Check out our rundown of the best games based on our favourite entertainment properties!
Do you have a favourite movie? Of course you do! Everyone does! But did you know that your favourite movie might have a video game companion? It’s true! Video game publishers have been getting paid for decades to produce titles based on already existing properties, with wildly varying results. From the groundbreaking bravery of GoldenEye 007 (1997), to the completely biffed Charlie’s Angels (2003), it’s not just the movie industry that’s tried to make a bold leap into the interactive territory of the virtual world. You’ll find books, TV shows, and even comics transposed to something you might find vaguely familiar.
The UDS team have taken it upon themselves to remember some of the best licensed video games from yesteryear, with some surprise selections that may make your jaw hit the floor.
AN: The games are listed in no particular order (no favouritism here), and we avoided The Simpsons properties outright – there’s an article for both THE BEST and THE WORST of those games on this very website! And boy are there plenty of both of those! Speaking of The Simpsons, make sure to check out our podcast Simpsons Showdown! You won’t regret it, unlike the unfortunate people that picked up The Simpsons Skateboarding.
Star Wars Empire At War (2006. PC)
I think there’s a Star Wars game in every genre possible – I once had a tile-matching puzzle game on PC based on The Phantom Menace. You’d probably expect me to say something like Battlefront 2 (the good one) or Racer, but I know for sure that Tom loves both of those more than I could ever love anything. It’s the RTS area that speaks to me more, so Empire At War and its expansion Forces of Corruption are easily my favourites. The gameplay’s fine and all – standard Civilization-type RTS stuff, but the best thing about it is a cinematic mode you can switch on in the space battles, similar to the one in Red Dead Redemption 2. I would send all my ships into battle with zero tactical planning, and just sit back to watch the glory unfold. It was programmed so that any time the camera switched to follow a Star Destroyer, it re-created the opening to A New Hope with it looming forward overhead – absolute genius.
Batman: Arkham City (2011. PS3, Xbox 360, PC, Wii U, PS4 & Xbox One)
I’ve never felt as badass in a video game as in Arkham City. Even Arkham Knight, which had gadgets coming out the wazoo and a freakin’ tank, couldn’t quite match it. I think City stuck the middle ground between the tactical stealth gameplay of Asylum and the more combat-oriented later entries perfectly, making you feel extremely powerful, but just vulnerable enough to force you into thinking tactically rather than just letting you spam the punch button. The open world collect-athon that usually bores the hell out of me in Ubisoft games was so fun here mainly because it’s populated with a full roster of the best Rogues’ Gallery in comic history. Mark Hamill is heaven-sent as the best iteration of the Joker (don’t @ me), and Kevin Conroy is and will always be the best Batman (again, don’t @ me, Keaton boomers).
Peter Jackson’s King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie (2005. GameCube, PC, PS2, Xbox, Xbox 360 & PSP)
One of the best movie tie-in games during a time when movie tie-in games were uninspired cash grabs, King Kong is an underrated gem.
Based on the film that can only be described as long, your playtime is split between screenwriter Jack (voiced by Adrian Brody) and the titular ape himself. Although the King Kong sections add some fun platformer elements, in my humble opinion it’s Jack’s FPS sections that really steal the show.
All the dinosaurs and other beasts of Skull Island seem larger and all the more terrifying at groundlevel, and being chomped from a first person perspective is enough to get the strongest of sphincters quivering.
This is augmented further by the fact there’s no HUD, instead you determine your health by the distortion on the screen, and available ammo through audible cues from Jack. This all adds to the immersion of a game that was far better than it had any right to be.
Judge Dredd: Dredd vs. Death (2003. PS2, Xbox, PC & Gamecube)
Judge Dredd has a checkered history when it comes to adaptations. The comic book character, originally debuting in 1977 within the pages of 2000 AD No. 2, has enjoyed a cult following for his iconic look and badass, no nonsense persona. This persistent popularity has led to many attempts to transform old Dredd into a silver screen hero, to mixed success. On one end of the spectrum, you’ve got the 1995 so-bad-it’s-good schlockfest starring Sylvester Stallone, and on the other you’ve got 2012’s Dredd, a fantastic film that went criminally overlooked.
Everyone’s favourite ‘Judge, Jury & Executioner’ has a much better batting average with video games, and Judge Dredd: Dredd vs. Death happens to be the best. Despite being 17 years old, it remains the franchise’s most recent release, and is definitely worth a replay in 2020. Taking control of the titular protagonist, you explore various locations within Mega City One to complete objectives such as stamping out crime, defeating the supernatural Dark Judges and stamping out an infestation of vampires, just to name a few.
In an era of fairly generic FPS games, Dredd vs. Death made a real effort to innovate. Expansive maps allowed you to tackle combat from various angles, and the fact you could arrest almost all NPCs for crimes ranging from murder to owning a hamster without a license made the world feel lived in and organic. What’s more, Dredd’s Lawgiver pistol has to be one of the best weapons in video game history; with ammo types ranging from explosive, bouncing, person-seeking, armour piercing and highly explosive, it’s the closest we’ll ever be to actually being a Street Judge.
People have been waxing lyrical about Halo for nearly 2 decades, but if you haven’t tried its grungier, more violent and arguably superior counterpart, you’re missing out.
Muppet Racemania (2000. PlayStation)
This is my favourite kart-racing game. Big words to start with, I know. Yes, nostalgia likely plays a massive part, and admittedly I’ve not played the game in a few years, but even into my twenties (and some 15 years into the game’s lifespan when I last played it), I still thought it was an excellent game. There’s no one thing in particular that sets it apart for me either, across the board it has stuff I love. First of all – The Muppets! I adore the Muppets, and whilst playing as them in a racing game was never exactly something I was hoping for (even at the age of 7 as I was when this game first came out), it proves to be an exciting experience. Add on to that the fan service for each of the Muppet movies that had been released up to that point – each movie was represented in game by 2 different race tracks, a stunt course and a battle arena – and they all looked and felt great! Which brings me to my next point – the battle mode was superb! Admittedly, it’s nothing groundbreaking, it’s a lot like the sort you’d find in Mario Kart, but there was just that Muppet charm to it all. Items such as explosive chickens, penguin mines and throwable fish all add to the flare of the game, in spite of the fact that they are frequently just mirrors of items in other games.
You have the ability to race as 26 different Muppets, each with their own personalised kart, and even better than that you can mix and match muppets to karts for the combination of your choice (in truth, I never did work out if your kart/Muppet combo made much of a difference, but that never stopped me playing as Pepe in Animal’s dragster). Best of all, in true licensed-game fashion, you could unlock and watch clips from each of the 6 represented Muppet movies in the game itself – remember when games did that?? Watching a clip from Muppet Treasure Island and then immediately racing around that very island was always a blast!
Ultimate Spider-Man (2005. GameCube, PC, PS2 & Xbox)
There are a lot of people who think that the movie tie-in Spider-Man 2 is the best Spider-Man game. Nah. In more recent times, there’s a lot of people who now think that Spider-Man on the PS4 is the best Spider-Man game. Now, I’ve not played that one to be fair, but I’m still gonna stick to my guns here. The best Spider-Man game is Ultimate Spider-Man. No question.
This game gets everything right – damn near perfect web swinging. An art-style that is just superior and still holds up today (during the gameplay at least. During the cinematics, eh, maybe not so much). A really good story. LOADS of characters from Spidey’s rogues’ gallery, and even a couple just from the wider Marvel universe. Plus a healthy amount of collectibles around the city of New York if, like me, you’re into that sort of thing. You’ve already got yourself an ultimate Spider-Man game there (hehe)! But then, on top of it all – YOU GET TO PLAY AS VENOM TOO! You can leap over buildings, pick up cars and throw them at people and – on a somewhat darker but even cooler note – your health bar can be refilled by eating random civilians on the street! If you never played Ultimate Spider-Man, do yourself a favour and find a copy of it. Heck, even if you did play it and just haven’t gone back to it in a while, you should find yourself a copy. You won’t be disappointed.
Futurama (The Video Game) (2002. PS2 & Xbox)
As you can tell from our website and the aforementioned Simpsons podcast, we are Matt Groening fans in this neck of the woods. Sometimes we even go back and forth on whether Futurama is better than the Simpsons (this week it is). Originally released in 2003 for the PlayStation 2 & Xbox (The OG Xbox), Futurama was a third person game where you played as the characters from the show. Fry mostly involved shooting, Bender involved platforming, Leela was hand to hand combat and you even played as Zoidberg for brief periods in the most blatant rip off Crash Bandicoot’s Hog Wild levels. Don’t believe me? See for yourself.
Whilst a lot of reviews regarding the game were mediocre, these were mostly attributed to gameplay aspects and clunky controls – understandable when you remember that in the year 2003, licensed video games were as common as water. What set this game apart from the rest was its cast, script and music. Many of the cast from the show reprise their usual roles, Matt Groening & David X Cohen helped to ensure it was directed with a scriptwriter from the show and music from the same composer, all to ensure it stayed true to the television show. Even the legacy of this game is important! They compiled the scenes from the video game into a special “73rd episode” and used the music from the game in the Futurama films!
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003. PC, PS2, GameCube & Xbox)
Some games stick with you throughout your life, just seeing the cover can instantly transform you. This could be TOCA: Touring Car Championship for some people, Super Mario World for others – one of mine is The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Released in November 2003 just before the film was released, the game takes the player through the final film as Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Frodo and Sam.
The game is a third person hack and slash venture which takes players through the best battle scenes of the film. Smashing out combos, earning xp and upgrading your gang is such an enjoyable loop that it doesn’t feel like a chore. Once you get through the game you can break the whole story by playing as different characters! This broke my mind as a child, you better believe I was playing as Frodo during Gandalf’s sections! Being a fan of the The Two Towers video game, The Return of the King was this and more, interactive game environments, larger levels, co-op and even online support! Truly a game worthy of being a “Best Licensed Video Game”.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 (Released: 2000. Platform: PlayStation, PC, Dreamcast, Nintendo 64)
It may be showing its age 20 years later, but Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 (THPS2) is sick, man. If you don’t think so you can Shuv-it, dude. In fact you can POP Shuv-it. Get out of my face, while I Manual over to my Playstation console and put the disc in, Backside 180 to my sofa, and chill out, bro. I’m gonna Powerslide the rest of my life away in THPS2. Get out of my face. But hey, watch out, don’t want you to land Primo, because the door might not slam in your face if you do.
Also could you please make me some toast please mum, thanks, sorry for being a little bit rude, sometimes I just get a bit involved in the game and it’s not fair for me to take it out on other people, but seriously mum, you should try this game, I think you’d really like it, you can even play as Spider-Man, he’s your favourite superhero right? Mine too.
Austin Powers Pinball (2002. PlayStation & PC)
And that’s a wrap on our favourite licensed video games! Did we miss you favourite? Let us know in the comments below.
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