Movies to Videogames Done Right

Here we are, another summer filled with ho-hum movie to game translations, from the uninspired gameplay of Shrek 3 to the mediocrity of Surf's Up to the lackluster Final Four title. As any gamer who's been playing since the 80's knows, most games based on movies are pretty bad, running the gamut from "ok" to "licensed schlock".

However, throughout the years, a precious few have stood out from the pack, showing that good gameplay and a sense of atmosphere can do wonders with the right license. Developers today should take note - these titles offer important lessons in constructing successful movie to game translations. Now sit back and grab a tub of popcorn, because Gamer's Intuition is taking a look back at the few, the proud - the good movie games.

(Virgin Interactive - Sega Genesis - 1992)

In the early 90's, game systems were swamped with me-too platformers hoping to cash in on the popularity of Mario and Sonic - and many of these titles were (surprise!) also licensed properties from films, cartoons, comic books, etc. Aladdin stands out as one of the few gems of the era, featuring jaw-dropping animation, solid platforming and combat, and even cool music. Aladdin was the product of a true collaboration - Disney animators actually worked on the game, using Virgin's "Digicel" process, ensuring some of the best and most fluid animation ever before seen in a videogame. And the scimitar-enhanced gameplay made the super-NES version (also a solid title) pale in comparison. Read our review.

The Lesson: actually working with the creative forces behind a film works wonders for the game version.

Goldeneye 007
(Rare - Nintendo 64 - 1997)

Back in 1997, just before Goldeneye's release, I remember hearing a lot of skepticism about James Bond's N64 adventure. "It's just a Doom-Clone" "It's coming out two years after the movie" It's going to suck", etc. Then it came out. Goldeneye single-handedly revolutionized the first person shooter genre, adding stealth gameplay to the run and gun mechanics of the "doom genre", and it did so with style - with great visuals and music. It also created a new wave of excitement for the N64 and it's status as a "party machine" with its fantastic multiplayer modes.

The Lesson: Awesome film + taking the time to develop innovative, polished gameplay = instant success.

Star Wars: Knights of The Old Republic
(BioWare - Xbox - 2003)

The games based on the Star Wars franchise have been fairly hit or miss. There are some excellent titles, like The Rogue Squadron series, the Lego Star Wars games and even Podracer. On the other hand, there are several stinkers like Super Bombad Racing and Masters of Teras Kasi.

Standing above them all is KOTOR, a groundbreaking RPG developed by BioWare. KOTOR was truly revolutionary - an epic, polished, galaxy-spanning RPG complete with moral branches (choosing to do good or evil vastly affects the gameplay and storyline), and it featured one of the most atmospheric, rich gameworlds ever seen. Read our review.

The Lesson: You don't need to follow a film's plot to have an engaging game narrative - getting the "feel" is more important. KOTOR nailed the Star Wars theme perfectly, even though it was set thousands of years before the movies.

The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay
(Starbreeze - Xbox - 2004)

Here we have an example of a game that actually surpasses the movie in just about every way. Riddick offered up branching "sandbox" gameplay within a vast, sprawling world, and every gameplay mechanic from conversation to combat to stealth was well done.

It was actually something of a surprise hit at the time (no one expected the game from the overblown sci-fi flick to be any good) - and Starbreeze's first big step onto American consoles. Read our review.

The Lesson: Building fantastic gameplay and an immense world to play in would make a game about cleaning lint fun. This goes doubly for a story involving an escape from the galaxy's most notoriously tough maximum-security prison.

King Kong (Xbox 360 version)
(Ubisoft - multiplatform - 2005)

Despite the over-long official title (Peter Jackson's King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie) King Kong was an early action-adventure winner at the Xbox 360 launch. Based on the popular film featuring giant ape, the game's levels alternated between the human characters and playing as Kong himself fighting fearsome beasts on Skull Island.

It featured solid action-oriented gameplay and fantastic "next-gen" graphics, and was actually considered one of the best titles available at the 360 launch.

The Lesson: Good timing (being available at launch) coupled with a solid, pretty game spells success.

So what did we learn here today? Besides the obvious mantra of "gameplay comes first", it seems that the most successful games based on other properties do something extra that makes all the difference in the world: they demonstrate an understanding of what made the movie/cartoon/etc. so awesome. Goldeneye lets you get into the mind of a superspy, KOTOR featured an entire Jedi-flavored world to explore, and so on. These titles demonstrated not only good, solid gameplay, but also a fundamental understanding of how to translate something cool from the movie into something cool a player can experience for herself. It's no easy feat, but hey, developers, if you're listening - these games prove that it can be done.