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
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
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.
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
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
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