Superman, E.T., LOST, and more great TV and movies turned into terrible games

Throughout the month of June, Blastr will be celebrating our favorite digital diversions with Video Game Month: a look at some best, worst and wackiest from the world of shooters, space sims, strategy games and more.

Over the years, we've seen plenty of video game developers attempt to capture the magic of a popular sci-fi film or TV franchise, but there's something about the genre that makes the effort much more likely to be a disaster than to be a success. Take a look at this list of the worst video games of all time. Now, I know the source is Wikipedia, but I assure you that I did not write this list. Sixteen of these games are sci-fi/horror franchise related. Compare that to this list of about 100 games that are considered "best." Only four are based on sci-fi material. Many people have reviewed and skewered the worst genre games of all time, so I wanted to go deeper by examining just what went wrong with each one.

Check out the list below, and let us know about your worst movie/show-to-game tie-in experiences in the comments.

E.T. (Atari 2600)

So legendary is this awful game's impact that, recently, 881 copies dug up from a landfill sold for over $100,000 on eBay. But how, exactly did this game turn out so bad?

First of all, the game was only given five-and-a-half weeks of time for development, start to finish. Pac Man, a genuinely horribe port which had only one programmer, had sold so well that Atari became convinced that quality was not a needed part of a profitable video game. It's like if you found a $20 bill on the street one day, and then decided to quit your job because you could just hang out there and find $20 any time you wanted. Then, the game's designer showed his idea to Spielberg, but ignored the negative feedback the filmmaking legend provided. What's weird is that falling into pits, universally regarded as the worst part of the game, was a hit component of another wildly successul game same year (Pitfall).

By now, E.T. has been reviewed by so many comedians, it would be hard for me to add anything new. Instead, I'm going to present the descriptions of the game given to me by my 5-year-old friend in 1983. My friend was red-green colorblind. My notes are in italics.

Friend: OK, E.T. is invisible (E.T. was green on a green background). All these men are chasing after him, and he randomly falls into a new screen (the pits, both inside and out, were also green). Sometimes, you get this weird thing that I don't know what to do with it. (My friend, being five, was unable to read the complicated set of win conditions in the instruction manual). Eventually, you can't find any more black dots and die.

Friday the 13th (Atari 2600)

Fighting zombies is one of the primary staples of successful modern video games, so how exactly did combining them with one of the most iconic slashers turn out so badly? For starters, it's important to know that cranking out sub-par video games as movie tie-ins is, and has always been, a pretty successful gambit. In 1989, Acclaim even had its own subsidiary, LJN, in order to turn profits off of cheaply-made film games without the horrible quality affecting their primary brand.

That said, there are several plot reasons why Friday the 13th is worse than the average movie-video game dreck. For starters, the writers apparently did zero research. This is the only explanation for why Jason can often be seen taking a leisurely swim in the camp lake, even though that same lake is where he drowned as a child. Also, the writers have obviously never been to summer camp, even a cut-rate one such as Camp Crystal Lake, as a main enemy is killer birds. We'll take zombies and Jason, anyday, over living in the psychological torture of a camp based upon a Hitchcockian nightmare.

Back to the Future

Speaking of LJN, another legendarily bad game they made was the adaptation of Back to the Future. If you've ever wondered why it was so bad, we can sum it up with one sentence: There's a minigame where you have to avoid getting kissed by your mom. The main screenwriter of the film stated that he offered to provide input on the game several times during development, but was turned away each time.

Honestly, the gameplay wasn't what made this one of the all-time worst gaming experiences for me. Sure, it is asinine, Michael J Fox scrolls through levels gathering clocks, because somehow that equals plutonium or w/e. But it's at least tolerable, probably because it was cribbed from other, more popuar games. What made me want to buy up every remaining copy of this game and bury them in the New Mexican desert was the soundtrack.

It's just a clone of Huey Lewis' "Power of Love," in 8-bit. Over and over. Oh, and they sped it up 2x, so I can get sick of it in half the time. The fact that Huey Lewis isn't spinning in his grave is a testament to his fortitude. And, I suppose, his longevity.

Superman 64

By now, we're all familiar with the Nintendo 64 debacle over the game based on Superman: The Animated Series. Superman flies around through annoying green smoke collecting rings, etc. But why did this premise turn out such a bad game? 

In this case, it was part due to initial designs outpacing the N64's capacity, but a frequent complaint of the producer was competing influences by DC Comics and Warner Bros. Developers started out making a fun game in which Superman goes around fighting bad guys and stopping crime. You know, like literally any game about Superman should have as its central premise. But DC Comics and Warner Bros. were squeamish about their prized pig, so they kept making ridiculous constraints. For instance, the game couldn't be set in reality, because they didn't want Superman to kick real people. 

I played this then, and I played it again for this article. There's no subtle nuances ripe for observationa comedy. It just sucks. Whereas even the other horrible games at least have some cool intro and opening level, Superman 64 opens right up with Lex Luthor making you fly through rings. No reason given. Well played, Luthor; you truly are evil. It's this part that takes this game from "really, really bad," to "all time, hands-down worst." The developers can blame DC/Warner all they want, but DC/Warner never said "OK, once they finish the annoying rings, put instrucitons on the screen for half a second, then if they don't follow the instructions in six seconds MAKE THEM DO THE RINGS AGAIN!"

Ju-On: The Grudge

I wasn't exactly sure what the problem bringing this game down was, so I played it...

The one feature I found cool in this game is that I can move the Wiimote like a flashlight. However, wherever I point the flashlight is the same direction in which I move, so it's more like I just use the Wiimote to move, like in every game. OK, the game starts, and the incredibly clunky amalgamation of shapes that's supposed to be "my dog" runs into an abandoned factory. So, I go into the factory. Really, the scariest part of this setting is its sad commentary on the downturned economy. I see my dog behind a door, I open the door, a ghost toddler jumps out at me. Apparently, it locks the door, too. At this point, my character chooses not to run away, nor to kick in the door and get my dog, but instead to CALMLY WALK AROUND THE WAREHOUSE AND LOOK AT STUFF. But hey, it's a horror movie sim, I can get over dumb characters. What I can't get over is that, 95% of the time, there are no jump scares, it's just my character walking around agonizingly slow, looking for arbitrarily hidden keys or flashlight batteries. I suspect this is a key-and-flashlight battery factory.

Therein lies the main issue with this game: Bad writing. In horror movies, the tension builds for a few minutes, max. The rest of the time is, you know, plot and action. The entire angle of, "Hey, let's make a game like a horror movie, but take out all the plot and action," meant this was doomed from the start.

Doctor Who: Return to Earth

This game was written by long-time series writer, Oli Smith, which started it off on the right foot. So, I played it, and found out that, unfortunately, the left foot turned out to be a rotting, worm-ridden stump, incapable of bringing the game forward at all. 

It starts with me running around trying not to get hit by meteors. Well, back up. It all starts with me becoming infinitely disappointed that the title was not Doctor Whore : Turn to Earth, as I initially perceived. Then, I have to put out fires by firing red crystals at frowny faces. After this, the game comes dangerously close to becoming interesting, as I am chased by a killer robot. Luckily, I can escape by...putting out fires by firing red crystals at frowny faces. Then, I have to sneak around in such a manner as to resemble the walk I do to the closet when I realize I am out of toilet paper.


Meanwhile, the killer robot comes closer to me with all the speed and aggression of a floor buffer. I couldn't find the will to play on, so I just let the robot kill me, which seemed to make it happy.


LOST: Via Domus

Featuring some of the original cast, and plotted by the LOST creators, themselves, Via Domus had a lot going for it when it hit shelves between seasons 3 and 4. The player controls some guy named Elliott, who is not on the TV show, and has amnesia. One thing I especially liked about this game was that it is the only source to find out what was behind the blast doors in the Swan Hatch. So, if this game really had compelling mythos and plot, what exactly caused it to be so disappointing to LOST fans?

Well, for starters, the game was about 5 hours long and retailed for $60 upon release. Not only that, but the involvement of the show's creators actually made the game disappointing, in that it made me realize that they actually had no endgame to what they were writing. This is a huge complaint among fans of the show, and nowhere was it more visible than in the game. For instance, my character has to shut down the Swan hatch reactor so I could use my compass. This is a needlessly Herculean effort just to figure out which way "North" is, like if the real LOST characters had detonated the nuclear bomb just so they could have somewhere to toast marshmallows. Even worse, the mechanics used to shut it down are remarkably simple. So, why did the Dharma Initiative station guys in the hatch for decades to keep the reactor from going critical, when they could've just shut it down? This was the first in a long line of revelations that LOST had questions that were frustratingly unanswerable. Seriously, why did the island float? Islands aren't rafts, they are attached to the Earth. But I digress.

What also made this game a huge letdown was the gameplay. It wouldn't have required much programming at all to have most of the challenges answered through dialogue trees. In fact, the puzzles that required talking to other LOSTies were the only ones in the game that didn't seem like they were designed by a small, feral child. The rest of the game was, like, "Oh, no, move out of the way of this rock! Smoke monster's coming, hide in this tree's roots which provide no cover at all, really, but are somehow effective."

Aliens: Colonel Marines

In 2006, SEGA bought the video game rights to the Alien franchise, and began work on Colonial Marines. What killed this game's chances was the most-Hollywood of all possibilities: Creative accounting.

SEGA had hired Gearbox to make the game. After five years of development hell, it was revealed that Gearbox was barely working on the game, while still cashing the checks from SEGA for putting a full-sized staff on the job. SEGA then rushed the finish of the game, with rumors flying that they simply outsourced every part to a variety of companies.

It starts out with a space marine getting interrogated. The game writers decided this would be the perfect place for some exposition. Fair enough, except it involves what seems to be the galaxy's worst interrogator, as it is he who ends up telling us everything that's going on. The next 20 minutes of this first-person shooter involves running around a space station WITHOUT A GUN. So, if you want to play Out-of-Ammunition-Simulator 2100, go for this hodgepodge.

Star Trek (2013)

OK, first of all, some marketing super-genius decided it would be good to make an entire game out of one of the worst scenes, not just in Star Trek canon, but in all of television history. Still, everything seemed to be going right during development of this game. The guy in charge said that the issue with most movie tie-ins was their rushed production, which is 100% true. Then, it was decided this game should involve a lot of co-op, combining the strengths of Kirk and Spock, which is an appealing idea even for the casual Trek fan. With that in mind, I played this game fully expecting to like it far better than it's dismal review scores indicated that I would.

As far as I could tell, there was barely any difference between Spock and Kirk. Now, I didn't follow the Original Series too closely, but from what I can glean, Spock is from a race of autistic elves, and Kirk is a Space Captain who longs for his days as a redshirt because he keeps trying to get himself killed. Except, in the game, Spock occasionally mind melds with someone to get information or has to fix someone's leg or something, and Kirk kills aliens with his shooty pistol. So, there really wasn't much to the "different characters" angle or, as the developers call it, "Bro-Op."

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