Merch Hunter #11: The Best Movie Video Game Tie-Ins

This week, while not breaking my hands, I have been mostly considering the question of video game tie-ins. Largely born out of that commercialist need to squeeze every last cent out of a film’s appeal, 99% of what is released to this market isn’t even worth considering, but there are exceptions, and they do – I have come to believe – fall within the merchandise remit.

For some reason, despite the easy relationship between gaming and cinema as two immersive, escapist mediums, certain cinephiles will always look unfavorably upon gamers as their sweaty, pasty siblings. Just ask Roger Ebert. That probably has a lot to do with the slap-dash way most tie-ins are put together, and also something to do with the way Hollywood consistently fails to make good films out of games as well.

So in the interest of diversity, and because my love of gaming is almost as profound and pronounced as my cinematic obsession, I hereby offer three of the greatest tie-ins every released.

This list would undoubtedly have been a lot easier had I gone out to highlight the three worst movie games of all time, but I’m not one for the easy road, so the picks I’ve gone for here are significant beyond the experience of playing them, and each represents a water-shed moment of sorts in the genesis of movie gaming. And in the future, when we’re all looking back on modern gaming as an archaic fancy, these titles might just be considered collectible – either way, I’d encourage you to seek them out, dust them off, and relive the fun times…

1. Toy Story 2: Buzz Lightyear To The Rescue

Honorable mentions must go to both Aladdin and The Lion King on the SNES, but it is the 1999 Activision-released Toy Story 2 game that wins the accolade of being the greatest Disney movie tie-in game ever. It’s not one that really gets the attention it deserves, because it was somewhat cruelly pigeon-holed as just a kids game, but Buzz Lightyear to the Rescue was a pre-cursor to more recent collectible-focused games like the Lego franchises (which themselves are well worthy of mention here), and the story-lines within each level not only did justice to the film, but also added in new elements that furnished that universe well.

The game focused on a quest to rescue Woody from the evil clutches of Al of Al’s Toy Barn, but thanks to side puzzles and tasks to unlock collectibles, the gameplay is surprisingly deep, and is early proof that such a balance in a licensed game was possible. I still play it now, if that’s any indication of its lasting appeal, and thanks to the PS3’s ability to play PS1 games, I can’t see it going out of my circulation for some time.

After all, it still stands up as an entertaining experience, even next to more modern platformers with all of their bells and whistles.

2. Goldeneye N64

I mean, obviously. Goldeneye redefined the way First Person Shooters were made forever, inventing the telescopic sniper rifle mechanic that every other shooter used afterwards, and generally putting everything before it that wielded a gun to shame. Ignoring the hugely dated graphics, including mannequin-like enemy soldiers with octagonal heads, the gameplay is still extremely engaging. And thanks to the Big Heads cheat, and the ability to beat the game by sliding around on your knees and fatally karate chopping anyone who has the audacity to challenge you in the knee and groin area.

But seriously, like no other Bond game before or since, Goldeneye 64 perfectly captured the mood of the film it tied into, and there is good reason the game continues to inspire rabid fan reaction some fourteen years after its release. The multiplayer mode was also massively innovative, and arguably sparked the modern fascination with multiplayer content by offering a blue-print for lasting appeal and party-style entertainment.

It is just about to enjoy a further adaptation (imaginatively called Goldeneye Reloaded), after the comparative failure of the Wii update, which made the game mechanics horribly difficult to master, so it’s not likely the game will disappear of gamers’ collective radars just yet.

3. Die Hard Trilogy

The graphics may be laughably poor now, but we have to remember that Tron was once considered the real cutting edge of CGI at one point: the Trilogy, released on the Playstation (as well as the PC and the much lamented Sega Saturn) and fiendishly difficult to best, was one of the stand-out releases of the 90s. It was also a romper-stomping action free-ride, meshing three different game types in one triptych collection, and it is responsible for helping cement the PS1’s position as the best new kid on the block of the console world back in 1996.

What could have otherwise been a mess, given its genre-hopping is actually the perfect answer to the Die Hard film trilogy (no need to mention that nasty fourth affair), because the game is so deliciously mad-cap, and pushes the larger than life action element to the front of the experience.

Can they be considered art? Frankly, who cares. And who is to say that all of cinema can rightly be judged art? All I know is that the experience of playing a game that carries the license of one of my favorite films is one of the enduring, pleasurable parts of secondary merchandise releases. And I will argue to the hilt that those tie-ins count as acceptable fare for the merchandise collector – especially considering the added pleasure of being allowed to interact with those filmic universes, and having them play out under my control, rather than leaving them sealed in a box, and enjoyed from a distance.

T-Shirt of the Week

In further celebration of Die Hard, here’s a classic from 80s Tees

Prepare your wallet for more Merch Hunter

Born to the mean streets of Newcastle, England the same year that BMX Bandits was cruelly over-looked for the Best Film Oscar, Simon Gallagher's obsessive love of all things cinema blossomed during that one summer in which he watched Clueless every day for six weeks. This is not a joke. Eventually able to wean himself off that particular dirty habit, and encouraged by the revelation that was One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, he then spent many years reviewing films on the underground scene, throwing away thousands of pounds on a Masters Degree in English in the process, before landing feet-first at the doors of British movie site ObsessedWithFilm.com, where you can catch his blend of rapier wit and morbid sardony on a daily basis. Simon is also a hopeless collector of film paraphenalia, and counts his complete Star Wars Mr. Potato Heads collection among his friends.

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