History is chocked full of video game tie-ins and spin-offs based on other properties and franchises. However, it’s rare for a tie-in game to actually be better than its source material.
Tie-in games have been around almost as long as video games have. Relic consoles such as the Atari 2600 and the NES boast libraries full of more movie adaptations and book tie-ins than one could possibly remember. The video game market crash of the early 1980’s was even caused, in large part, by the video game adaptation of E.T. Generally, adaptations like these were seen as serviceable at best for a variety of reasons, usually because they were rushed to coincide with the release of their source material. On occasion, however, a video game tie-in manages to rise above the property that inspired it to create a legacy of its own.
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This is no easy task for developers to accomplish, however. Typically, they’re fighting an uphill battle against fan expectations, movie studio influences, and the creative limitations of using unoriginal intellectual property. In short, developers have the task of doing something unique and unexpected in a limited time frame while trying to remain faithful to the source material. Imagine having to use the schematics of an unreleased car as the basis for a new jet plane all while retaining the same stylistic choices of the original design. Making a good tie-in game is a trial of no small proportion, and these are just a few of the ones to succeed.
Star Wars Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith Video Game
It’s hard to say that any Star Wars game, no matter how good, could outperform the legacy of its source material. The Star Wars franchise is just too big for any one video game to beat out in terms of reputation. Plenty of games, however, have managed to outdo some of the movies in terms of objective quality. As enjoyable and popular as the original Revenge of The Sith film is, it objectively fails at many aspects of good filmmaking. This is not to say that the Revenge of The Sith game succeeds where its inspiration fails, but rather that it benefits from having a different focus. The game doesn’t need to have a stellar story as long as it lies on a foundation of good gameplay, and it definitely has that.
Revenge of The Sith for the PS2 and Xbox is likely one of the greatest lightsaber-centric games in Star Wars history. It’s 3D beat-’em-up gameplay is entertaining from end to end, and truly reaches its full potential during the 1v1 boss fights, which are always saber duels. Moreso than any other Star Wars game, it allows the player to perform the flashy, acrobatic saber moves that defined the choreography of the prequels. Unfortunately, this forces it to fall into the same trap as many other lightsaber games. Because the saber doesn’t immediately cut through any enemy it touches, lightsabers end up feeling more like stun batons than anything else. Once the player works past this minor flaw, however, they’ll find a thoroughly exciting beat-’em-up/fighting game for them and their friends to enjoy.
The Witcher Game Series
The Witcher games are an interesting beast that manage to occupy the flip side of the coin which Revenge of The Sith exists on. It’s hard to say that the story of The Witcher games is any better or worse than the original novels – that’s up for the individual fan to decide. What can be said is that The Witcher holds a much larger and more impressive reputation as a series of video games than a series of books.
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The games have sold millions of more copies than its source material, and singlehandedly established CD Projekt Red as an international powerhouse in RPG game development. That’s an achievement that few other tie-in games have ever accomplished, and one that will continue to have lasting effects as The Witcher is adapted to even more forms of media, like TV.
I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream Game
The mid-twentieth century was a historical hotbed of influential and groundbreaking science fiction in all forms of media. Television saw its first interracial kiss in an episode of the original Star Trek. A small, unknown filmmaker by the name of George Lucas would introduce moviegoers to Star Wars, changing the film industry forever. Meanwhile, a legion of writers and poets would release enough works of sci-fi to fill multiple warehouses. Many of these stories would become popular in their own right, and many would only earn the public’s attention once they made their way to the silver screen. Still, even fewer found their way to the world of video games.
One of these authors, a man by the name of Harlan Ellison, dared to break that ground with the 1995 game adaptation of his 1967 story, I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream. Similar to his other works (many of which found their way into film and TV), the original story told an unthinkably dire tale. It focuses on the lives of earth’s five remaining humans as they are endlessly tortured (but never killed) by a maniacal AI which had previously exterminated the rest of life on earth.
While the original short story is considered a classic, the game one-ups its predecessor by expanding on its major characters. As the player controls each one in turn, they are carried through a disturbing analysis of each character’s psyche wherein every decision influences the story’s outcome. It’s a rare case where a video game adaptation actually has a deeper story than its source material, thanks in no small part to Harlan Ellison, who both helped write the game and skillfully voiced its sinister artificial antagonist.
Batman: Arkham Asylum
The Batman comic, Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth is so detached from the 2009 game by Rocksteady that it’s difficult to say that the latter is even an adaptation. Aside from the premise that the Joker has control of Arkham Asylum, and that Batman has to go stop him, the two barely resemble each other. One is a deeply symbolic tale diving into the near-insanity of Batman’s heroic psyche, while the other is a beat-’em-up/stealth game where Batman fights an army of ‘roided-up Bane clones. To say that the game falls short of its source’s intellectual elements is an understatement.
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Still, if someone were to be stranded on a desert island with only one of the two, the game is certainly the more preferable choice on their part. Even though its story fails to boast as many layers of symbolism, and certainly can’t keep up with its art style, the game just has more to offer in the long run. It’s an amazingly replayable title that’s packed with content while still telling a compelling story of its own. It makes the player feel as strong and smart as the caped crusader, something which no comic could ever accomplish in a million years. This is especially true when the actual source material does its best to disarm and emasculate Batman.
Aladdin Video Game
As much of a cardinal sin it is to claim that anything could be better than the original Aladdin movie, the Aladdin games get a pass for being two separate games on two separate consoles made by two different studios that both released their games at the same time, and still managed to divide gamers based on which one they thought was better. The Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis versions of Aladdin are one of 90’s gaming’s most hotly-debated conflicts, partially because Sega and Nintendo were embroiled in a much larger console war at the time, but also because both games were actually really good in their own right. To this day, the debate has yet to be officially settled amongst children of the 16-bit era.
Regardless of why a video game tie-in might be better than its source material, it’s good practice to remember the titles that bridge the gap between popular forms of media. Video game tie-ins have played a large part in making gaming as popular as it is today, and genres such as fighting games owe much of their success to the appeal of other properties like Marvel and DC. Gamers have even been blessed enough to see the roles get reversed as popular video game franchises receive their own movie and book adaptations. So, even though it may be extremely rare for a tie-in game to outdo its source material, they’re still important to both the industry and the culture.
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