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Have you ever played Superman 64? What about Star Wars: Masters of Teras Kasi? If you answered no, congratulations, don’t. If you have, you understand the pitfalls of licensed video games. Luckily, there are a few shining gems out there that prove that, just because a game is based on another property, doesn’t mean it has to suck. As proof of that, here are the Top 10 Licensed games of all time.
10. TMNT: Turtles in Time: It’s really no surprise that everybody’s favorite heroes in a half shell are on this list; they are perfectly suited for video games. Four characters, each with their own unique weapons and personalities, battling a horde of conveniently color-coded foot soldiers, complete with a healthy amount of special boss characters already built into the fiction. It’s perfect! While there has certainly been no shortage of TMNT games, Turtles in Time stands out as the best. The beat-em-up gameplay perfectly fits into the Turtles universe, and the diverse set of moves, special abilities, enemies and environments do a great job of conveying the day in the life of a Turtle. Plenty of gameplay variety is included in the form of environmental hazards and speederboard segments, and the boss battles always entertain. Four-player coop is just the icing on the cake. All of this combines to form one of the best, and most underrated, uses of a license out there.
9. Marvel Ultimate Alliance: On paper, the idea is terrific: Take a bunch of Marvel superstars, give them a suite of awesome powers and abilities, place them in a cooperative, isometric brawler and ship it out to the world. In practice, it…well, it pretty much turned out exactly like that, and it was great. The sheer amount of iconic (and lesser known) Marvel characters that you can play as is impressive by itself, and experimenting with their suite of abilities is a heck of a lot of fun. Grabbing three friends and tearing through goons as Luke Cage, Spider-Man, Moon Knight and the Invisible Woman (my favorite) is something that any comic fan should experience, but where the game really succeeded was pulling in even non-comic fans. The sequel may have lost a bit of the magic that was present in the original, but the crazy/awesome Fusion attacks can still facilitate a good time. For sheer fan service, it is hard to beat Ultimate Alliance.
8. Toy Story 3: When it comes to licensed games, people expect a certain level of mediocrity. It comes with the territory. It doesn’t mean we can’t be disappointed when they suck, or blown away when they are great, but expectations are generally tempered with these titles. This thinking tends to be applied to children’s games as well, so naturally people rarely expect much from a licensed children’s game. Toy Story 3 put a huge hole in that argument, and delivered a quality title that could be enjoyed by kids and adults alike. It features an excellent gameplay loop of playing the story, which unlocks things in the incredible sandbox mode, which you can fool around with until clear it out, in which case you can head back to the story to unlock even more things for it. For all the potential pitfalls Toy Story 3 could have faced, it is a remarkably cohesive experience, and a testament to the fact that a great kids game can still be a great game for anybody.
7. The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay: Who would of thought, of all the movie characters out there, that Vin Diesel’s Riddick would make one of the more successful transitions to video games ever. Starbreeze Studios perfectly captured the essence of the character, and along the way created a game that was equal parts fun stealth title, interesting character drama and inexplicably awesome prison simulator. Playing as the stone cold killer is enthralling, and, as you make your way around Butcher Bay, it’s easy to kind of just fall into that whole universe. Starbreeze did a great job of making it both fun and believable, which is no easy job when you are dealing with an established franchise. They could have easily messed this up or threw out a garbage cashgrab; instead they delivered a cult classic. Well played, guys.
6. Transformers: Fall of Cybertron: Transformers seems like it should be the perfect franchise to veer off into video games. Those guys could infiltrate any genre; RPG, action, shooter, racing…you could shoehorn those robots into anything, if you really wanted. High Moon Studios wasn’t keen on the idea of simply shoving Transformers into a mediocre game though, you could tell they had the will, dedication and, most importantly, developmental chops to do it right. While their first attempt, War for Cybertron, was a good game in its own right, they really nailed it with the sequel, offering, in my opinion, the best Transformers experience to date, in any medium. The relatively unheralded multiplayer was particularly fun, and the story mode was top notch. If you think there is nothing more to the Transformers than CGI and Shia LeBouf, I urge you to check these titles out.
5. The Warriors: “Warriors! Come out and play-ee-ay!”Rarely has a game so perfectly captured the essence of a film the way that Rockstar’s PS2 classic The Warriors did. Not only that, but it was just pure fun from beginning to end. Excellent beat-em-up gameplay, a plethora of fun and varied minigames, myriad collectibles and unlockables, and even a super fun multiplayer mode; The Warriors had it all. However, the real legacy of this game is that not only did it retain the spirit of the movie beautifully, it actually expanded on the fiction in a great way. Not many video games can make that claim. It kind of makes you wonder why Rockstar hasn’t given more movies the game treatment. I guess they are too busy with this Grand Theft Auto thing. Like that’s going anywhere.
4. Knights of the Old Republic: Weren’t we just talking about improving an existing universe? Unlike The Warriors, the Star Wars movies got a legitimate prequel, so they presumably didn’t need a game to also fill that role. Of course, this doesn’t take into account a few things: how awful Episodes 1-3 were, how awesome KOTOR was and how awful Episodes 1-3 were. Did I say that already? Oh well. Anyway, it was clear that not only did BioWare have a very good grasp on the Star Wars mythos, they truly cared about the series and knew exactly how to get that across. I don’t care whether you include paintings, movies, books, poems or the macaroni picture that your mom put right on the fridge so everybody could see it, Knights of the Old Republic is a work of art, amasterpiece of art, and one of the best entries in the storied franchise you will find anywhere.
3. The Walking Dead: I’m going to level with you here: I’ve never taken part in an actual zombie apocalypse. I really want to, but, honestly, I just haven’t had the opportunity yet. However, when (not if) it does happen, I have to imagine that I will be at least moderately prepared for it thanks to my time with The Walking Dead. When Robert Kirkman devised his graphic novels, he envisioned a tale that didn’t focus on the same tropes as every other zombie fiction. He wanted to focus on the human element, and Telltale’s video game adaptation brought that single premise to life in ways that nobody could have imagined. Set in the same universe as the acclaimed comic and TV show, but following the events of neither, it instead tells the tale of convicted murderer Lee and his experience protecting a little girl named Clementine. This out-of-nowhere game by the same company that makes Sam & Max games tugged on some heartstrings I didn’t even know I had, and was wrapped up in a package with a beautiful art style, excellent sound design and top-notch writing.
2. Goldeneye: I feel truly sorry for the next generation of people that will eventually take over this planet. Not because they will all like crappy music, will have to deal with global warming and will not stay off my lawn despite all my fist-waving. No, it’s because they will, in all likelihood, never get to experience the unique joy of cramming four people onto a tiny tube television and throwing down on some four-person multiplayer Goldeneye madness. Sure, it was almost impossible to see each other (especially in those damn Caves), aiming was about as awful as you could get it while having it still technically “function” and some butthole was always picking Oddjob. None of that mattered to anybody at the time, and Goldeneye embodied a special kind of magic that I’m not sure can ever be entirely recaptured. On top of all that, its story mode was years ahead of its time, and made Goldeneye a truly complete package.
1. Batman: Arkham City: The beauty of most licensed games is that, in theory, they put you in the shoes of a a character that you A) Already know and love, and B) Really want to be. The interactive nature of games, however, makes them intrinsically harder to pull off. Sure, it’s easy to make Batman look awesome on screen or on paper, but when you give control of the character to a player, how can you assure that he still gives your customer that Batman-y feeling? By creating the best licensed game of all time, that’s how. The answer was so deceptively simple: Highlight all the awesome things about The Dark Knight, and deliver them. Batman is a fighter, detective, analyst, mediator, hero and vigilante, all at the same time. Rocksteady did an amazing job of allowing the player to be all of these things as well, while delivering a game that was awesome in its own right. Rocksteady took a character with almost three decades of troubled video game history, and created one of the best games of all time for him. Simply put, that is why Arkham City is number one.