Feature

The Weirdest Celebrity-Based Video Games

by Jeff Marchiafava on Aug 17, 2011 at 01:42 PM

Over the past couple months we've looked at the most unlikely movie and television show-based video games that have ever been attempted. This time we're traveling into the seedy world games based on celebrities, with a smattering of titles that will leave even the most jaded gamers scratching their heads.

Revolution X
Few bands were as popular with kids in the early '90s as Aerosmith, so a video game featuring their music doesn't sound like the worst idea in the world. The only problem? Developers hadn't cracked the rhythm game nut yet, so Aerosmith's arcade game, Revolution X, somehow ended up being an on-rails shooter set in a dystopian, Fahrenheit 451-style future.

Revolution X tasks gamers with rescuing Aerosmith from a corrupt government that has outlawed music, television, and – gasp! – video games, and kidnapped the band because they refuse to stop rocking. In addition to appearing as horribly-animated sprites in the game, the band members also provide the player with instructions during each level, including an early scene where Steven Tyler tells the players: "Remember, music is a weapon." No wonder the New Order Nation banned it!

The worst part of the game is the song selection itself, which includes "Eat The Rich," "Sweet Emotion," and "Walk This Way," none of which sound like good choices for an on-rails shooter. At least the console version of the game includes "Dude (Looks Like A Lady)," which I can only assume was added ironically.

Crüe Ball
Seriously, this is what music fans had before Harmonix came around. Crüe Ball was a Motley Crüe-themed pinball game for the Sega Genesis. It featured three Motley Crüe "songs": "Dr. Feelgood," "Live Wire," and "Home Sweet Home." I put "songs" in quotation marks not as a criticism of Motley Crüe's music, but rather the horrible MIDI renditions the game contains.

There is no story to speak of in Crüe Ball, but you will fight several enemy types, including Dread-Heads, Crabulas, Killer Clowns, and a guy named Craig. According to the manual, you can score 2,500 points when you hit a "Flashing CD diskcomboobulator." I don't know if that's a typo or not, and I don't care.

KISS Pinball
Just in case Crüe Ball didn't drive home how bad a music band-based pinball video game could be, Take-Two published KISS Pinball for the PS1 back in 2001. Bally released an actual KISS pinball machine in 1978, which has become a coveted collector's item, so a pinball video game featuring the band isn't the worst idea in the world. Unfortunately, KISS Pinball only featured two tables, and no actual KISS music, making the game a rip-off even at its bargain bin $9.99 price tag.

KISS Pinball was a critical flop, serving as a clear message to developers that no one is interested in heavy metal-themed video pinball games. That said, if Zen Studios created a KISS-themed table for Pinball FX 2, some of us at GI would probably feel differently about it...

Make My Video: Marky Mark And The Funky Bunch
The Make My Video series was another attempt at entertaining music-minded gamers that went horribly awry. Digital Pictures made three Make My Video games before finally calling it quits, but they were all equally bad, so we're bundling them together. The bands featured in these games are: INXS, Kris Kross, and Marky Mark And The Funky Bunch.

So, how bad are they? Here's an excerpt from our 2003 Retro Review of Marky Mark. We gave it a zero.

It hurts. It hurts bad. There is no fun in it, and can only be compared to a baby being forced to sit around in a chunky diaper. No so-called game in the history of gamedom is this atrocious, except for maybe the Kriss Kross or INXS Make My Video releases.

Ouch.

Michael Jackson's Moonwalker
So far we've looked at games that have taken popular musicians and shoehorned them into on-rails shooters, pinball games, and some kind of weird video editing crap. Naturally, the only stone left unturned is the rhythm beat-em-up genre. As far as the music games on this list go, Moonwalker is unfortunately the best translation out of the bunch. The game features several of Jackson's popular songs (albeit in crappy synthesized form), signature dance moves, and voice samples, and the story is as bat sh*t crazy as you'd expect from the King of Pop. My favorite part? Saving all of the children on a level unleashes Bubbles the chimp, who rides on Jackson's shoulders on the way to the next boss battle.

Michael Jackson: The Experience may teach players how to dance like Jackson, but if you want a glimpse into what was probably going on inside the artist's head, I'd peg Moonwalker as the more authentic experience.

Penn & Teller's Smoke And Mirrors
This Sega CD game never actually came out, due to the publisher going out of business before its release (go figure) . A couple of review copies made it into the wild, however, and the game has subsequently achieved somewhat legendary status in the industry. Smoke And Mirrors was a collection of mini-games that the player could use to trick their friends with. The most notable of these mini-games, Desert Bus (seen above), simulates an 8-hour bus ride from Tucson to Las Vegas and is designed to be as boring as possible. For the past couple years, comedy group LoadingReadyRun has played marathon sessions of Desert Bus to raise money for the Child's Play charity, so Penn & Teller's aborted venture into digital entertainment wasn't a complete loss.

Michael Jordan: Chaos In The Windy City
In 1994, Electronic Arts had the great idea to make a video game starring the legendary Michael Jordan – and this is the game the company decided to put him in?! Windy City is a 2D action/platformer, which first made me think that maybe the programmers didn't know that Michael Jordan was a sports star, but then he uses magic-infused basketballs as his primary form of attack. I have no idea what thought process led to this atrocity, but I'm just glad someone finally figured out that His Airness is better off in video games that actually feature basketball.

Shaq Fu
One could dismiss Chaos In The Windy City as a horrible, onetime mistake, if only it wasn't for Shaq Fu. This two-player fighting game abomination points to a serial misunderstanding at EA to recognize that sports fans probably want sports stars to be featured in sports games. Instead, Shaq Fu tasks the legendary center with entering another dimension to rescue a young boy from a mummy named – you know what, it's not important. This game is horrible. Who would have thought that out of all the great basketball players from the early '90s, Charles Barkley would be the one whose video game was actually centered around basketball?

Dick Vitale's "Awesome, Baby!" College Hoops
Dick Vitale was a well-known basketball coach and sportscaster back in the day. Maybe not well-known enough, though, as Time Warner Interactive felt the need to add his catchphrase "Awesome, Baby!" to the title of the game. In addition to reminding gamers who the heck Dick Vitale is, the inclusion of the quote on the cover also gives them an idea of the supposed quality of game. That, or the game stars an awesome baby sired by Dick Vitale. Does college basketball have a minimum age restriction?

Bill Laimbeer's Combat Basketball
Unlike the other basketball star-endorsed games on this list, I fully support Bill Laimbeer's Combat Basketball. Bill Laimbeer was a player for the Detroit Pistons in the '80s who made a name for himself by being overly physical on the court. Laimbeer's thuggery was reviled by basketball fans, but resulted in one of the greatest premises for a video game ever slapped together in what I can only assume was the eleventh hour. Here's the description, straight from the manual:

In the 1980's [sic] and '90's [also sic], there was a legendary "Bad boy" of professional basketball. As the roughest player in the league, Bill Laimbeer was known for doing anything to get the ball. Unfortunately, the basketball league didn't approve of his "competitive" style of playing, so they forced him to retire.

Times have changed. The year now is 2030 and Bill Laimbeer has mysteriously resurfaced as commissioner of the basketball league. He's as young and as vigorous as he was at his prime. Some believe that he has used today's cloning technology, but no one can say for sure. One thing is for sure: His objective is to get back at those people who forced him to retire, and to play basketball his style!

His first move as commissioner was to fire all the referees and eliminate all personal fouls. He has also allowed major companies to use the cloning technology to create an army of incredible players. The players wear armor and compete not only for points, but for weapons, explosives and cash that are tossed into the game by the eager spectators. And finally, he's put himself back in the game at a price...

Now when you win, you crush the opposing team. But when you lose, you really lose. "This is basketball my way," exclaims Laimbeer. "No wimps, no wussies! Just brutal hard-core action!"

The sport is no longer basketball. It's Bill Laimbeer's Combat Basketball!

Why Bill Laimbeer would agree to a video game premise that makes him sound like basketball's equivalent of Adolph Hitler is beyond me, but if there's a game on this list that demands a sequel, it's this one.

Dennis Miller: That's News To Me
From his embarrassing M&M commercials to his brief stint as a Monday Night Football commentator, Dennis Miller has proved time and time again that he'll do anything for a quick buck. But That's News To Me is lazy even by his standards. This 3DO title isn't really a game at all: The player picks a topic and a month of the year, then watches a quick, Weekend Update-style video clip of Miller making a joke. And that's it. That's News To Me's lame jokes based on the current events of 1993 are about on par with Miller's current shtick, but they can't compare to the highlight of his comedy career: his role as Sandra Bullock's ill-fated psychiatrist in The Net. Not only is it hilarious, but navigating The Net's DVD menu has just as much interactivity as this 3DO "game" does.   

Shelley Duvall's It's A Bird's Life
Behold, the winner for the most bizarre celebrity tie-in for a game. You probably remember Shelley Duvall as the terrorized wife of Jack Nicholson in The Shining. This 3DO title is a lot like that, only it has fewer blood-filled elevators and more Shelley Duvall narrating a children's book.

In addition to telling the story of Mowglie, Pearlie, and Humpty's journey from Los Angeles to the Amazon rain forest, It's A Bird's Life also contains 11 sing-along songs, interactive jigsaw puzzles, 3D finger painting, and a connect-the-dots minigame. Creepy ghost child twins and Jack Nicholson making out with a decaying corpse? Not so much.

That concludes our look at the weirdest celebrity-based video games. Think we missed one? Make fun of it yourself in the comments section below!