Adaptations of well-known properties are fickle. Sometimes they capture the spirit of the source material while carving their own path. Sometimes they’re Batman V. Superman: Dawn Of Justice. In the space of video games, it’s ten times harder to honor the source material, as developers are not only trying to capture a very specific tone and style but are also often given the hurdle of rushing to meet a release date deadline. Thus, I am happy to offer these excellent licensed video games as exceptions to the rule.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: The Graphic Adventure
Everyone who’s ever watched an Indiana Jones film has wanted to be Indiana Jones. In 1989, to coincide with the release of the final film in the original trilogy, LucasArts made this wish possible, crafting a beautiful point-and-click adventure that hits the beats of the film while making it seem fresh. Bonus points for including some of that trademark LucasArts humor. For example, if you die in any of the trials to find the Holy Grail to save your dad, you return to the moment where your dad is shot. Indy’s glib response? “Back in a jiff!” Also, if you’re into this game and are fixing for an original Indy story (that simultaneously washes Crystal Skull out of your mouth), might I suggest The Fate of Atlantis?
You can put Batman into a generic side-scrolling brawler and, honestly, I’d be pretty happy. To earn the highest marks, however, you need to put the style and atmosphere of Batman into a challenging yet rewarding side-scrolling brawler. That, thank goodness, is exactly what happened with this awesome adaptation of Tim Burton’s (arguably superior) Bat-sequel. It is endlessly entertaining to jump-kick those big-headed biker jerks in the dang face, and it is endlessly rewarding to do so to intricately arranged music based on Danny Elfman’s wonderful score.
If I were to tell you that one of my all-time favorite childhood platforming games was based on the mascot for a soda, you might respond by saying, “What? A video game based on a soda mascot is good? What the heck’s wrong with you, you ding-dong?” And I wouldn’t blame you. But I would ask you to play this underrated, awesome game. Our hero attacks enemies by throwing soda bubbles (!), climbs and clings to walls in a proto-Nathan Drake energy (!!), and is just so gosh darn cool (!!!). Your move, Nesquik Bunny.
Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster Busts Loose!
They’re tiny, they’re tooney, their video game is groovy. In this side-scrolling platformer, the levels are segmented into different genres and styles, ranging from a western to a spooky haunted mansion. You also play fun mini-games in between each level to garner extra lives, based on the “Wheel O’ Games”. In short, Buster Busts Loose! is fun as a video game and as an extension of the anarchic sense of humor favored by the Tiny Toons. That’s all, folks!
While the 2003 film it’s based on may be widely derided (even though some insane writer listed it as one of the best blockbusters of the past 15 years), the Hulk video game offers addictively simple, fun, and satisfying smash-em-up action. Beyond these primal pleasures, the game has a surprisingly robust story. Rather than simply transplanting the narrative of Ang Lee’s film into a video game, it spins a new yarn taking place after the film’s events. Thus, it feels in the same universe as the film, rather than a lazy copy and paste.
Sure, this game features a fun storyline and lots of baddies to fight as your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, but when it comes down to it, all I want is the ability to swing around New York and have it feel real. This game pulls it off in spades, and it’s all thanks to a new set of physics and algorithms from developers that make the web-slinging soar. I know Sam Raimi’s films feature a lot of “Can I keep being a hero?” angst, but if being a hero is this fun in a video game, I never want to stop.
The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay
Vin Diesel seems like one of the most genuine and down-to-earth guys in Hollywood. He named his daughter Pauline after his late friend Paul Walker. He’s played Dungeons & Dragons his entire life, writing the foreword to the book 30 Years of Adventure: A Celebration of Dungeons & Dragons. And he founded (founded!) video game developer Tigon Studios to create games like The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay. The game, a first-person actioner with a sci-fi/horror twist, uses the standard plot of a prison escape as a foundation to introduce lots of intriguing characters with excellent voice acting throughout. Some critics even preferred the storyline of the game to the movie it’s inspired by.
Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II
Picking your favorite Star Wars video game is like picking your favorite lightsaber — there are so many, and they’re all great for different reasons. So why does Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II get my vote? For one, it expands on the previous installment by offering a third-person perspective. It also introduced the idea of “dark” and “light” choices and Force powers affecting the narrative outcome of the game, which is pretty radical for 1997. Plus, it introduced a multiplayer feature, and there ain’t nothing like getting a bunch of Jedi together to just wail on each other. (Oh, and for the record, Mace Windu has the best lightsaber, and I will not hear any counterarguments.)
Which licensed game works the best? Which ones did we miss? Go ahead and give me a follow on Twitter, but make sure you watch the SmithLGreg film it’s based on first. Otherwise you might be lost.