In an attempt to find something worthwhile to fill the last two weeks of a free month on Xbox Live Gold, I went back to 2009’s Ghostbusters: The Video Game this past weekend. Despite the age-old truism that any video game based on a film (and often any other kind of non-sports license) will be crap, Ghostbusters was a lot of fun, mixing solid gameplay, an authentic feeling script, nice graphics and the films’ original actors (even if Bill Murray is mumbling through most of it). I still think it’s the closest thing we’ll get to a proper third Ghostbusters film. As I slime-tethered down ghosts online, it struck me how many surprisingly awesome licensed games have come out over the past few years.
Consider Batman. For decades we went without a decent Batman game. They were all just shallow roaming beat ‘em ups or before that confused, awkward platformers (or even, in the case of the Atari ST game based on Burton’s first Batman film, a string of overly difficult mini-games). Yet over the past few years we’ve been treated to two superb games in the shape of Arkham Asylum and Arkham City.
There’s Transformers as well. Though each of Michael Bay’s pieces of cinematic terrorism gets a suitably awful tie-in game, High Moon Studio have been filling the gaps with two excellent reinterpretations of the pre-Earth adventures of the proper Transformers with their Cybertron series.
So with those successes in mind, here are some ideas of awesome licensed games that should also exist.
GI Joe is the older, quieter, less successful brother of Transformers in a way. It did most of what Transformers did first (toys, comics, cartoon, animated movie) but never seemed to get as much attention for it. That probably explains why there’s been so few games based on it over the years and why those that do exist are awful.
If ever there was a license crying out for a shooter with a Battlefield 3 style multiplayer it’s GI Joe, with its cast of colourful, disparately specialised characters that covers everything from infantry men, mortar operators and tank commanders to EOD specialists, ninjas and psychological warfare experts.
Many shooters struggle to create characters that are interesting or endearing, either going for awful bantering pricks or over-tough bald space marines. The GI Joe license presents a huge range of lovable characters, whether you go for the cartoon or comic interpretations or something in-between.
GI Joe also comes with enemies practically custom built for video games, with the faceless hordes of Cobra. From Vipers to BATs to Snow Serpents to Crimson Guardsmen, Cobra has every possible strain of bullet-stopping minion you could want.
Retaliation, sequel to the awful Rise of Cobra (which did get an awful tie-in), was due out last year, but there’s no hint of a tie-in game for it, which is a shame, as the mysterious months-long delay would have been perfect for most games to get that last minute polish and refinement they so often need.
And while we’re talking about 80s toy licenses, here’s an obscure one that really needs a revival. You may have not heard of Visionaries. From the makers of GI Joe and Transformers, it had the ill-fortune to come out just before a crash in the toy market and collapse of Hasbro’s partnership with its animation and advertising partners, so was cancelled after only a year.
The distant planet Prysmos orbits a triple-star and is a technological utopia until a sudden shift in the suns’ alignment (just go with) renders all technology useless and heralds the return of magic. Society quickly dissolves into pseudo-medieval feudalism, with a chosen few, the heroic Spectral Knights and the villainous Darkling Lords, gaining magical powers from a wizard with ambiguous reasons.
Visionaries is perfect for a third person action game. The post-sci-fi and magical-medieval setting allows for a huge variety of enemies and interesting set-pieces. Each Visionary comes practically custom-built for a varied gameplay dynamic, with a unique melee weapon (including whips, axes, boomerangs, swords and maces); a individualised totem animal they can transform into, from lions and bears to giant molluscs and pseudo-pterodactyls; and most have a staff carrying limited use extra powers, such as creating an invulnerable shield, moving at lightspeed, decaying enemies and, erm, Wisdom and Knowledge (which could give tips and reveal secrets respectively, I suppose). Visionaries also came with a range of vehicles, which would allow for a nice change of pace here and there.
If it wasn’t for Visionaries being dead for over a quarter of a century, it would be an excellent choice for a video game.
Get on it, High Moon Studios!
Lets be honest – there hasn’t been a good X-Men game in forever. X-Men Legends (and its sequel) was ok, but quite shallow and repetitive, owing to its Gauntlet template. What the X-Men really need is a real time strategy.
I am a little biased in this because one of my favourite games of all time is Freedom Force, a real time strategy game from Irrational Games that’s a loving tribute to silver age comics. But it really sells the idea of super-heroes working as a squad based RTS. The X-Men seem especially suited to this (though really any half-decent super-team could work), given there are so many of the blighters hanging about, but also because being a remote, controlling, god-like director of the team is essentially a Professor Xavier simulator.
Each mission you pick a handful of the mutants and send them into the fray, micro-managing their movements and attacks, maybe earning some XP on the side to level them up, with some hidden collectables, like alternate costumes. With the disparate range of powers the X-Men possess, the best way to present them is in a detached manner, where you’re not having to personally control every swipe in a Wolverine berserker attack. Telling them to do it by remote is much more practical and allows for elaborate and interesting uses of powers that might break other types of game.
Get on it, Irrational Games!
We’ve probably missed the boat on this, as the Stargate franchise slowed to a halt a couple of years ago now with the premature end of Stargate: Universe. For years, while the original show SG-1 was airing, there was talk of a FPS based on the show appearing, then a MMO. In fact my quick research tells me that a Stargate FPS actually came out in 2010, which, even as a big fan of the series, I had no idea about. But it was an online subscription game set decades after the series (because that’s always a recipe for success) and the servers went down after a year.
An FPS is the way to go with Stargate, either SG-1 or spin-off Atlantis, a squad based one of course. As leader of a four-man SG team, you lead your team on a series of missions across aliens worlds fighting against the Goa’uld or the Wraith, with a variety of realistic military hardware and some of the series’ alien weapons, like zats and staff weapons. For best results, set during the show’s peak (SG-1 seasons 3-4 or 7), have SG-1 themselves as playable characters and get the original cast to voice them.
There was a bit of a revival of the comedy point and click adventure game a few years ago, spearheaded by Telltale’s Sam & Max and Monkey Island, but unfortunately it’s petered out a bit, with Telltale focusing on slightly more serious, action-filled titles like The Walking Dead. It’s clear that licenses are a boon to companies like Telltale, so what better to rekickstart the comedy point and click genre than a really good licensed game?
The immediate option that springs to mind is Psych, a comedy drama about a naturally gifted detective (and his pharmaceutical salesman best friend/sidekick) who pretends to be a psychic to help his local police department solve crimes. Frequently absurd and hilarious, Psych has a tone pliable enough to allow for all sorts of video game hijinks (including stylised graphics), while solving a mystery is always a good basis for a point and click.
Get on it, Telltale!