We’re only days away from the release of the highly-anticipated Space Jam sequel, Space Jam: A New Legacy, the trailer for which has likely already broken a record for the most IP-centric cameos in movie history. To market the movie a new tie-in game is officially on the market (currently on Xbox Game Pass), taking on an arcade-style beat-em-up that lets you live your dream of stepping in the shoes of LeBron James to fight aliens.
The sheer concept of video game tie-ins to major movies feels like an old-timey idea, being much more of a fixture a decade ago, and often a reason for groaning. But not all video game tie-ins have been shameless cash grabs. Here, I take a look back at a few of the entries that have not only been fun takes on the movies but excellent games in their own right that stand apart from the original material.
Honing it in from general licensed games, these games are direct tie-ins to the movies they’re inspired by. They feature the performances and/or likeness of the actors who brought the characters to life on the big screen, all so you could watch the movie, say “Nah, I’d do it better,” and then go home and pick up a controller to prove you’d be the best damn King Kong around.
5. The Warriors
Someone could perhaps make the argument that the whole point of releasing a game that ties into a movie is for that game to capitalize on the relevance of the movie. Coming 26 years after Walter Hill’s cult hit The Warriors released, the game missed the mark a smidge, but turns out that didn’t matter much. A product of Rockstar Toronto, Warriors stands tall as a varied beat-em-up in the vein of that era’s Grand Theft Auto games, breathing a whole new life into the 1979 action flick by expanding on the characters and their seedy world of gang warfare. With plenty of depth to the gameplay and setting, the game feels like a natural expansion of the movie, aided by vocal work from returning stars Michael Beck, James Remar, Deborah Van Valkenburgh, and more.
4. King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie
Say what you will about the runtime of Peter Jackson’s King Kong remake; by the time you’re done with the tie-in game, you’ll be upset your experience wasn’t long enough. A success as both a first-person survival shooter that put you in the shoes of Jack Driscoll and as a creature-centric beat-em-up that lets you take control of Kong to bash around some dinos, the King Kong game felt like so much more than a cash-grab tie-in. Developer Ubisoft Montpellier took great care in making Skull Island feel like a challenge, removing a HUD by default and forcing the player to think on their feet when outnumbered by gigantic creatures. That felt ahead of its time in 2005, and with some updates could feel right at home on modern consoles.
3. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers game was exceptional in its own right, letting players take control of Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli through a variety of challenging levels and extra content. Like the final installment of the cinematic trilogy, Return of the King, the game version cranked everything up to whatever 11 is in Elvish. It expanded the roster to the entire Fellowship (Faramir replacing Boromir) and then allowed players to take any of them through any of the over a dozen levels and tower-ascension extras. This allowed for hours and hours of varying gameplay that forced players to adapt to different character playstyles, allowing Frodo to leap into the fight at the Black Gate, or take Gimli to swat at Gollum with his ax. Factor in the voice-acting from the all-star ensemble, and you have a game that’s almost as timeless as the movies themselves.
2. Spider-Man 2
Before the Batman-led Arkham games became the go-to name for superhero games, there was Spider-Man 2. The 2004 tie-in game to the masterful film was innovative for the time, and 17 years later, is still that damn good. An incredibly impressive open world for the era, players could feel like Spider-Man more than ever before thanks to realistic web-shooting, wall-running, skyscraper-diving, and small-time crimes popping up in between heroic main missions. Combat is stylish and varied thanks to an abundance of unlockable abilities, and the added threats of characters like Mysterio and Shocker pad out the main story taking on Doc Ock. Even now, the recent Marvel’s Spider-Man feels like it owes an immense debt of gratitude to the standards set by this game, which stands triumphant as one of the best superhero games almost two decades later.
1. GoldenEye 007
How many hours have been spent in front of a tube TV, N64 controllers scattered across the room as friends became rivals as GoldenEye blared on the screen late into the night? It’s hard to imagine where first-person-shooter multiplayer would be without the insane success of GoldenEye – maybe not so much in design, but in how it defined an entire generation of players coming together to turn virtual shooting matches into art. Simple yet layered with options that made multiplayer more intense or far too silly, anyone can pick up GoldenEye today, grab their friends, and have a blast for hours. That’s all on top of a solid single-player campaign which factored in DOOM-like level design but with added realism, a score that highlighted suspense, and added tasks that made you feel just like James Bond himself. Released two years after the movie, the game has taken on a life as its own as a true classic, to the point where the movie itself comes to mind as a distant second when the word “GoldenEye” is uttered.
Do you feel like I missed any? Are there any other great video game tie-ins that are worth remembering, or simply didn’t drive you completely insane? Be sure to drop a comment, and in your spare time, pray a studio starts development on a Nobody game so we can play as a bloodied-up Bob Odenkirk.
The movie has now shifted to an October 1 release date in theaters and on HBO Max.
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