We have all seen games based on films. For better-or-worse, we have probably played some of them too. Unfortunately, many of them turn out to be terrible shovelware.
Except for GoldenEye 007, that game was an influential masterpiece.
But what about games based on TV shows? Many would argue (myself included) that TV has taken over from Hollywood in the quality stakes. Would this make a game based on a TV show better than a game based on a movie? Let’s find out by looking at some of the best and worst examples.
(NB – Telltale’s The Walking Dead doesn’t count as it was based on the original comic book series, not the TV show.)
The Simpsons Franchise
The Simpsons were first unveiled to the world as a segment on The Tracey Ullman Show in 1987. It went on to become its own phenomenally successful show, and the rest is history.
Its long-lasting influence cannot be overstated. If The Simpsons had never aired then we may never have seen the plethora of adult-orientated animated shows that came after it - Many of which appear later in this article.
Such a successful franchise was bound to create spin-offs, and this included video games.
The Simpsons: Bart vs. the Space Mutants
First up we have The Simpsons: Bart vs. the Space Mutants. This 1991 side-scrolling platform game was released on many 8-bit and 16-bit platforms. It was widely panned by critics and gamers alike, who described it as both difficult and boring. I got it by default as it was bundled with my Amiga A500+.
I was very impressed with its intro sequence, but decidedly underwhelmed by the game itself. The Amiga version had the best intro, whilst the Mega Drive / Genesis version arguably had the best gameplay, although that wasn’t saying much.
The Simpsons: Bart vs. the Space Mutants - Amiga Intro
The Simpsons: Bart vs. the Space Mutants - Genesis/Mega Drive Gameplay
This was soon followed by the much improved The Simpsons the Arcade Game, a side-scrolling brawler from 1991. This was a genuinely fun little romp through the mean(ish) streets of Springfield with an innovative team attack mechanic. If you ever wanted to carry out common assault with a skipping rope or weaponize a vacuum cleaner then this is the game for you.
The Simpsons Arcade
This game swallowed most of my pocket money when I was a kid. Happy times.
There were many many The Simpsons tie ins after that. And many of them were far from impressive. The PS1 game Simpsons Wrestling scored a woeful 41.21% on Game Rankings and a measly 32/100 on Metacritic.
I suspect watching it is more fun than playing it…
The Simpsons: Road Rage
2001 saw the blatant Crazy Taxi rip-off The Simpsons: Road Rage. So obvious was its Crazy Taxi ‘influence’ that Sega (owners of the Crazy Taxi I.P.) filed a lawsuit against the companies behind Road Rage. (Fox Interactive, Electronic Arts, and Radical Entertainment.) Apparently, it was settled privately for an undisclosed amount.
Crazy Taxi on SEGA Dreamcast
Humm… to tip or not to tip?…
The Simpsons: Road Rage
Nope, can’t see a resemblance. It’s totally legit
The Simpsons: Hit & Run
2003 saw the release of another open-world (mostly) driving game, The Simpsons: Hit & Run. This was arguably the best Simpsons game. It was essentially a kiddie-friendly Simpsons-themed Grand Theft Auto III with more doughnuts and fewer *ahem* 'ladies of the night'. Great!
The Simpsons: Hit & Run
I remember this being quite difficult for a kid’s game, with punishingly tight time limits. But perhaps I just suck at driving.
Simpsons Tapped Out
From the best Simpsons game to the worst - Simpsons Tapped Out. This predatory cash-grab excuse for a ‘game’ epitomizes all that is wrong with freemium gaming.
Simpsons Tapped Out
Watching someone else play is tedious. I imagine playing it isn’t much better, despite how addictive similar games can be.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Franchise
The pizza-loving ‘heroes in a half-shell’ were another late 80’s to early ‘90s phenomenon, and they too spawned several video games.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
The first game of note was the punishingly difficult Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on the NES. Not having owned an NES as a child I was spared its frustrating and rage-quit inducing gameplay. However, it appears that almost everyone who has played it mentions how brutally difficult parts of it are, that water level especially. Therefore, I’m deferring to those with greater experience than I.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – NES
That water level though…
This was followed by the much improved (and easier) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Arcade Game. Based on the same hardware as The Simpsons arcade game, this too was a highly enjoyable romp that swallowed many kids’ pocket money.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – Arcade
Err, why are the ninja’s exploding?
Family Guy Franchise
AKA – ‘The animated TV show for people who remember other TV shows from the 1980s’. I’m in my 40s now so I am included in its target audience. I have long been a fan of Family Guy and its spin-off shows, American Dad and The Cleveland Show.
Which is why a mobile game that contained all three sounded quite tempting. That game was Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff (FG: TQfS).
Regrettably, it turned out to be a freemium game with all the negative connotations that implies. You can read about my brush with this ‘game’ here.
Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff
One of my all-time favourites shows, partly due to it starring one of my all-time favourite characters - Bender ‘bending’ Rodriguez. It too got the video game treatment.
First up we have the Xbox and PS2 game simply called Futurama. As a game it was middling, however, its cut scenes were praised. Combined they make up a lost episode.
Futurama: Worlds of Tomorrow
Unfortunately, Futurama has also had the freemium mobile game treatment in Futurama: Worlds of Tomorrow. I haven’t played it, and I never will.
All I can say then is that it looks slightly more interesting than FG: TQfS in that it appears to feature turn-based combat reminiscent of Final Fantasy 7.
Secondly, it was nominated for ‘Outstanding Achievement in Videogame Writing’ at the Writers Guild of America Awards 2017, which suggests the in-game writing and humour are significantly better.
Futurama: Worlds of Tomorrow Trailer
Futurama: Worlds of Tomorrow Gameplay
For a perhaps questionable game.
South Park Franchise
South Park is probably the longest-running adult animated TV show after The Simpsons. For a long time, it was also the most controversial. Although it has arguably been topped in the controversy stakes, it remains as hilarious, edgy, and topical as ever. The games based on it are equally near the knuckle.
The first was a somewhat bizarre FPS simply named ‘South Park’. It was first released in 1998 on the PC, PlayStation, and N64. It was humorous enough but sub-par as a game.
South Park (Game)
I’m surprised Cartman can keep jogging around like that…
South Park: The Stick of Truth and South Park: The Fractured But Whole
However, it was the RPG South Park: The Stick of Truth that really caused a stir when it was released in 2014. Playing this game is akin to watching an interactive movie, and is genuinely hilarious. It also featured one of the grossest (yet laugh-out-loud funny) levels in video game history.
South Park: The Stick of Truth Gameplay
Trigger warning - If there are somethings you find offensive this game will probably include them. The makers of South Park are equal opportunity offenders – they aim to offend EVERYONE! NSFC!
This was followed by its ingeniously titled sequel South Park: The Fractured But Whole in 2017
South Park: The Fractured But Whole Gameplay
Trigger warning: Err, same as the last one…?
Wallace and Gromit Franchise
Sticking with comedy, but of a far more family-friendly nature, we have Wallace and Gromit.
Gromit is arguably the brains of the outfit, despite being mute (and a dog.) Wallace has “been inventing mostly” leading to their home being full of cracking contraptions, which probably sounded like a good idea on paper. Gromit, always the cunning one, must often rescue Wallace from the predicaments he finds himself in due to his good-natured naiveté.
Wallace & Gromit Project Zoo
The first video game to feature the less-than-dynamic duo was 2003’s Wallace & Gromit Project Zoo, a 3D platformer for the PS2, Xbox and GameCube. As a game it was average, but younger players who were fans of the show probably found it enjoyable.
Wallace & Gromit Project Zoo
Feathers McGraw is back, and he is still a bounder
The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
This was soon followed by 2005’s The Curse of the Were-Rabbit for the PS2 and Xbox. Technically this is a tie-in of the film of the same name, but the film is based on the TV show, so it counts. As a game, it was on-par with Project Zoo. Not great, but not terrible either.
The Curse of the Were-Rabbit – Xbox
I could say "This game *sucks*" … watch to see why.
Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Adventures
Easily the best Wallace and Gromit game was Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Adventures by Telltale Games for the PC. Grand Adventures are a collection of episodic point and click adventures. There are four episodes in total, with each consisting of a self-contained story. Although each episode can be played standalone - and thus in any order - they fit into an overall story arc. Seeing the villains from several earlier episodes locked in the same prison cell is a humorous touch.
Grand Adventures features a new cast of characters that appear prominently in all four episodes. The characters are well designed, well written, well voiced acted and are genuinely funny. All four episodes have the feel of an interactive episode of the TV show. The humour is spot on and the art style replicates Aardman Animation’s signature Claymation perfectly - right down to the tiny imperfections in the clay.
NB – Due to licencing issues, the game is unavailable from both conventional retailers and digital download. However, it can be picked up second-hand from Amazon, eBay etc. NB – there are two ways of obtaining all four episodes. One way is to purchase the two two-episode packs. The second is to obtain the version which has all four episodes on a single DVD.
I recommend the latter option as there is a glitch with the two two-episode packs, whereby installing one DVD will uninstall the other, thus preventing you from having all four episodes installed at once. FYI the games fully install to your PC’s HDD / SSD, therefore you will not need to use the physical copy afterwards.
Wallace & Gromit's Grand Adventures, Episode 1: Fright of the Bumblebees
Insert obligatory Nicholas Cage “Bees, bees, no, not the bees!” meme here
So now we have seen examples of both the best - and the worst - of video games based on TV shows.
So, what is the answer to our original question of “Can a video game based on a TV show be better than a video game based on a movie?”
I would say the answer is; “Yes, in theory. It is all down to the developer making the game."
There are great TV-to-game titles, and there are absolute turkeys. The same can be said for Film-to-Game titles. There does not appear to be a TV-based action game that can match GoldenEye 007. Nor is there a film-based game that is as hilarious as Wallace and Gromit’s Grand Adventures or the two Southpark RPGs. So that’s clear as mud then. Sorry.
What do you think of the games listed above? Have you played any of them? If so, what did you like about them, and what did you not? Can you think of any other games based on TV shows that could be added to a notional ‘part two’? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Iain is a 40+ author and gamer from England, who started his gaming journey on the Atari 2600 36 years ago. His specialities include obscure cult classics, retro games, mods and fan remakes. He hates all sports games and is allergic to on-line multi-player. Since he is British, his body is about 60% tea. He can be reached via Twitter at https://twitter.com/IainBaker17, and contacted via email at email@example.com
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