Are Movie Licensed Games Inherently Bad?

Yes and no is the short answer. The long answer is longer and this takes more time to write and read. We won’t be considering anything based on sport licenses, just movie licenses. It means I can do more articles on the other types and constantly look like I have ideas for what to write. And that’s why it’s tricky. There are so many over the years, it’s impossible to really say that everything is bad from a particular era. 

The general notion is that licensed games are bad, and a lot of this comes from the fact most are developed on an incredibly short deadline with a small budget to get them out onto store shelves in time to hit the hype of the movie to maximise sales. Another problem that comes with these types of games is that, especially in the 8 and 16-bit era, you have a limited amount of scope to which you can create something within the hardware limitations. 

Two of the biggest culprits for the sheer crap that got released during the 1980s and early 90s was Ocean Software here in Europe and LJN in North America. I have already written an opinion piece on the former and I’m sure one on the latter will happen soon. The interesting thing about how Ocean apparently went about gaining licenses was to read the script of the movie beforehand. If that’s true, you got to wonder how the games themselves steered so far away from what the movies themselves were about. Again, deadlines and budgets likely come into play. 

Of course these aren’t the only publishers releasing crap movie based games during this period. A lot were also released through smaller companies due to the relatively cheap costs in getting the licenses at the time. Though one game that nearly was to be a movie license was Flashback. It wasn’t going to be based on any of The Godfather films, it was going to be more as Flashback turned out which is why US Gold refused the idea to let the license be used. And it’s better for it, though obviously we don’t know how the game would have turned out because it doesn’t exist in any form. 

One could argue there was some great early to mid 90s licensed games, which came in the form of the Sega Master System and Mega Drive titles based on Mickey Mouse, all of which are developed by Sega. Though the exception would be Fantasia which led to Sega loosing the license to do any more games and Disney actively taking a bigger part in all future games. And that’s why we got great games such as Mickey Mania. You then also get titles like Aladdin, The Lion King and Jungle Book which are incredibly difficult but generally seem to be looked back on as being decent games. Though there is some arguments as to whether Aladdin on the SNES or Mega Drive are the better game. 

Perhaps the game to really break out and show that licenses can be used to create really good games is 007: Goldeneye on the N64. It was truly massive in terms of not just success but how it pushed forward FPS games on consoles but also licensed games in general. Today a lot say it plays like crap but I managed to pick it up for the first time in 20 odd years and even using the official N64 controller, got back into playing no problem within 10 to 15 minutes. So I personally think it plays just as well. But everyone is different. Hopefully IO Interactive can pull off something amazing with their upcoming 007 game, especially using what they have learned from the Hitman series. 

Now, Star Wars is just insane how many games they’ve released over the years and it’s just too big to work out to get your head around. But most seem to fall into the bad to average category though it has seen some pretty decent titles in more recent times. The original Star Wars Battlefront that released on both PS2 and Xbox are generally great, the EA versions are… well we will skip over those. But Jedi Fallen Order and the follow up Jedi Survivor are certainly much higher quality, which is probably because it’s nothing to do with… oh wait. They are EA. 

Indiana Jones is another franchise to see a fair amount of games released, though the best seem to be the point and click adventures of The Last Crusade and the Fate of Atlantis which is a wholly original title. We need to see how Bethesda’s upcoming game is as to whether there’ll be a good none LucasArt point and click game in this franchise. I hope they manage to pull it off. 

When you look at what generally works with anything licensed, and I’m speaking of more modern games than those that came out during the 8 and 16-bit generations, it seems that if you want to make the most out of a license, the best thing to do is not try and base it on a movie itself. Original ideas seem to have a far better chance of being good. There are obviously exceptions to this rule. The Alien franchise has a real troubled history when it comes to games, and most are original ideas. Alien 3 from Acclaim was… Well, it was horrific. And let’s not even consider talking about Aliens: Colonial Marines. You could spend way too much time just looking at the whole legal side of that fiasco before you make a start on how fucking putrid that game was. But you do get some great gems in the mix too. Alien Isolation is a great example of how to do a game based on the Alien license. Again, the best Star Wars games are all those that are not based on any film but totally original. Same can be said for the best of the two point and click Indians Jones game. 

I was going to talk about two of the newest Alien licensed games – Aliens: Fireteam Elite and Aliens: Dark Descent, and while I do know the reviews seem to be pretty good for both, I need to see and at least play them to some degree before I can say whether they are good or not. But I’m sure I’ll do that at a later date. It gives me more reasons to create random articles. 

If you take away the deadlines and tight budget that comes when trying to crap out any old game based on an upcoming movie, and instead focus on making something wholly original, assuming you aren’t being really shady with the money you get given. And assuming you actually are talented as a developer, you have a far higher chance of releasing something good. And that means it’ll more likely sell. Which is more than I can say for that Xbox 360/PS3 Rambo game. Or that Terminator game that launched last generation. Or that forthcoming RoboCop game.

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