The holiday season is fast approaching and everyone of a certain age will have fond memories of Christmas day when your grandmother hands you that rectangular package wrapped meticulously with a bow. You give it a shake and the rattle of the cartridge or disk (or in the very old school cassette) inside gets you excited for what treasure you may have been given. As you tear away the wrapping giggling in glee your face falls that of sad shell shocked depression as she says “Oh I know how much you like the funny pages and thought this Dick Tracy game would be something you’d enjoy!” Oh Granny, where to start?!
Today we’re going to discuss some of the most infamous licensed video games of all time and hopefully you can point your family towards this to serve as a lesson in how to not give lumps of coal when they meant to give a chunk of gold.
So, let’s say you’re 20th Century Fox and you’ve got a weird cult hit featuring super sexualized gender bending cross dressers in a weird Adam’s Family-esque setting. Your first thought? Let’s make a computer game that has very little to do with the source material other than its name! Not the first licensed game but possibly one of the weirdest released in 1985 by CRL Group PLC for the Commodore 64, Commodore 128, ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC. (Didn’t these old developers have the most awesome names?) That's right... this bad boy came on a cassette!
The game featured you playing as Brad or Janette, depending on who you selected the opposite member would be frozen using the Medusa machine. You had to get all the pieces and put them back together before the timer ran out.
You had a variety of challenges including the various house members running in to you and taking your stuff whilst forcing you to do the Time Warp or Rif-raf shooting you with a laser. If you were really not careful Eddie could defrost and run you over with his motorcycle but basically it was a timed run to get all the pieces of the puzzle to save your bride or groom to be and get the heck out of that freaky place. Playing this on my friend’s Commodore 64 it made no sense what so ever (especially since we were about 5 or 6 years away from even thinking about sneaking in a viewing of the movie).
I always liked this movie, I know a lot of people don’t but there was something charming about it in an odd 90s screwed up kind of way. I was watching Moonlighting far too young so Bruce Willis during this era was bizarrely in this soft spot for me emotionally.
Produced by Ocean Software for the Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Game Boy, NES, and ZX Spectrum they are a kind of hit and miss cheapo developing company that children of the 90s will be familiar with some of their other work including The Addams Family video games, the Cool World video game, Darkman, Batman and many many more.
The thing with the Hudson Hawk video game is it just made no sense! While the graphics were awesome in that early 90s kind of cartoony way, the music on everything but the NES and Gameboy was wicked and okay, the basic premise was the same you were trying to get the Da Vinci artifacts and breaking in to places but you were doing things like fighting a rhinoceros in the Vatican library or killer kangaroos! This could have all been made up for with one scene with Sandra Bernhard and that Snap! song.
The Superman and Batman cartoons of the early 90s were possibly the best adaptations of comic books of all time. You heard me, better than Burton… better than Snyder… better than Nolan even better than *gasp* Whedon? Yes, that’s right, the Batman, Superman and subsequently Justice League cartoons captured the spirit, humor and depth of those characters better than anything before or since.
So when they made a video game based on the Superman Animated Series you’d think I’d be all over that! Fortunately for me I was not a Nintendo boy or I’d have been drinking deep of the rageahol. Created by Titus software in 1999 for the N64 and involves the voice actors from the cartoon. Luthor has captured and hidden all of Superman’s friends around a “virtual Metropolis”. Why virtual? It was 1999 everything was virtual, that was the hip thing in 1999. VR all the way.
The odd decision to make it primarily a puzzle type game with some combat but a lot of mazes and flying through rings was just bizarre, you have the strongest character in the DC universe and you trap him in a “virtual” world where there’s “Kyrptonite Fog” sapping his powers… if it’s a virtual world how can this sap his powers? We don’t stop for sense though, we just go on. Occasionally there’s fighting bits but this didn’t save the title from being considered one of (if not the) worst game of all time. Sales were adequate but the critics and fans lambasted it.
You read that right, they made a video game of a movie of a video game… Let that sink in for a minute. Street Fighter, who doesn’t know Street Fighter? What, you spend the last 30 years under a rock? Now, who isn’t trying to blot the terrible wrong that was wrought upon the world with the Jean Claude Van Damme film adaptation Street Fighter. The film was tragically the last film made by Raul Julia who will always be my Gomez.
Released by Capcom and Acclaim for the Sega Saturn and Playstation in 1995 this game attempted to use the same kind of technology used by Mortal Combat to record the movement of actors and turn it in the movement of onscreen characters. The gameplay of Super Streetfighter II with the addition of “Super Special Moves” instead of the regular animations the captured likeness of the cast similar to the arcade version of the title (of course Capcom would make an arcade game of it). There’s something just disturbing about these early motion captured performances especially Blanka’s bite attack.
With four modes of play including a “Story mode” which followed the plot of the movie (there was a plot?!) the game was a basic fighting game and while not terrible it was certainly not good and had complaints of slow down and technical issues.
What list would be complete without E.T., Microsoft recently released their quite touching documentary on the excavation of the New Mexico landfill containing these cartridges called Atari: Game Over (which is free if you are an Xbox Live subscriber) it’s actually quite sad.
The game is steeped in myth and legend, for years it was never even acknowledged that the games were dumped in the landfill with Atari outright denying it happened but this game was truly a symptom of a larger issue in the industry at the time. Almost a prototype for the later Dot Com bust of the 2000s the Video Game industry was an example of an industry that went from nothing to market saturation in a very short period of time and Atari being the heart of that. This caused the mid-80s collapse of the video game industry which didn’t really recover until the NES was released in North America (which only happened because a lot of people took a lot of risks on their own time and dime and could easily have never happened at all but that’s a story unto itself).
When this game came out Atari was at the top of its game and had some of the greatest talent in the industry working for it (Warshaw the creator being one of them). E.T. was one of the biggest films of the time and Warner (who owned Atari) wanted Spielberg on contract so when the time came to make the video game they threw a LOT of money (some say 22 million in 1982 dollars) in to getting the license to get in to Spielberg’s good books. Spielberg had creative sign off so Warshaw was given 5 weeks to create a game, five weeks to do something that normally took at that time five months.
Every title he had made up to that point had been gold so if anyone could do it, Warshaw would be the person to get it done. Unfortunately everyone has their limit. The idea behind the game was actually pretty elaborate, a three dimensional world where you had multiple opponents coming after you with different agendas. Unfortunately this was 1982 on an Atari 2600 and coded in less than a month and a half. What we got was the basic premise but very little communication to let you know the game systems. If you DID know the game systems the game was playable and made passible sense but was still not very fun. Certainly not the WORST video game of all time, but not the greatest either. Given some more time and maybe a few hours of sleep and QA to show there was really no communication of the games systems at play here this could have been a good game unfortunately this was the coke addled booze fueled Atari of the 80s and that didn’t happen.