles and blasting enemies like Chinese-style dragons, aliens and a woolly mammoth cyclops – with later games adding minor plot elements about “The Land of Dragons” and the quest to depose an unfit tyrant from the throne.
Still, it has style to spare and is one of Sega’s most recognizable titles and fondly-remembered nostalgia fixtures. And besides, how hard can it be to come up with 90 minutes of story to justify battling prehistoric pachyderms in a neon-abstract dreamscape – still makes more sense than Jupiter Ascending, right?
5. AFTER BURNER
There hasn’t been a good fighter-jet movie in forever (Top Gun 2 has stalled four or five times over the last decade) so you could say the genre is long overdue – particularly with stories of the generational divide between traditional military pilots and the drone-based operators now competing for airspace and missions behind a hot topic of the moment.
After Burner is a great title, and the game’s unique flightstick-style controls and (for the time) eye-popping graphics burned it into the collective unconscious of a generation of arcade patrons – more than enough reason to borrow the name to launch a new series of high-flying Air Force action features.
4. LASER GHOST
The jury may still be out on how the remake of Ghostbusters will stack up to the original, but with that franchise back in theaters it’d be a fine time for an enterprising (or maybe just shameless?) studio to snap up the rights to Sega’s cheeky rail-shooter knockoff; which merged the basic premise of ‘Busters with a darker, gorier aesthetic inspired by more traditional horror movie iconography. A trio of heroes armed with anti-ghost laser rifles battle a citywide outbreak of ghouls and demons in order to rescue a kidnapped girl – who in turn goes all Exorcist for the final boss fight.
3. CONGO BONGO
It’s probably going to be awhile before anyone gets Nintendo to license Donkey Kong for a movie after his less than well-received appearance in Adam Sandler’s Pixels, but supposing you’re a Hollywood development executive who just can’t wait to make a movie out of a gorilla-oriented video game there’s always Sega’s isometric arcade curiosity, Congo Bongo.
2. KID CHAMELEON
One of many attempts to create the next big mascot platformer in the 90s, Kid Chameleon didn’t inspire a series but remains a fondly-remembered title among a certain generation of gamers for its varied gameplay and unusually large number of levels, bonus stages and secret paths. It also had a novel premise: Part of the (surprisingly) rare “games about gaming” subgenre, the story involves a “holodeck”-style virtual reality arcade game whose suddenly-sentient final boss has started abducting players; with the titular “kid” entering the game with the intent of shutting the whole operation down.
Similar to Super Mario Bros 3 in the same era, the primary mechanic involved powering-up via different costumes that granted special weapons and abilities – which would add plenty of variety to a movie version.
1. COMIX ZONE
Remember “Duck Amuck,” the classic “meta” Looney Tunes short where Daffy Duck is tormented by the omnipotent hand of an unseen (until the very end) cartoonist who draws, paints and erases him into increasingly difficult and/or annoying situations? Comix Zone was pretty much that, but as an unconventional action game aping the aesthetic of 1990s comic book art. The story: Indie comic-book artist and rock musician Sketch Turner’s latest unfinished comic is struck by lightning, bringing it’s main villain Mortus into the real world and trapping Sketch himself in the pages of the comic – where Mortus attacks him by drawing new enemies and hazards into the comic world itself.
The game earned mixed reviews for repetitive gameplay, but the endlessly inventive visuals (along with comic-style art, thought-balloons and Adam West Batman-style sound effects graphics, players progressed by smashing through the actual borders between panels) would seem an ideal fit for today’s superhero-obsessed Hollywood – offering a chance to play with the surreal side of the genre without being seen as “mocking” established Marvel or DC heroes.
What other Sega games could make the jump to the big screen? Can you remember any games that give you a pang of nostalgia? Let us know in the comments!