Licensed games have always had a bad rap. Stereotyped as soulless merchandise rushed out to meet the film’s release date, movie tie-in videogames have often earned their infamy. Among a sea of movie-based video games, it’s hard to spot the islands of gold that adorn it. But there are islands of gold.
Here, we list the top ten movie actually good tie-in videogames. Whatever your general opinion of movie tie-ins, you can rest assured these gems are worth your time. So, turn off the movies and boot up the games console – it’s movie tie-in game time.
10) Lego Star Wars (PlayStation 2, GameCube, Windows, OS X, GameBoy Advance, 2005)
Any one of Traveller’s Tales’ seemingly endless stream of Lego movie adaptations could have graced this list, but we decided to go with the game that started it all – Lego Star Wars. The game is an achievement because it takes what is a boring premise on paper and makes it great. It combines the Star Wars franchise with Lego’s slapstick, goofy kid-friendly humor, adding some simplistic but fun gameplay to the mix to create what is easily one of the best videogame movie tie-ins ever.
Because of the widespread appeal of the Lego and Star Wars properties, Lego Star Wars manages to concoct an unlikely potion that pleases everyone. Even the most mature adult will find it hard to suppress a smile once faced with the game’s charm and humor alongside its accessible and fun gameplay. Once you’ve seen a Lego Yoda, you’ve pretty much seen it all.
9) The Lion King (Sega Genesis/MegaDrive/SNES, 1994)
Alongside Disney’s Aladdin, The Lion King is oft-heralded as one of the finest videogame movie adaptations in the console space. The fact that the game was re-released on modern consoles alongside its aforementioned Disney playmate speaks greatly about this. However, The Lion King isn’t merely remembered for being a great movie tie-in game – it’s also remembered for being damn hard.
This is by no means a downside since many gamers who relish “the old days” criticize modern games for being far too easy. And whatever your stance on the game’s difficulty level, it’s hard to deny that it possesses some of the finest visuals on both the SNES and Genesis. Like Genesis Aladdin before it, TLK utilizes the talents of Disney artists and animators, making the game feel like a playable version of the film. Only a version of the film in which Simba dies a lot.
The Lion King is great because not only does it successfully recreate the charm of its source material, but it offers a unique challenge presented through its commendable level design. And look, if it gets too hard for you, the 2019 re-releases give you the ability to rewind time at any point in a level. So now, there’s really no excuse to neglect this beautiful movie tie-in game of one of the most heart-wrenching Disney films of all time.
8) The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age (PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube 2004)
“The Lord of the Rings”, you cry, “Doesn’t The Third Age count as a book adaptation?” Well, hypothetical questioner – no. The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age is strictly a movie tie-in to Peter Jackson’s movie trilogy – the developers had the rights to the movies, not the books. Yet, despite being limited to Jackson’s interpretation of Middle-Earth, the devs did something remarkably creative with The Third Age – they cast the players as new, original characters who follow the movie fellowship’s trail. While the movie’s iconic heroes even guest-star, they are never the sole focus of the narrative.
In doing this, the devs prevent The Third Age from becoming another by-the-book movie adaptation and allow the player to feel like a tourist of Middle-Earth. The game’s exploration isn’t groundbreaking but the visuals are beautifully faithful to the films and while your cast of characters (or Discount Fellowship) are hardly the most interesting videogame cast, they do genuinely feel like they belong in Jackson’s Middle-Earth.
What’s more, the turn-based RPG system is a fun tribute to classic JRPGs, encouraging you to combine the unique abilities of each of your party members to overcome your enemies. As far as videogames go, The Third Age isn’t going to top best all-time lists – however, for a movie tie-in videogame, it’s a creative effort that tries to do something a little different with its license.
7) Die Hard Trilogy (PSOne, Windows, Sega Saturn, 1996)
John McClane actor Bruce Willis may not be present in this 1996 videogame adaptation of the first three Die Hard movies – but a variety of gameplay modes sure are. And honestly, that’s what makes Die Hard Trilogy a fantastic game – aside from the film’s iconic McClane one-liners being wonderfully sprinkled throughout – it’s got variety and therefore, it’s not a game that easily bores you.
Die Hard 1 pits you in a third-person shooter, where you climb the floors of Nakatomi Plaza, gunning down goons and rescuing hostages as you go. Die Harder is a classic on-the-rails shooter that reminds one of the Arcade smash-hit franchise Time Crisis. Die Hard with a Vengeance has you ride a car through the city and defuse bombs before they go off.
You could take away the Die Hard brand and this compilation would still be awesome. But let’s be honest – hearing John McClane yell “Happy Trails!” as you single-handedly gun down terrorists and save hostages is beautiful icing on this delicious movie tie-in videogame cake.
6) GoldenEye (Nintendo 64, 1998)
You can’t seriously make a ‘Top Ten Movie Tie-In Videogames’ list without having GoldenEye. Its nature as a movie tie-in aside, it revolutionized the first-person shooter genre through its accessible control system, sleek level design, and fast-paced action. Above all, GoldenEye proved that FPS’s had a home on videogame consoles, not just PCs.
Then there’s the game’s multiplayer. It cannot be stressed enough how important the multiplayer mode was for the game and FPS’s in general. For nostalgia-driven fans, the multiplayer represents hours of shoot-’em-up fun with friends and family. For the long-term FPS genre, however, it led to the regular slice of multiplayer action we see in modern-day shooters. It made shooters as sexy as the women Bond regularly romanced in the films.
5) Spider-Man 2 (PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube, GameBoy Advance, PC, 2004)
Yes, yes, we know that Insomniac’s Marvel’s Spider-Man is miles better than 2004’s Spider-Man 2. But since that game is based on the comics as opposed to one particular Spider-Man film, it doesn’t qualify as a movie tie-in videogame. That said, Treyarch’s Spider-Man 2 is still a lot of fun and paved the way for Insomniac’s hit game and its recent sequel, Miles Morales.
The beauty of Spider-Man 2 is that Treyarch could easily have rehashed the level-by-level design of its predecessor. However, they didn’t. Inspired by the swinging sequences of Raimi’s Spider-Man, the development team gave players full access to a sandbox-style New York City, allowing players to swing freely through its streets and up among its skyscrapers.
The swinging system gives players freedom and control over their web-slinging, with immersive physics that, for the very first time, made players feel like Spider-Man (back then in 2004, that phrase wasn’t as cringe-worthy as it is today). The free open-world also beheld a variety of side-missions including Pizza Delivery and Taking Photos alongside random crimes, meaning no shortage of things to do. The brilliance of the gameplay far overshadowed the rather phoned-in performances of Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, and Alfred Molina who reprised their roles from the film.
4) Peter Jackson’s King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie (PlayStation 2, Xbox, Xbox 360, PC, GameBoy Advance, 2005)
Peter Jackson’s King Kong benefits from the fact that Peter Jackson himself is an avid gamer and actually hired Michel Ancel to develop it after playing Beyond Good and Evil. What results from this collaboration is easily one of the most tense and immersive movie tie-in videogames of all time.
The game has you adapt to two different playstyles – the first-person survival sections as screenwriter Jack Driscoll and the third-person beat-’em-up/platforming sections as the titular Kong. Both playstyles are fun and engaging in their own way. In Jack’s first-person survival levels, you and your AI comrades are vulnerable city folk taken from the comforts of the city to the relative discomforts of Skull Island, where creatures far larger and more dangerous than you run amok. The Kong levels, while relatively sparse, are fun, action-oriented beat-’em-up/platforming sections that shift the player’s balance of power to being at the top of the island’s food chain. Kong feels superbly weighty to control and break up the survival levels nicely.
To top off the brilliance is the game’s presentation. Even the game’s PlayStation 2 version remains a visual splendor to this day, seemingly maxing out the console’s power to its limit. The scale of the creatures and their threatening roars also ensure that the game terrifies players in the same way it did back in 2005. Throw in some truly commendable voicework from the film’s cast and you have what is easily one of the best movie tie-in videogames of all time.
3) Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader (GameCube, 2002)
If you owned a Nintendo GameCube circa 2002, you had exclusive access to one of the console’s ‘killer apps’. Star Wars Rogue Leader: Rogue Squadron II brought the iconic spaceship battles of the original trilogy (i.e. the Death Star Run and the Battle of Hoth) to life in ways unseen in videogames before that its release. Developers Factor 5 seemingly oozed every drop of power it could from the GameCube to create a thrilling adaptation of these classic movies, with visuals that hold up pretty well even to this day.
The game, which has Wedge Antilles actor Dennis Lawson reprise his role, is followed by the less-impressive-but-still-worth-playing Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike, which added on-foot levels and ground-vehicle missions to the mix. What’s more, it contains a two-player co-op version of Rogue Leader alongside its main game allowing you to experience the groundbreaking second game with a friend.
2) Disney’s Aladdin (Sega Genesis/MegaDrive, 1993)
Disney’s Aladdin is an impressive enough feat when you first play the game. Then you read up on the game’s production history and you realize that Director and Programmer David Perry had only three months to program it. Far worse games have been produced with reasonable programming time, let alone three months.
What makes Disney’s Aladdin truly special is how it maxes out the graphical capabilities of the Sega Genesis/MegaDrive. Even booting up this fun-filled platformer today, it’s hard not to be impressed by the game’s slick animation. Even modern 2D games fail to capture the beautiful animation that Aladdin achieved, making you feel as though you were playing the movie.
Even when you put aside the game’s painstakingly crafted visuals, you’re left with a genuinely engaging platform game that has Aladdin leaping across chasms, taking out enemies with his scimitar and apples, and even playing a Genie slot machine in between levels to earn extra lives and continues. Sprinkle some Abu bonus levels in the mix and you have yourself one of the best movie tie-in videogames to grace a console. When even the designer of the SNES adaptation says he prefers the MegaDrive version over his own, you know you’re playing gold.
1) Scarface: The World is Yours (PlayStation 2, Xbox, Wii, 2006, 2007)
It’s easy to look at screenshots for Scarface: The World Is Yours and conclude that it’s a soulless, GTA clone. But like many assumptions, this isn’t true. While Scarface is of course influenced by the sandbox-style genre GTA is oft-credited for revolutionizing, it manages to bring enough new elements – as well as a brand new, compelling storyline – to the table that it creates something very different.
Rather than being a direct movie tie-in, Scarface: The World is Yours acts as a ‘What-If’ sequel to the movie. The game actually starts during the movie’s iconic final shootout where a coked-up Tony Montana famously meets his demise. However, if Tony died at this point in the game, it’d be known as the shortest narrative-driven videogame in history. Instead, the game has Tony successfully shoot his way out of his predicament and then vow to rebuild his drug empire.
The game sticks you directly in Tony’s shoes as he endeavors to rebuild his Empire. To do so, you must take over the four geographical areas of the game: Little Havana, Downtown, South Beach, and North Beach. This is achieved through several means: selling cocaine, buying properties, and, of course, taking on missions for important people.
The game is a highly underrated movie tie-in that exudes the atmosphere of its parent film, with Tony Montana’s over-the-top character brilliantly intact. It also never tries to take itself too seriously – which, when coupled with the engaging gameplay mechanics, creates something very, very good indeed.