The new Mad Max movie has been getting more approval than those of us sick of endless reboots and remakes predicted, so now the question becomes whether the upcoming tie-in game from the wonderful folk who made Just Cause 2 will be a similarly pleasant surprise. It’s an old observation that games based on movies have a chequered past to say the least, but let’s take this opportunity to reflect on some of the tie-in games that managed to transcend the usually well-deserved stigma against them and become unexpected minor gems.
Peter Jackson’s King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie
It’s hard to imagine anybody got too excited at the announcement of a first-person shooter based on the second (yes, second) remake of the iconic monkey movie, especially given the Tesco Everyday Value-esque title somebody slapped on it, but the project turned out to be arguably more memorable than the film it was meant to promote. There are scenes of frantic action as you fend off dinosaurs with flaming spears, along with tenser moments where you need to hide from some fresh horror trying to ruin your day, and the titular ape also manages to be a genuine presence as he stalks you through the jungle and generally lives up to his legend.
Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga
Star Wars and Lego are a match made in Corporate Heaven, but when the first of Traveller’s Tales’ now abundant Lego titles was announced, it was easy to assume it wouldn’t appeal to older fans of either AT-ATs or expensive plastic bricks. Then the end product wound up being wonderful, offering some pleasant platforming and slapstick pretty much anyone could appreciate. The only penalty for death is loss of studs, which doesn’t stop you finishing a level but does prevent you unlocking stuff, so a casual audience could just nip through without a worry while someone determined to access the dizzying amount of extra content would have the added challenge of dying as little as possible. Most of the 13.8 billion Lego games are pretty similar in format these days, but these early ones don’t charge you extra to play as Catwoman.
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
What would you say Spider-Man is known for? Crawling on walls and swinging on webs, right? Well, it wasn’t until 2004 any of the dozens of licensed Spidey games figured out this basic detail, and even then it was at the expense of pretty much every other aspect of the product. While the combat might be janky and the missions generally tedious, the freedom and style with which you can zip around the city does a tremendous job of putting you in Peter Parker’s sticky shoes and the best fun to be had revolves around beating the blink-and-you’ll-miss-the-jump time challenges littered throughout the city. Delivering pizzas as Spider-Man is a magical feeling none of his later games have managed to capture.
Batman: Arkham Asylum
Not so much an adaptation of a movie as just a game whose existence is probably owed in part to a recent film, Arkham Asylum still stunned many with its quality given that the Nolan saga’s popularity at the time gave Warner Bros free reign to churn out any old crap. Instead we were treated to a brutal brawler where the challenge wasn’t about memorising elaborate combos, but timing strikes between counters and dodges to keep a prolong a chain of balletic violence and ideally floor a roomful of goons without so much as a scruff on your chiselled Bat-chin. The option to pick your targets off stealthily with gadgets is also surprisingly well-done. How Rocksteady managed to take Batman and add a Tony Hawk-style combo system without creating something hideous is a question for the ages.
Toy Story 2: Buzz Lightyear to the Rescue
Whoever could’ve guessed a cartoon about toys might spawn a few bits of merchandise? Despite taking the safe route and adding to the legion of platform games coming out at the time, Buzz Lightyear to the Rescue mixes things up by giving players full access to Star Command’s finest plastic gadgets and taking some liberties with the film’s plot to provide varied levels, addicting optional challenges and some remarkably decent bosses. It’s not as staggeringly hard as my ten-year-old self found it to be, but it’s still a blast to fly through in an afternoon. Or should that be fall-with-style through?