Good Licensed Games

One of the mantras I keep repeating in my current Willow LP is that it’s one of the only really good licensed games that have been produced. That’s actually a bit of an exaggeration, I suppose; there have been lots of games based on licensed properties that I’ve enjoyed. Furthermore, it seems like the further back I go in my gaming history, the more licensed games I’ve liked. Once you’re back into the NES era, for example, chances are as good that any given licensed game is as enjoyable as any other game you care to name.

I suppose part of that is related to games being a lot simpler twenty years ago. Used to be you could just slap a platformer together and call it gravy. It’s apparently not difficult to make a moderately fun platformer. Platforms, monsters, gold coins to collect — booya. Call it a game. My theory is that some companies just kept shelves of ready-made platformers with generic sprites which could be quickly and seamlessly replaced with sprites from whatever hot licensed they just happened to get.

Nowadays, though? Licensed games only really come out playable if they aren’t rushed to coincide with a movie release date. Did you play Marvel Ultimate Alliance? I did, and I don’t even read comic books. It’s not a great game, but it’s pretty fun. At least as fun as a mediocre 8-bit platformer anyway. And Batman: Arkham Asylum? That is a great game, made greater in that it wasn’t just a watered-down version of whatever the newest Batman movie was at the time.

And, of course, any game with LEGO in the title is guaranteed to be a blast.

I wonder if that might be the key, though. Willow is fun, but it’s absolutely nothing like the movie. The whole point of the movie was that Willow was the unlikeliest adventure hero this side of the Shire. A scene where Willow went head-to-head with General Kael, each armed with swords and facing off in a wide-open arena, would have been absolutely laughable. But how else could you have really translated the experience of playing Willow onto an NES cartridge? There aren’t buttons for determination and quick wits. You get a sword because that’s what games are — and the game didn’t suffer because of it. If there were Willow purists out there who refused to play the game because it of the liberties it took with its source material, nobody was paying attention to them. The rest of us were all busy playing our awesome new game.

It seems like game companies try to market their licensed games directly to fans of the license. Which, on its face, sounds like the most logical way to do things. But perhaps they’d find a larger audience if the games themselves were actually fun? Okay, so you have this game where, I dunno, My Little Pony flies through outer space blasting aliens. You lose the core pony fanbase, sure, but the rest of us like blasting aliens well enough.

This is all assuming, of course, that folks care about the playability and/or artistic merit of the games they’re producing. Could be I’m giving them way too much credit. I’m an optimist at heart.

6 comments to Good Licensed Games

  • Metal Man Master

    If that pony was Rainbow Dash, I could see My Little Pony: SHMUP Edition still selling to the fanbase. Of course, my own ideal game would be something more along the lines of a Pac-Man 2* style interactive cartoon, but I know that’d never happen.

    Usually I avoid licensed games like the plague, but I know there’s some good ones out there, especially the 8-bit stuff. I just wish it wasn’t such a crapshoot most of the time.

    * Of course, calling it Pac-Man 2 in the US was stupid.

  • LouisCyphre

    Yeah; maybe you should look into the pony fanbase a bit deeper.

    Or rather; don’t. I like being back to regular updates.

  • SpoonyBard

    The best licensed games are the ones that don’t feel chained to the flow of the story or sequence of events of what they’re licensed of, but are more focused on capturing the essence.

    DuckTales for the NES wasn’t really based off of any specific episodes, but it didn’t feel out of place as one of Scrooge’s wacky adventures.

    And of course there’s Batman Arkham Asylum, which wouldn’t have been half as great if it were just a beat-em-up following the plot of The Dark Knight or whatever.

    Look at the Aliens game coming up for DS, it looks pretty rad. But it’s not based directly off any of the movies, as far as I can see, and is more of a follow-up.

    As soon as the folks who crap out licensed games get it through their heads that they shouldn’t just be ‘The entire sequence of events of the movie/TV Show/Book/whatever, but VIDEO GAME!’ then the better off we’ll all be.

    • Metal Man Master

      This, definitely. The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay was all the better for doing its own thing instead of trying to retell the events of Pitch Black or the dreadful 2004 movie.

      Of course, licensed games don’t need being rushed to release next to a movie as their only reason to suck. My mom got both Neopets Puzzle Adventure and some Rapala fishing game for the Wii, and they both suck in their own special ways (bad loading times and inexplicable slowdown when there’s zero graphical quality for the former, being boring and pointless and inferior to Twilight Princess’s fishing minigame for the latter).

  • Knight

    The Wolverine: Origins game was a pretty good game, and the only one to really get playing as ol’ canucklehead right, especially his regeneration ability. I also love how violent and over-the-top it is. If leaping at a helicopter, punching through the canopy, grabbing the pilot by the collar, and decapitating him on the helicopter blades doesn’t sound awesome, then this isn’t the game for you.

  • Rosewood

    You mentioned the Lego games and I think it’s a similar approach to the 8-bit licenses: if the film has a handful of different settings and some fighting, they can use the Lego engine to make a game out of it. Reducing the stories to pantomime helps them stay focused on action, too.

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