Synergy dictates that the success of two separate entities, when combined, will be greater than the sum of an individual entity. If there’s one market in which synergy has failed, it’s gamer culture. Licensed video games based on popular films are often maligned, and usually just ignored. Their production is typically rushed to coincide with the film’s release.
One game was so poorly conceived, in fact, that it nearly killed the video game industry entirely. When E.T. was released on Atari, it was mass-produced, assumed that it would be as big a hit as the film on which it was based. However, its release led to the video game crash of 1983, where its memory was wiped and buried in a landfill. It was the subsequent introduction of the Nintendo Entertainment System that managed to save the industry.
The video game industry is awash in terrible games based on films. Often, the film just doesn’t translate well to gameplay and the graphics available at the time are incapable of properly rendering the essence of the film. Some licensed games are shockingly faithful to their source material – often to their detriment. Other games completely gloss over the main aspects which made the movie so special in the first place.
Here are 15 of the Worst Video Games Based On Great Movies.
15. X-Men: The Official Game
Prior to Bryan Singer’s X-Men and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, superhero films were facing dire straights. There was little to no fealty to the characters beloved by comic fans. But Singer and Raimi’s films proved to studios that there was money in giving fans what they wanted.
So naturally, these films received the the standard licensed game. However, the PS2 and Xbox game, X-Men: The Official Game, was a complete mess. The gameplay was mediocre; the simple, beat-them-up style consisted of endless button-mashing and the AI could politely be called “poor.”
Games based on the comic series and cartoon show are innumerable, though none particularly memorable. Fans would have to wait for X-Origins: Wolverine for a decent X-Men game. Ironically, the worst film in the franchise managed to produce one of the best games.
14. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
In 1974, Tobe Hooper filmed one of the most influential and frightening horror films of the era – The Texas Chain Saw Massacre; a low-budget feature about a cannibalistic family and their chainsaw-wielding son.
By 1982, the film had gained an enormous cult following, prompting Wizard Video to put forth a video game adaptation for the Atari 2600. Wizard mistakenly believed that parents would be fine allowing their young children to control a murderer, who chases around other characters with a chainsaw. Well, it’s supposed to be a chainsaw.
Parents were mortified, and the game was all but banned. It was kept behind the counter, along with more adult-themed games. Today it’s hard to see what all the fuss was about – the graphics are barely comprehensible and the gameplay is repetitive – amounting to little more than running around what is supposed to be a Texas field, decapitating what one can only assume to be people.
13. Dirty Harry
Dirty Harry hit theatres with a blunt, crude pro-fascist thud. As society grew more permissive, popular mainstream cinema seemed to pull in the opposite direction. By 1990, the series had come to a close. Still, Gray Matter developed a game with an original story for the NES.
The game opens with a garbled sound clip of Harry Callahan’s famous, “Go ahead, make my day,” and the game begins in earnest. You play Harry, but you look nothing like him.
The plot, never explained onscreen but laid out in the instruction manual, has Harry tracking down a new drug dealer known as the Anaconda. But few players have ever really excelled past level one. There’s no way of knowing what to do, with no clear objective drawn out. Still, the game is littered with references to the film series, including a remote-controlled car bomb, chilli dogs that replenish your health, and a recoil effect when you fire your trusty .44 Magnum.
A sandbox game was planned for a 2007 release, getting as far as a concept trailer, but was unfortunately cancelled.
First Blood, both the novel and the film starring Sylvester Stallone, follows John Rambo, a Vietnam vet turned drifter, as he suffers harassment from local law enforcement that triggers his PTSD. In the original end of the movie, Rambo is mercy-killed by his former commander Colonel Trautman. Clearly, this was video game material.
The 1987 NES game appears to take its story from the James Cameron-scripted sequel in which Rambo re-fights the Vietnam War. You spend most of it running around the jungle throwing grenades at jungle creatures. It’s only toward the game’s ending that you encounter any actual members of the Viet Cong, or even use a weapon.
More offensive is Rambo: The Video Game, released in 2014. The game’s structure is not unlike the Die Hard Trilogy; you advance through the first three Rambo films. Terrible controls and AI aside, the game mangles the plot of First Blood. Rambo only kills one character in the film, and even then it’s an accident. The game has your PTSD-afflicted soldier mowing down an entire precinct in a rail-gun shooter. It was heavily panned by critics.
11. Star Wars
Even before second generation consoles made their way into homes, there have been plenty of Star Wars games. Early arcade versions included a lightsaber training game and a depiction of the trench run in A New Hope. There were two NES versions.
The first was a Japanese side-scroller game which focused on Luke Skywalker running through various levels, fighting Darth Vader at the end of each one. However, when you attempt to kill Vader, he pulls a “Princess is in another castle” and mutates into various creatures. At the end of the game you are finally able to confront and kill Vader, which would have spared us from the movie prequels.
In 1991, the second NES game was released. It was a platform game, in which Luke travels around various caves and the Mos Eisley Cantina to gather other characters. After collecting Han and R2-D2, you can choose between characters, but the level of difficulty makes it unlikely that you’ll get very far.
10. Die Hard
There is such a thing as being too faithful. Such is the case with the NES game, Die Hard. From a top-down perspective, you play John McClane, running around the upper floors of Nakatomi plaza, killing terrorists. The game is on a time limit, based on the vault locking mechanisms – just like the film, there are a set number of terrorists – just like the film, and walking over broken glass causes damage that makes McClane walk slower – again, just like the film. It’s so faithful that taking on a just one single terrorist pretty much drains you of health.
Sega Saturn went in the opposite direction. Its Die Hard Arcade abandons any similarities to the film beyond McClane’s trademark tank top. Integral to John McTiernan’s original film is the isolation that McClane feels going up against a building full of terrorists. Here, the game saddles you with a partner. Also, you fight robots.
“Conglaturation!!! You have completed a great game and prooved the justice of our culture. Now go and rest our heroes!” With that ending screen, the Ghostbusters game made its way into meme history. It’s “All your base are belong to us” awesome.
Most of the game is spent driving around in the Ecto-1, avoiding other cars, while trying to reach the next haunted location. Once there, the controls become downright confusing. But nothing prepares you for the complex awfulness of the final stage, which has three of the four Ghostbusters (minus Winston, suspiciously) climbing endless flights of stairs, working their way toward Zuul.
You don’t climb the stairs with the direction pad like a normal game, however, instead you have to rapidly press A and B alternately while attempting to avoid ghosts. Invariably, the ghosts kill you, taking you back to the very beginning of the game. The days before the save option are dark days indeed.
When Alien was released in 1979, Roger Ebert described it as a haunted house movie in space. It was meant to be dismissive, but there’s a reason he later reassessed his opinion. Its wet, industrial settings and claustrophobic angst plays as well as it did 38 years ago. But it was James Cameron’s follow-up, Aliens, in 1986 that reduced the titular villain to a potential video game enemy.
Game developers tried to make Alien a fun, survival horror game long before the well-received Alien: Isolation. In fact, they tried it more than once. Alien, for the Atari 2600 is basically a lousy Pac Man ripoff – even the sound effects are similar. The Commodore 64 version is a confusing disaster. It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly is wrong with the game, because figuring out how to play it is such a challenge. You direct various members of your crew around what appears to be different rooms (though it could just be the air ducts from the film), and every now and then the alien appears onscreen and kills you. The graphics for both are downright appalling.
7. Evil Dead
It’s a pleasant surprise to learn that there are good Evil Dead video games. After the disappointment of the Resident Evil clone, Hail to the King, Playstation 2 released A Fistful of Boomstick – a fun and humorous game, which had Bruce Campbell voicing Ash. The gore is playful, the story is amusing enough, and it’s a pleasure having a button devoted solely to Campbell making quips.
Back in 1984, however, the technology for an interesting, or even fun, survival horror game just wasn’t there. That didn’t stop Palace Software from releasing a game based on Sam Raimi’s gory original. The game takes place at the infamous cabin, where deadites are trying to enter left and right. As Ash, you have to keep closing windows to keep them at bay. You’re armed with Ash’s trademark weapons – shovels, shotguns, and axes.
Platoon is considered to be one of the best films about the Vietnam War and the vast psychological damage that participating in such violence causes, since it was written by Oliver Stone, who had first-hand experience. While it is unknown how much of the film is autobiographical, we know Stone went through a lot.
Platoon for the NES is about… a platoon. That’s it. You’re just another soldier in green walking through an endless jungle shooting guys in black bodysuits. While one can’t expect an 8-bit cartridge to offer the same level of complex psychological insight as the film, it could have tried just a little harder. No one is asking a Nintendo game to allow players to go on zippo raids, but at least model some of the action around, say, a rogue Tom Berenger.
In a game based on a film about the senseless horrors of war, you definitely shouldn’t end with a still-image of the player’s character flying away from the destruction and a huge, self-satisfied thumbs up.
5. Terminator 2
Terminator 2 is seen, much like Aliens, as a sequel that surpasses its predecessor. It does everything a sequel should do – it’s bigger, louder, and more complex, without betraying the lore already set in place. It was ripe for a video game, and there was no shortage. Most fans remember the arcade shooter version, which still graces the arcade enclave of movie theatres to this day.
The NES and Super NES versions, however, are an entirely different breed. While essentially the same game, the SNES version had superior graphics and added a few driving stages, which were unnecessarily confusing. Somehow, it comes off even worse than the barebones NES, which just has your black leather jacket-clad Terminator continuously punching an endless supply of villains. The AI adversaries take so many hits to bring down, you start to wonder if the Terminator was played by a ten-year-old Edward Furlong.
4. Any Indiana Jones Title
Paramount must have known what a phenomenal hit they had on their hands with Raiders of the Lost Ark. The pairing of Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Harrison Ford in 1981 all but guaranteed box office success. Not long after its release, Atari set about developing a game.
The game was a lot of effort for little payoff. It boggles the mind how some developers tried to make Atari games so complicated with just a joystick and button. In a way, their ambition is admirable. Sadly, their output is not. Raiders is a confusing mess that requires careful reading of the instruction manual.
Indy games didn’t get any better when they moved to the NES. Temple of Doom became a frustrating game, with top-down perspective in which you have to rescue children.
With the possible exception of Indiana Jones’ Greatest Adventures for the SNES and the Lucasarts point-and-click Last Crusade, there has yet to be a truly great Indiana Jones game – just a lot of Tomb Raider ripoffs and poorly conceived early titles.
Steven Spielberg hasn’t had much luck with video game adaptations. Barring some kind of Bourne-esque Munich game, it’s unlikely he will anytime soon. Jaws Unleashed was a particularly awful entry, with an original story that allows the player to control the shark. Gamespot voted it the worst game anyone played in 2006. But it has nothing on Jaws for the NES. Jaws comes courtesy of LJN, which is notorious for their terrible film adaptations.
Despite its title, the game takes its cues – rather appropriately – from the worst film in the franchise, Jaws: The Revenge. The game consists of sailing around the Bahamas from shore to shore, collecting conch shells along the way. Completely at random, Jaws the shark attacks. From then, your tiny character goes in the water to do battle with the Great White. When you finally wear down his power, you get a shot at slaughtering him once and for all with the mast of your ship. However, the aiming is so off that actually impaling the beast is a matter of blind luck.
Predator was born out of the inspiration of Rocky IV boxing an alien, which influenced screenwriters Jim and John Thomas into creating the film. Stallone was dropped, however, in favour of Schwarzenegger. While it wasn’t much of a hit with critics, who found it wholly derivative of better films (though praise was reserved for Stan Winston’s monster design), audiences flocked to see Arnold vs. an alien. The film has since transcended its cult status, thanks to a series of sequels, novels, comic books, and, of course, video games.
The first game, however, didn’t work out very well. It’s understandable that for a film with ostensibly one main villain, Predator the game would need smaller enemies to take on as the player made their way toward the final boss. That still doesn’t explain why developers thought the solution would be for Schwarzenegger’s avatar to spend most of the game throwing grenades at oversized snails.
In today’s gamer society, survival horror is a perfectly fine genre. Players can get deeply engrossed in storylines that can approximate (yet never transcend) that of a decent horror film. And, since games carry ratings now, parents can discern what they allow their children to play accordingly. But in the Wild West days of Atari, it was open season. By today’s standards, these games are completely innocuous (Custer’s Revenge notwithstanding). But how was a parent to know that a game based on a slasher film would feature a masked killer slicing up teenagers?
Halloween is much more tame than Texas Chain Saw, largely because you take on the role of an anonymous babysitter rather than the actual killer. Your babysitter runs away from Michael Meyers as you try to rescue children. Like a lot of Atari games based on films, it becomes redundant rather quickly.
Did you play any of these awful games? Let us know in the comments!