The 10 Most Unlikely Video Games Based on Movies and TV Shows
You know what show could make for a really good video game? Supernatural. You could play as Dean or Sam Winchester, driving around the country in a badass Impala, stopping off in various small towns to battle demons, werewolves, shape-shifters and other creepy-crawlies. The show has an elaborate, twisty mythology, epic fight scenes and nine seasons-worth of crazy-ass monsters to choose from. But there is no Supernatural game, and as of this writing there’s been no word that anybody is working on one.
Or how about Babylon 5, the classic, complex, cheap-o sci-fi saga celebrating its 20th anniversary this year? (I know. We are old.) Can you believe there has never been an official Babylon 5 game? The series ran for 5 very busy seasons, spawned spin-offs, TV movies, dozens of books and comics, and won shelves full of Hugos and Emmys. There’s never been a Babylon 5 video game, though.
But hey, we did get a Grey’s Anatomy game. Because somebody somewhere wanted to play that, I guess. Here’s our list of some of the most unlikely games based on movies and TV shows. As you explore these bizarre games, remember: somebody made these instead of ever making a console title based on the Stargate TV franchise. (Three live-action series and a Saturday morning cartoon, and the best you’re gonna get is some rinky-dink mobile game.)
10. Grey’s Anatomy: The Video Game
Yes indeed, that show your Aunt Gladys likes got its own game in 2009. It’s actually surprisingly good, with a thrilling plot, spectacular graphics and bold, innovative gameplay.
No, just kidding. It’s actually a baffling, boring mess that mostly focuses on the complicated personal lives of the show’s angsty doctors. And it looks like this:
Maybe the game perfectly captures the feel of the show. I don’t know, because I am not your Aunt Gladys. But damn, that sure is one terrifying-looking Dr. McDreamy.
Thrill to such minigames as Setting Priorities, Distancing Yourself and Finding Comfort! (Seriously, those are actual minigames in this thing.) Now, I’m not one of those knuckle-dragging, aggro gamers who thinks games need to be all about the shooty-shooty and blowing stuff up real good. Games are a developing art form, and there is room for subtlety and complex, adult storytelling. But for Christ’s sake, “Finding Comfort” should never be your goal in a video game! This game stops just short of a Stare Pensively Out the Window While Sipping Tea and Listening to Rilo Kiley minigame.
So, lots of awkward CGI flirting, lots of mopey navel-gazing, and occasionally you have to do something medical and kind of gross. But not fun gross. Just cold, clinical, renal surgery gross.
Again: if you want to slay demons as Dean Winchester, you’re outta luck. But if you want to Find Comfort at Seattle Grace Mercy West Hospital, it’s time to fire up the Wii!
9. Attack of the Killer Tomatoes
1978’s Attack of the Killer Tomatoes is a modestly amusing little cult movie, but the fact that it’s even mediocre is rather impressive. The premise – tomatoes come to life and attack people – would seem too thin to support a 3-minute sketch, let alone an entire feature film. The filmmakers got a not-completely-unwatchable movie out of 87 minutes of sophomoric jokes about folks getting killed by tomatoes, and that really should have been the end of that.
But it wasn’t. There were three sequels (one of them featuring a young George Clooney, in his most embarrassing role that did not involve rubber bat-nipples), a supremely unlikely Saturday morning cartoon series… and three Attack of the Killer Tomatoes video games.
The second one, a 1991 NES release based on the TV cartoon, doesn’t seem to have made much of a splash. Here’s a 2:02 clip, which runs about 2 minutes too long:
When people get starry-eyed with nostalgia for the video games of yesteryear, they’re probably not remembering games like that one.
But the first Killer Tomatoes game, an 8-bit affair released in 1986 for the Sinclair Spectrum, Amstrad CPC and MSX, scored surprisingly great reviews. “Global has created a tie-in far better than the original deserved, and far better than many superior films have received,” raved Your Sinclair, while ZX Computing said that “Killer Tomatoes is quite a complex, and very professionally produced game that should keep you occupied for quite a while.”
Admittedly I’ve never played the game myself, but I’m going to go ahead and say that if an Attack of the Killer Tomatoes video game is keeping you occupied for “quite a while”, maybe you need to take a long, hard look at your life choices.
8. The City of Lost Children
If you’ve never seen Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s 1995 dark fantasy film The City of Lost Children, go do so now. Right now! Even if you are reading this at work, tell your boss you ate some bad clams or something, go home and Netflix the hell out of The City of Lost Children. Even if your boss doesn’t believe you and leaving work right now will get you fired, do it anyway. You will thank me later.
The film is a little steampunk masterpiece, full of wonderfully strange happenings and character and set designs that will make your eyeballs very happy. It is also a freaky, low-budget, French-language cult movie, and as such it’s most definitely not a movie you’d expect to see adapted into a game for the original Playstation.
So you can imagine my shock when I found just such a game for rent at the local Blockbuster, circa 2001.
But while many of the unlikely games on this list are terrible, this one is actually pretty intriguing in its own weird, turtle-paced way. The dark, dream-like story has its own creepy fascination, and the graphics hold up surprisingly well for a 1st-generation Playstation title. (Just fire up the original Tomb Raider sometime to see how badly the graphics of PS1 games can fail to live up to your memories of them.) It’s not a game you’ll treasure forever, but it’s a very cool little world to wander around in for a while.
7. The Three Stooges
Three Stooges shorts follow a rather rigid formula: the boys are given some straightforward job, like painting a house or something, they proceed to make a horrible mess of it, and there’s a lot of eyeball gouging, woo-woo-woo-ing and nyuck-nyuck-nyuck-ing. You’ve got three incompetent nitwits who fail to accomplish even the simplest goals, abuse each other a lot and make silly noises.
The 1989 Three Stooges home computer game didn’t get made because anybody thought that these knuckleheads belonged in a video game. It got made because some corporation had acquired the Three Stooges brand, and the boys down in marketing thought that a video game could be a good way to re-introduce the property to the under-15 demographic.
The resulting game is peculiar, molasses-slow and kind of hideous to modern eyes, but reviews of the time weren’t bad. Compute! wrote that The Three Stooges was “one of the high points of the season”, stating that the game “looks like the Stooges, sounds like the Stooges … and most important, feels like the Stooges.”
Perhaps the game is more fun, or is at least a little less awful, if you’re a Stooges fan. I must admit that I am not. Now, if this was an Iggy and the Stooges game, I’d play the hell out of that shit. (Your proto-punk superpowers could include having a TV Eye, the ability to transform into a Streetwalkin’ Cheetah, and, uh, doing a whole lot of heroin. Call me, EA!)
6. Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life
Nothing about Monty Python seems like a natural fit for video games, but 1997’s game based on Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life was actually the fourth (and so far final) attempt to base a game on the work of the classic, surrealistic UK comedy troupe. At least Monty Python and the Holy Grail had a plot of sorts for the Quest for the Holy Grail game to follow. The Meaning of Life was a loose, anarchic sketch comedy, with the only linking device being that all of the sketches were based on stages of life – birth, death, etc.
The game looks and plays a lot like a really Flash-heavy Monty Python fan website, circa 2003 or so. There’s a lot of vaguely Terry Gilliam-ish animation, sometimes quite well-done, and sometimes just awkward and sad. (Entire scenes from the film are acted out by photo cut-outs of John Cleese and Graham Chapman with flappy cartoon mouths, and the effect gets old even faster than it sounds.)
This clip features a video press kit from the days of the game’s original release, and it gives you a pretty good idea of what to expect.
So, yeah. It’s not great, but it’s better than being the victim of a live organ transplant.
5. The Flintstones: The Movie
Perhaps this one seems like it shouldn’t be on this list. After all, The Flintstones: The Movie was a successful family picture, and there are a gazillion video games based on family pictures. And by all accounts, this game wasn’t anything too remarkable to play.
But the thing is, this is a game that was based on a movie, that was based on a TV cartoon, that was based on The Honeymooners. If that’s not enough to scramble your brains, consider this: in 2000 there was a prequel to this movie, The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas, and in 2002 Zombie Studios produced a game for the European market that was based on that prequel. So, it was a game that was based on a movie that was a prequel to a movie that was based on a TV cartoon that was based on The Honeymooners.
According to Wikipedia, there have been 15 Flintstones video games, 11 spin-off TV series, 20 combined movies, TV movies and specials, and 10 varieties of Flintstones breakfast cereals. Recently there have been several attempts to revive the franchise, including a Seth MacFarlane TV series and a WWE tie-in movie. (Yes, you read that right.) Here’s hoping that none of these comes to pass… if one more Flintstones thing ever happens, the sheer weight of all the Flinstones stuff on the planet might just reach a tipping point that causes the entire Earth to implode into a black hole of cheap animation and rock-related puns.
This clip features a European gentleman playing The Flintstones: The Movie as he comments in his charmingly eccentric English. Good time of day, everyone!
4. The Rocky Interactive Horror Show Game
The Rocky Horror Picture Show has a pretty clear message, succinctly expressed in 5 words sung by a homicidal yet crazy-cool transvestite from outer space: “Don’t dream it, be it.” Cast off your repression! Live your life! Dress weird, stay out late, and get into mischief!
So in a way, a Rocky Horror video game that lets you stay safely locked away in your lonely basement, pushing buttons and having pretend sexy fun-times, is really kind of a betrayal of everything Richard O’Brien’s cult smash stands for. But that hasn’t stopped game makers from trying to somehow replicate the film’s perverse charms on two separate occasions.
In 1985 CRL Group PLC created a Rocky Horror game for the Commodore 64, Commodore 128, ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC. It was, to be kind, pretty crappy. This was 1985 after all, and a vaguely Susan Sarandon-shaped stick figure dancing to a MIDI version of “Touch-A, Touch-A, Touch Me” was about the sexiest thing that you could hope for.
1999’s The Rocky Interactive Horror Show Game was much more interesting. The game itself was, like its predecessor, pretty crappy, But it did offer a few must-see goodies for Rocky Horror fanatics, like horror great Christopher Lee as the narrator. Check out this clip of Lee explaining how to do the Time Warp.
No matter how lousy the rest of the game was, that clip alone justifies whatever you paid for it..
3. Manos: The Hands of Fate
Movies can be bad in many different ways. But no movie is bad like Manos: The Hands of Fate is bad. It’s not even fun-bad, ? la Ed Wood. It is punishingly, bafflingly bad, so horrible in every particular that you can’t imagine how anybody ever thought it was a good idea to film it, let alone release it. Every single thing in this movie is just wrong. It is incoherently scripted, woefully acted, incompetently filmed…
In other words, it was the perfect movie for the Mystery Science Theater 3000 guys to rip on, and they did just that in one of the show’s finest episodes. (Sample riff from Joel Hodgson: “Every frame of this movie looks like someone’s last known photo.”)
Joel and the ‘bots gave Manos a new life, spawning a cult following for this awful, awful movie that eventually led to FreakZone Games producing an iOS and Windows game adaptation in 2012. You get Torgo and his weird knees, the boozy, constantly making-out couple and more, all in retro-looking 8-bit form.
This clip starts off with a lot of Mario-esque jumping and blooping and bleeping, but it should start looking more familiar to Manos fans around the 1:50 mark.
Reviews for the game were rather blah, with ScrewAttack giving it 6.5 out of 10 and crabbing that it was too easy and too short. But hey, if a Manos: The Hands of Fate game manages to be even slightly entertaining without the constant heckling of a sleepy-eyed Midwestern dude and his snarky robots pals, it’s already kicked the movie’s ass.
2. Little Nicky
Adam Sandler makes a lot of very stupid movies. Most of those movies are big hits, but some of them are bombs. Critics generally despise all of them, pretty much equally.
But 2000’s Little Nicky stands apart, a goofy supernatural stoner comedy that totally tanked with the public while also sending critics into unprecedented, almost orgasmic paroxysms of hate. (“Sandler deserves to be damned to the pits of hell for this witless masturbatory comedy.” – Charles Taylor, Salon.com. That’s right, a critic for a major website actually wished Sandler would go to hell for making this movie.)
Sandler starred as the Hitler-haired, weird-talking son of Satan, and the unlikely and unwelcome Game Boy Color adaptation follows him through 14 platforming levels and 5 mini-games.
The game, like the movie, features copious and shameless plugs for Church’s chicken. When Nicky needs to make a long jump, he’ll stop and gobble up some Church’s drumstick’s for a burst of strength. It also features Kevin Nealon’s “demon guy with boobs on his head” character. Dante’s Inferno, this ain’t.
The game hit stores a month after the film’s release, long after anybody anywhere gave half a crap about Little Nicky. The game’s reviews were surprisingly not-terrible, although IGN’s critic dismissed it by saying “there is nothing here you haven’t seen before,” suggesting that IGN’s critics have played more games featuring boob-headed demons than I have.
1. Home Improvement: Power Tool Pursuit!
This game more than earns its #1 spot on our list, because it is not simply unlikely… it is mind-shreddingly insane.
If a video game based on the 1990s Tim Allen sitcom Home Improvement was going to happen for some reason, what would you expect that it to be? Yeah, it’s hard to think of anything… and the folks at Absolute Entertainment were apparently just as stumped when they got to work on the game in 1994. So instead of trying to make a game that had anything whatsoever to do with the show, they set a little Tim Taylor avatar loose with a chainsaw and had him fight dinosaurs, robots and mummies that spit acid. (Tim’s catchphrase “MORE POWER!” takes on a whole new meaning here, because if his chainsaw runs low on power he faces a serious risk of getting his face melted off by mummy acid.)
The game’s cover features a generic PR shot of Tim Allen and the creepy beard guy from the show, and the game starts off rationally enough, in a recognizable version of Home Improvement‘s sitcom reality. Tim and Beardy are hosting Tool Time, and they’re about to unveil a new line of Binford power tools. But then it turns out that the tools have gone missing! So far, so boring…
But then Tim goes wandering out onto the studio lot to search for the tools, and that’s when the game loses its brains. The backlot “sets” that he visits don’t look like sets at all. The designers clearly did not give one single damn about this job, so they just dropped Tim Allen into your standard 1994 fantasy video game platform levels, full of standard 1994 video game monsters like little purple pterodactyls that fly around and drop eggs on your head. The game treats it like the most natural thing in the world for Allen to suddenly be jumping around like Pitfall Harry, firing a nail gun at mummies. He even has a grappling hook he uses to swing between platforms, a gadget I’m pretty sure we never saw him whip out on Tool Time.
In the video below, we watch as a gentleman plays the game for a very, very long time and offers his own low-energy commentary.
Confused by it all? The callous and arguably insane game makers laugh at your confusion! The game does not come with an instruction manual. Instead, the game starts with a screen that says “Real men don’t need instructions.”
I always hated Home Improvement far more than such a mediocre show probably deserved, but I definitely would’ve been a regular watcher if Tim Allen spent less time gabbing with that weird neighbor guy who always hid behind the fence, and more time battling homicidal androids and velociraptors.
Previously by Greg Stacy:
8 Weird Catchphrases From Old Warner Bros. Cartoons Explained