Nostalgia vs Movie Tie-Ins

Movie tie-ins used to be good.  A bold statement maybe, and yes, it may seem hard to believe but it is actually fact.  Especially when you consider the recent crop of ill-conceived, turgid cash-ins that are rushed through development in the games industry today.

Taking the Commodore 64 platform as an example, cast your mind back to late 1989.  The movie tie-in phenomenon was in its relative infancy but Tim Burton's take on the Batman universe was making the transition, thanks to Ocean Software, from silver screen to small screen video gaming.  Here was a game that faithfully stuck to the plot of the movie, from chasing down Jack Napier in the Axis Chemical Plant, to foiling the Joker's lethal Smilex cosmetics plot and then the final showdown with the Clown Prince of Crime himself atop the Gotham City Cathedral. Intersperse this with Batmobile driving and Batwing flying and we were presented with an interactive experience which made scenes from the movie playable, and just as importantly, still memorable more than twenty years later.

To pack in a good mix of different game types was a success in itself.  The chemical plant level was the gaming bread-and-butter sideways scrolling platformer complete with Batarangs and a grappling hook to get you to those hard to reach places.  Although difficult at first, after a healthy dose of perseverance there was an immense feeling of achievement when you finally caught sight of Jack Napier shortly before sending him to an early acid bath.  Similarly, reaching the top of the Cathedral in the games other platforming level invoked a real sense of accomplishment.  The Batmobile level had you negotiating the streets of Gotham, turning corners at high-speed with the help of a grappling hook.  Similar to the Smilex balloon-catching Batwing flight, these were 2D sideways scrolling levels but with depth and maneuverability.

And then there was the puzzle element thrown in where Batman has to find out the correct combination of cosmetics and household products to stop the Joker's Smilex plot.

Flash-forward two decades and we have Transformers: The Game.  Here we have gameplay as deep as a dried up puddle and where a 20-foot tall Optimus Prime can't step over a kerb without having to jump.  One nil to yesteryear.

Another movie tie-in masterclass came in the form of The Untouchables which was, as with Batman, developed by Ocean.  The game began with a similar platforming level to Batman, this time the object being to collect evidence of Al Capone's nefarious underworld dealings.

The game really came into its own from level two which sees your character prone, with a sniper rifle, taking out gangsters transporting prohibited alcohol around the city. This was closely followed by the alleyways level where we saw possibly one of the first examples of a cover mechanic in action as you pop off shots at gangsters complete with period 1930's vehicles, before ducking back into cover to reload. This was then rounded off by an incredibly tense one-shot attempt at rescuing the life of the book-keeper who has been taken hostage. The grand finale to the game was the rooftop shootout with Frank Nitti which resulted in a 3D end-sequence through the eyes of Nitti as he plummets to a bloody death on the roof of a parked car in the street far below.

Graphically superb and with gameplay mechanics way ahead of its time, this game really brought some of the movies finest moments to life as an interactive experience.  Alas, the Capone with baseball bat scene wasn't included.

Twenty years later we get the drab Superman Returns. Classed as a tie-in, this effort was so far removed from the plot of the film you may as well be controlling a flying turd rather than the Man of Steel. Two nil to Ocean Software.

Batman and The Untouchables are just two examples of games that really caught the spirit of the movies they were related to.  Perhaps todays designers and publishers should take note and attempt to coax something a little more cutting edge out of their movie game licences.  In all fairness, the transfer from movie to game is inherently difficult and there have been signs of recent improvement, but in the Eighties and early Nineties they really seemed to get it spot on in successfully bringing Hollywood blockbusters to an emerging legion of gamers.

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