This list was hard to assemble, like mopey Avengers, or a jigsaw with all the pieces missing. There are actually a lot of good games based on films. Don’t get me wrong, though – there are a lot of bad ones too, no matter the video game / movie topography. And I mean a lot, and some of them are really bad – abysmal, in fact. Yet, among the ranks of the decent movie games can be found some absolute corkers, some of the best games full stop.
The likes of Alien: Isolation, The Godfather or even Ghostbusters: The Video Game didn’t make the cut, and that alone should put you in mind of just how outrageously good the five I’ve picked out are. Plus they’re all based on really good films.
Well, four of them are.
⚠ careful, dear reader… caution is advised for ahead there may be spoilers ⚠
#5. Spider-Man 2 (2004; PS2, Gamecube, Xbox)
Sam Raimi’s cinematic series may have come to an unforgivably terrible end with its third installment, but this first sequel packed in the perfect balance of light hearted fun, edge-of-seat action, and engaging drama. The film, Spider-Man 2, still stands out as one of the best superhero films of all time – and its game counterpart doesn’t t let the side down.
The first Spider-Man movie game was alright… not especially good or especially bad – not very especial at all. Tricky controls, terrible camera work and a half-hearted performance from Tobey Maguire made for a forgettable experience. The follow-up, however, not only fixed these issues but it also transformed the gameplay. In the previous game, action had been divided between indoor fights and (really crappy) sections of swinging from building to building, where if you touched the floor you died – like an extreme version of hot lava. Here the city is a sandbox, to be explored at will with a hugely improved web-slinging system that allows you to keep justice as only a man in a spandex onesie can.
As well as tackling the main plot (which largely follows the film), there are now a variety of increasingly repetitive side-quests to tackle, and altercations to be had with the likes of Mysterio and Black Cat. This game is arguably still the best Spider-Man title out there and while graphics and physics engines may have improved with time, it still holds up well, especially in terms of sheer fun. If you hate Spider-Man then this won’t be for you, but if you’re a Spider-Fan you’ll have a great time.
#4. The Lord of the Rings:The Return of the King (2003; PS2, Gamecube, Xbox, PC)
This game is based on the film directed by Peter Jackson that won enough Oscars to fill a wheelbarrow. Interestingly, due to a rather complicated set of rights agreements, it is not based on the book written by JRR Tolkien (Bonus fact: the title was forced on him and he hated it because he thought it gave away the ending. And he’s sort of right.) Does the game capture the epic majesty of the book (whether allowed to or not) or, indeed, the film itself? No. But it’s still a really, bloody good game.
By and large this is a hack and slash affair, where we play as our heroes, murdering their way across Middle Earth in order to throw a fashion accessory into a volcano achieving the defeat of a giant, floating, on-fire eye. It’s not a long game, however there is a lot of potential for replay fun because as you go you level up and can unlock new characters, which can be used to replay already conquered levels. The Sam and Frodo levels are quite tense, with the hobbits’ humble stature and lack of any real combat ability meaning you need to be a bit more clever, employ stealth, know when to run… Then you can go back and do them again as Aragorn and kick the living crap out of everyone. Not so scary now, are we Shelob? You spider nob.
The game is really well designed, both in its visuals and sound, the combat system is excellent, and it’s a thrill from start to finish. The best feature of the game, for me, was the ability to play in co-op, for the most part. There’s nothing as fun as getting a friend round and sharing the frustration of not getting to a mounted crossbow quite fast enough to blow up an elephant. Plus, when you’re done you can go back and do it all again as Merry and Pippin. Sorted.
#3. Aladdin (1993; Sega Mega Drive, or Genesis if you’re that way inclined)
The dark days were over! The coming of The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and (of course) Aladdin heralded a Disney Renaissance: better written stories with improved animation and the wonderful music of Alan Menken. Everyone has their own favourite Disney film, and it just so happens Aladdin is mine. A street-rat thief with a heart of gold, and immaculate teeth, falls in love with a princess, and the only way he can win her heart is with the help of a genie,so he finds a lamp and rubs one out. The songs are fantastic, and casting Robin Williams as The Genie was a master stroke. I have a lot of love for this film, but that isn’t why the game is here. It’s here because it’s actually really, really good.
Aladdin is one of my absolute favourite platforming games of all time, and I’m not surprised by this as Disney actually have a pretty good record with video games, such as The Jungle Book and Duck Tales – to mention but two. Disney worked closely with Virgin Interactive to ensure the animation was top-notch, and it worked – just watch the detail with which Aladdin’s pants flap about. Top-notch. You can also enjoy the film’s excellent soundtrack all over again, and over again and over again in glorious, looping 16-bit.
Aladdin is now armed with a sword (shit just got real) and apples to hurl at foes, an interesting choice for a character who only resorts to theft because he’s starving. I’m on to you, Aladdin. The platforming action is broken up nicely by side games featuring Abu, the monkey, and The Genie – as well as the game’s best level, where you pilot the Flying Carpet out of the cave of wonders as it melts to lava around you. Yeah. The game looks great, sounds great and plays great. Nice one, Disney.
#2. GoldenEye (1997; Nintendo 64)
If seeing the severed faces of various popular Bond characters poorly wrapped around cuboids is your idea of a good time, then boy howdy, have I got the game for you! Yes it’s the game so good you won’t even care how bad it looks by today’s standards, you’ll just want to keep on playing it anyway: GoldenEye. Many people, maybe even most people. would have put this in the number one spot – and I would very much see their point, but I’ll justify my top pick below. First, let us bask awhile longer in one of the best first person shooters of all time.
There is a story mode, which pretty much follows the film. You play as James Bond, a misogynistic Time Lord in his fifth, and most Irish, regeneration. Bond is also the world’s worst spy, as most people already know who he is, and he regularly announces his name to those who don’t. He also drives a tank through Moscow in this one, racking up millions of roubles-worth of damage, and attracting the entire city’s attention, presumably. Espionage! The basic aim here is to stop the villain, Sean Bean, from Beaning about with some sort of death satellite. It’s actuality a very fun film, and that comes across really well in the excellent single-player campaign. But as great as the campaign is, it isn’t the reason why the game’s popularity still endures today. It isn’t the reason why you ran over to your friend’s house after school. No, the game’s crowning glory was its multiplayer mode.
As well as playing as the cast of GoldenEye itself, you could also unlock the likes of Baron Samedi, Mayday, Jaws (not the shark) and Oddjob – who is far shorter than he appears in Goldfinger for some reason, which makes him annoyingly harder to shoot. And there was always someone who picked him. Every group of friends had an Oddjobber. Was it you? I bet it was. I bet you were always Blanka in Street Fighter too, weren’t you? And Eddie in Tekken. Shame. Shaaaame. But even with Oddjob in the mix, the game is just incredible fun, with various types of death match that can be played in teams or as a free for all. This game is a landmark point in console FPS, leaving a real legacy behind it. Some of the development team went on to work on Perfect Dark, and others on Timesplitters, two more of the best console FPS games ever. And even though I made passing mockery of the graphics earlier – at the time they were fantastic. This truly is the best game about the worst spy.
*Honourable Mention: Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker (1990; Sega Mega Drive)
Before we get to the number one, I feel like something just has to be said about Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker. I had toyed with the idea of this being a dishonourable mention, a ‘so bad it’s good’ angle – but the game in and of itself isn’t bad. It’s well-animated and the gameplay was as good as it got for a side-scrolling beat-em-up, plus the game’s music takes a lot from Thriller, one of the best albums ever made, so that’s all golden. The thing that doesn’t add up here, that leaves me staring in disbelief, is the core concept and story.
The film is an anthology, made up of stories largely based around glorified music videos from the album Bad. The levels are certainly designed around locations that MJ visits in the film, but has its own story. You play as the King of Pop himself, who must rescue a lot of kidnapped children and defeat Mr. Big. Yes, that’s right, a game where Michael Jackson collects children. Now, I know this is a very well-trod path through an orchard full of low-hanging fruit… but seriously? What were they thinking? Also, because of one of MJ’s special moves, and a quirk in the animation, you can make Jacko thrust his crotch into a child’s face. There aren’t many other games that can offer that. Thankfully.
The game is utterly bizarre, yet I’m drawn to it – not so much as a moth to a flame, but perhaps more like a fly to a dead and decomposing peacock. You can do dance moves (including the Moonwalk itself) and eventually start producing magic which he can use to take down enemies and slide down banisters. It is a fun but baffling experience, and I think the whole thing is best summed up by the following true statement: If you rescue the right child, you can then catch a falling comet which allows Michael Jackson to become a robot for a while – and at the end of the game Mr Big tries to escape into space, but Michael Jackson gives pursuit, not by flying a spaceship… but by turning into one. Cha’mone!
#1. Lego Star Wars: The Video Game (2005; PS2, Xbox, PC, Gamecube)
In 1999, George Lucas shat Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace out of his arse-mind. It was a bad film. Not because of Jar Jar Binks (though he didn’t help) or the midichlorians (ugh), and not because the prequels were an inherently bad idea – weighed down by the public’s impossible expectation. What made Menace such a mess was terrible dialogue, overuse of green-screen, glaring inconsistencies in the canon, poor direction, odd (and at times poor) casting… essentially letting George Lucas get his own way. I think that the original Star Wars trilogy was so good because it was a big collaborative effort – lots of innovative minds working together, and George Lucas hadn’t yet become GEORGE LUCAS. People weren’t afraid to argue with him, and he took on board more creative talent including other directors and writers as the trilogy went forward. The prequel trilogy reeks of one blinkered man’s inability to write and direct, and nobody dared tell him it was shit. And as the prequel trilogy went forward it added Hayden Christensen, and he is just the worst.
If you can’t tell, I really don’t like Star Wars Episodes I-III – but apparently there is one way to fix that. Turn it into a video game where everything is Lego. I think it shows very clearly how highly I rate this game, given can overcome my venomous bile and secure top spot. It’s not a challenging affair, and not should it be – it’s aimed squarely at children, but it is fun. A lot of fun. Enough fun to power a Death Star – one that fires rainbows, and when destroyed releases confetti and sweets, like a big, ol space piñata. There are lots of different aspects to the gameplay, with platforming, puzzle-solving, flying spaceships, and punching everyone and everything in your endless quest for studs (effectively coins). Be warned, though, fun as this children’s game is – perfecting it is no mean feat. The only punishment for dying is losing a chunk of your studs, but to truly complete a level you need to finish it with enough studs in the bank. Once a level has been finished in Story Mode you can then revisit it in Free Play, which means you can play again as any combination of characters you have unlocked – and you’re going to have to if you want to find all the collectibles. The game can be totally completed, but it’s a bit of a grind. Luckily it’s still a very fun grind.
The game isn’t without its problems, such as an occasionally poorly-placed camera, some puzzles being a bit fiddly, and Jar Jar Binks being in the game – but I’m picking nits. It still looks great, even ten years on (chiefly because everything looks like Lego) and your playing experience is hugely enhanced by the presence of John Williams’ excellent score (Duel of the Fates is easily the best thing about these films). As an added bonus the films’ stories are told in (actually quite funny) Mr Bean-esque vignette cut scenes, and unsurprisingly the acting is better when it’s done by computer-generated bricks than by Hayden Christensen. TT Games have managed to turn three films I hate into one game I love, and who in their right mind wouldn’t love to make Darth Vader build Lego using the force?