Tie-ins — dontcha just love ’em???!!!
From The Hobbit to Judge Death, from Invasion Of The Body Snatchas to Star Wars, games have been based on books and films and comics and cartoons and TV series and famous names and — well, just about anything you can buy a licence to.
Successful tie-ins translate a passively readable or watchable story into a playable game. But others are rip-offs, simply using a famous name to boost sales.
ROBIN CANDY’s been through them all, and in this first half of a two-part article he reviews the film and TV tie-ins.
Next month: tie-ins with books, comics, cartoons and celebrities, plus some that never were.
THEY’VE been around a while. In early 1984, a tie-in earned CRASH’s Game Of The Month award for the first time: in Blue Thunder (90% Overall in Issue 3), which had been both a film and a TV series, the player controls the infamous jetcopter and has to rescue prisoners by destroying a reactor and thus switching off a force field. Neither game nor TV series has any real plot, and I have to admit I was disappointed with it. But programmer Richard Wilcox, whose company Richard Wilcox Software published Blue Thunder, went on to cofound Elite — source of many tie-ins.
In issue 8 came Compusound’s Block Buster (76%), a quiz game derivative of the TV series of the same name. It’s quite like Trivial Pursuit with the player answering general-knowledge questions. Fans of quiz games enjoyed Block Buster, but it isn’t well-presented even for its time.
Block Buster wasn’t on general release for long, because it wasn’t officially licensed, and after legal action the game was withdrawn. Later it reappeared as Wender Bender, and in early 1985 a licensed and improved version was released by Macsen Software (82% in Issue 13).
Richard Wilcox Software had specialised in licensed games from the very start, and after members of the Wilcox family had set up Elite Software the new company released The Fall Guy (76% in Issue 12). The player controls Colt Seavers, stunt-man hero of the TV series, In the game, a low budget for Seaver’s productions means all the stunts have to be pulled off as quickly as possible! It’s okay, and compared to some of Elite’s other tie-ins The Fall Guy does have a connection with its origin.
A few months later Elite gained a real tie-in Smash with Airwolf (90% in Issue 13), based on the high-tech TV series — but only just. The game follows Stringfellow Hawke’s attempts to free five top US scientists from a subterranean base, and the player guides the helicopter through the caverns. It is a good game, but has very little to do with the TV series other than involving a helicopter.
Magic Roundabout used to be compulsory viewing in late afternoons, and the antics of Zebedee et al were a joy to watch. CRL snapped up the licence. The star of the game (51% in Issue 12) is Dougal, who has to build a house by pushing sugar cubes around the screen before bedtime. The graphics are nice enough, but the game doesn’t recreate the atmosphere of the TV series, though Magic Roundabout was obviously aimed at the younger games-players.
‘I ain’t afraid of no ghost’ went up the cry in Issue 13 as Activision released Ghostbusters (60%), which the company claimed was the best-selling game ever. (It’s sold over 250,000 copies, though this year Ocean’s film licence Top Gun has almost overtaken that.) The Commodore 64 version had been a big hit (like the film comedy), largely because of the incredible soundtrack and speech; the game itself is very easy to complete and not addictive. The object is to clean the city of ghosts, picking up and using such objects as a ghost vacuum! The gameplay is closely based on the film, but there’s so little to actually do that Ghostbusters is boring and loses all its attraction without the soundtrack.
In April 1985 Elite released another TV tie-in, The Dukes Of Hazzard (63% in Issue 15). Set in the southern USA, like the series, the scenario has Boss Hogg threatening to take General Lee from the Duke boys unless they can come up with the $5,000 they owe him. Coincidentally, a race is announced with the prize money at $5,000 so the Duke bays enter it in a bid to keep General Lee... meanwhile, the police are out to stop them.
The Dukes Of Hazzard is basically a variant on the well-worn Moon Buggy games. And it’s rather a bore, with reasonable graphics but no addictive gameplay. This tie-in is a bit of a gimmick: remove the scenario and there isn’t much, except the General Lee graphics, to connect the game with the TV series.
Quicksilva’s licensed computer game of 20th Century Fox’s film Fantastic Voyage (78% in Issue 16) takes the player swimming inside someone’s body, trying to destroy a malignant growth and collect the pieces of a miniaturised submarine to get back out of the body before time ran out.
The 1966 film was about a group of doctors miniaturised so that they could journey around a seriously ill scientist and repair the damaged body (a remake called Inner Space is in the pipeline — or should that be the aorta?). The game follows the film in many areas, though it’s nothing special.
Journeys around the body may seem a strange basis for a game, but the hit TV series Minder was just as unlikely a candidate for conversion. The only way to base a game on the TV series would have been to include plenty of dodgy dealings — and that was exactly what DK’Tronics’s Minder (75% in Issue 17) involved. The player controls Arthur Daley in a 15-day spree of wheeling and dealing, trying to make as much profit as possible.
As an adaptation of the TV series Minder is very good, featuring most of the main characters (including Sergeant Chisholme, always on the prowl at the Winchester Club): the only letdown is that Terry McCann, the delivery man, only plays a minor role. Programmer Don Priestley made Minder interesting, giving the characters memories so you have to treat them correctly if you want to make deals with them. But it doesn’t hold the interest for long.
Adventure International jumped into the film-licensing market with Gremlins (Issue 17; an adventure, so no percentage), an official tie-in with Steven Spielberg’s hugely successful family movie. With the aid of cute little Gizmo, the player has to annihilate the Gremlins running riot in Kingston Falls.
Programmer Brian Howarth added extra scenes to the main parts of the film to make it a little harder, but knowledge of the film is a great help, especially in the opening sequences.
The astounding thing in Gremlins is the very high-quality graphics, with occasional animation adding to the atmosphere. The graphics also serve a purpose, giving clues which aren’t in the text. It’s good without being outstanding, most enjoyable if you’ve seen and liked the film.
Inevitably, James Bond eventually found his way into the bowels of a computer in the summer of 1985. The suave secret agent’s high- speed adventures lend themselves well to a game, so Domark snapped up the licence for A View To A Kill and Bond made his Spectrum debut in Issue 18 (scoring 76%), at much the same time as the film appeared.
The game of A View To A Kill is divided into three sections, each based on an action-packed scene from the film. In the first Bond is driving around Paris trying to locate the place where the assassin May Day will land; in the second, set in San Francisco, Bond must rescue himself and his girlfriend Stacy from a burning building; and in the third Bond enlists May Day’s help, attempting to find a bomb and defusing it.
These subgames were based on episodes in the film, but the effect is disappointing. A View To A Kill isn’t really action-packed, and poor presentation reduces our hero to an unrecognisable stick character.
Bond appeared again earlier this year in Domark’s The Living Daylights (63% in Issue 43), at the same time as the film, which was much hyped because of Timothy Dalton’s debut as Bond. It’s split into eight levels, loosely based on the film’s action sequences; but they’re all very similar, with parallax scrolling which messes up the nice graphics. And though much of the film is there, somewhere along the line its atmosphere was lost.
Of course the Bond films are themselves ‘tie-ins’ with Ian Fleming’s Fifties novels and stories, though today the movies are better-known.
CRL brought The Rocky Horror Show (79% in Issue 18) out of the late-night cinemas and alternative theatres. A cult stage play and film in the States and Britain, The Rocky Horror Show centres on the adventures of the all-American wimp Brad and his girlfriend Janet in the home of Dr Frank’n’Furter, a ‘sweet transvestite from transsexual Transylvania’.
The game is in the same madcap style as the stage show (where people in the audience dress up as their favourite Rocky Horror characters and shower the stage with items such as Kit Kats) and film, though it doesn’t stick to the story.
The player can choose to be either Brad or Janet, but it doesn’t really make any difference; whichever character you are, you have to collect parts of the De-Medusa machine to free the other one. If time runs out the house blasts off into space (told you it’s madcap...), ending the game.
There’s not much to The Rocky Horror Show; it’s enjoyable but easy to complete. Still, it recreates the atmosphere of the show right down to the Timewarp dance, just a jump to the left...
There was another kind of bizarreness in Issue 18 in Tynesoft’s Super Gran based on the TV-series exploits of the jet-powered geriatric. It was a terrible show and the game (43%) followed suit, with very low-resolution graphics and awful sound. And it wasn’t really connected with the TV sense — the tie-in seemed like an excuse to boost sales of a very poor game.
Space adventurer Buck Rogers was a superhero of low-budget films in the Thirties, but US Gold’s licence Buck Rogers And The Planet Of Zoom was unsuccessful on the Commodore 64 and the Spectrum conversion in autumn 1985 didn’t do much better, making just 67% in Issue 20.
The player plots Buck’s spaceship through five progressively harder levels, destroying anything that happens to get in the way. There’s no link with any Buck Rogers story — a pity, because the character provided plenty of scope for a good game.
US Gold returned to screen licences with Zorro (53% in Issue 26). Originally a swashbuckling hero of Thirties pulp fiction, Zorro had starred in a series of B-movies, a TV series, and comics. The 18th-century swordsman made a living out of defending the innocent and upholding justice, like Batman but without the high-tech gadgetry and rubber-shark repellent — instead he made do with his trusty foil and left ‘Zorro’ emblazoned on the backsides of fat Mexicans.
The game wasn’t terribly good, though it kept to the spirit of the shows, with plenty of swordfighting and the odd puzzle. But the idea was let down by poor presentation and thin gameplay.
Thunderbirds are go! The TV puppet series beloved of many came to the Spectrum as a Firebird cheapie, but Thunderbirds (64% in Issue 23) revolves around the hi-tech Thunderbird rescue vehicles themselves rather than the characters that pilot them.
A group of Egyptologists trapped in the deep recesses of a tomb manages to contact Thunderbird 5 (the one in space), which in turn scrambles Thunderbirds 1 and 2. But after the excellent demo of the two Thunderbirds’ blastoff, the game reverts to a logic puzzle — strangely compelling, but not living up to expectations created by the name Thunderbirds.
The Neverending Story was a great idea for a movie, but the German film of 1985 is let down by poor scriptwriting and acting — and Ocean’s adventure (7 out of 10 in Issue 26) is atmospheric but flawed, too. As the hero Atreyu, the player is sent to save the land of Fantasia and its Empress from all-consuming nothingness (sounds like a night on the town in little Ludlow — Man Ed). Knowing the film does help in playing the game, but it’s not essential, because the problems are logical enough.
There’s not much logic in Ocean’s Rambo (79% in Issue 28) — like the film, it’s distinctly lacking in plot. And unlike the film, the game can’t hide this with special effects. Rambo followed the film’s theme: the eponymous American soldier played by Sylvester Stallone on the screen kills anything that moves, and rescues some poor bedraggled prisoner. Extra weapons such as a bow and a rocket-launcher annihilate the surroundings as well as the enemy.
Rambo plays exactly like a Commando variant, though it’s not as good as Elite’s original; disappointing, when you consider all the other ways to go about portraying a mindless killer.
Fortunately gameshows don’t get converted into computer games that often, but Britannia Software brought Play Your Cards Right (38% in Issue 27) to the Spectrum, following the TV show very closely — though the player is only subjected to the odd glimpse of Bruce Forsyth. It’s a fair representation of the quessing-game show, but there a not much to do, and as there are no real prizes the hysteria of the TV series just vanishes.
CRL couldn’t get the licence to the 1982 futuristic film Blade Runner (itself based on Philip K Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?) — so the software house picked up the licence for the soundtrack! But the game did bear uncanny similarities to the film. For instance, in the game the 21st-century bounty-hunter has to hunt down replidroids, manufactured organisms that resemble humans and have been banned from Earth, while in the film Harrison Ford is on the trail of deadly replicants.
Blade Runner (the game — 58% in Issue 27) consists of locating the replidroids, chasing them through the streets and destroying them before they cause too much damage. It’s boring and repetitive, but the title-screen music is very good...
Almost two years before Blade Runner was released, CRL’s War Of The Worlds (48% in Issue 7, a dull and primitive arcade adventure) had also been based on music — on Jeff Wayne’s LP version of the H G Wells novel, rather than the 1952 film or Orson Welles’s famous radio broadcast!
A computer-generated TV megastar had to come to the Spectrum screen sooner or later, so in the early summer of 1986 Quicksilva released Binary Designs’s Max Headroom (85% in Issue 18). It’s not really based on the TV series, having more in common with the TV film that introduced us all to the stuttering pundit. The player controls ace TV reporter Edison Carter on a mission to rescue Max Headroom from the Network 23 TV station, avoiding security robots and cracking entry codes.
On rescuing Max, you’re treated to a few digitised words from the pixel star himself. It’s a good game, but a strange implementation of a tricky subject: after all, Max is little more than a wisecracking chat-show host.
Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes is universally held as one of the worst movies ever made. But Global produced a very good game of the film (89% in Issue 28); like the original, it focuses on Wimp Plasbot’s attempt to rid the planet of mutated vegetables. It’s a 3-D room game in the same style as Knight Lore, and bears more than a few similarities to Ultimate’s earlier Smash.
Michael J Fox made his Spectrum debut with help from Electric Dreams as the star of Back To The Future (42% in Issue 28). Like the American film of 1985, it’s about an American kid (Marty McFly, played by teen heart-throb Fox) who, thanks to a mad professor, gets transported back to the Fifties — to the time that his parents were getting together.
Mucking about with the past has huge consequences, and Marty almost alters the course of history so his parents don’t meet — then he has to spend most of the film making sure they do get together.
In the game you control Marty, and must make his future parents spend as much time together as possible so love will run its true course and Marty wilt be born In the future. Your success is gauged by a family photograph, almost complete when you’re doing well. Back To The Future makes sense if you’ve seen the film, but poor programming and presentation let it down tremendously. The idea, especially the use of icons, was good but badly implemented.
I always liked the first series of V, TV’s saga of everyday aliens, but the second killed off most of the cast and degenerated into nothing more than a space soap. In Ocean’s game (70% in Issue 29) Michael Donavan has managed to board the alien mother ship to plant bombs and wipe out the visitors; but Diana, leader of the lizard-like aliens, has sent out her robot armies to thwart you (for it is you).
There’s not much to do in this horizontally-scrolling game, and V seems to have very little connection with the TV series: for a start, there’s no sign of the eponymous visitors. It’s a shame Ocean couldn’t have made mare of V because despite being a laughable programme it provided plenty of scope for high-speed shoot-’em-ups.
CRASH reviewed The Young Ones from Orpheus, based an Adrian Edmondson’s madcap TV comedy, in the same month as V (it got 42%). The player chooses which of the four characters he wants to be, and from then on all you have to do is collect that character’s belongings, selecting commands from a list of choices such as ‘walk’ and ‘talk’. There’s not much unusual in The Young Ones apart from a few swear wards, and like the gameplay the tie-in is virtually nonexistent..
After a blaze of hype that lasted months and hundreds of freebie plastic knives, Domark’s Friday The 13th was finally released in the summer of 1986. The 1980 horror film (and its four sequels) had scared many people, but this licence didn’t even raise a whimper and earned only 32% in issue 29.
It follows on from where the first film left off: at a camping resort you have to save the other campers from the psychotic Jason before he bumps them and yourself off. However, even the chain-saw-wielding failed to impress. This crude game with its terrible graphics is one of the worst tie-ins ever.
Several months after it was first advertised, Ocean’s Knight Rider made a somewhat undramatic entrance at the Towers. Michael Knight and Kitt are united in their battle against terrorists out to start World War III — but since nobody knows where the terrorists actually are you’ve got to drive around America like a mad thing collecting clues. It’s a drab game, not much like the TV series, and the reviewers thought the year-long wait wasn’t worth it; Knight Rider got just 39% in Issue 34.
The following month, Ocean finally pushed out a complete version of Street Hawk after an 18-month wait (68% in Issue 34). There are two stages: the first consists of riding down the high street killing car-loads of criminals but avoiding innocent bystanders, and the second stage is a Missile Command-style shoot-out at a liquor store.
Street Hawk is very simplistic, like the story lines of the TV series. Graphically it’s above average, but the lack of screens and action let the game down tremendously.
I never rated Steven Spielberg’s film Goonies very highly; the special effects are good, but there’s no excitement in the plot. US Gold’s licensed version turned up a year ago (60% in Issue 35). It’s essentially a platform game where the player guides two Goonies to a secret exit at the other side of the screen, but cooperation is the name of the game: your two Goonies must interact with each other for the mission to be successful. Goonies is a straightforward platform game with very little to do with the film.
By 1986, software houses were bidding for the game rights to any big film release as soon as it appeared. A few months after the film Cobra, Ocean’s game appeared (93% in Issue 35). The player has to rescue top model Ingrid Knutsen from a band of deadly killers and the Night Slasher, but to start with you haven’t any weapons and your sole means of defence is your deadly head butt.
Considering that the main feature of the Stallone movie is killing, Ocean’s game is a very good conversion — mindless but enjoyable, in much the same style as Imagine’s Green Beret but far better. And the music is some of the best ever created for the sound-starved Spectrum. Cobra made up for Ocean failures like Street Hawk and Knight Rider.
Sequels tend not to be as good as their originals, but with the film Aliens director Ridley Scott managed to improve on the gripping formula that had made Alien a huge hit. Electric Dreams acquired the licence, and Mark Eyles designed the game, which conveys the frantic pace and terror that the film portrays so well. The strategy elements are nicely offset by an arcade pace, and Aliens would have been a Smash but for the few idiosyncrasies that the reviewers felt flawed it.
Just this month, Electric Dreams released the US version of Aliens — there’s a (not very enthusiastic) review this issue.
Issue 37 is an issue of licences, most from Ocean. Highlander (57%), based on the 1986 film starring Christopher Lambert, portrays the battle through the ages of a group of immortals in competition for The Prize. By virtue of their immortality, they can only be killed by being beheaded...
Ocean’s game leaves out most of the film’s story line and centres on the fight sequences instead. In the game McLeod (the Lambert character) has three opponents to defeat before The Prize can be his, each one harder to kill than the previous; the Canvas programmers produced nothing more than a beat-’em-up with swords.
The need to load each opponent separately is annoying, and graphically Highlander is very clumsy: the programmers used extended pixels, making the characters appear blocky and awkward. The two-player option is one redeeming feature, but Highlander failed to capture the movie’s spirit.
Also in Issue 37, Ocean’s Top Gun was a Smash at 90%. Again, the game neglected the story line of the film (much of its success had been due to pin-up star Tom Cruise), and the main connection between the two was F14 combat planes. But the quality of the product made it more acceptable.
Top Gun is a flight simulator with more gameplay than others of its ilk — the object is simply to blast your opponent out of the sky. Programmer Mike Lamb uses split-screen techniques to depict the cockpits of two opposing aircraft, and the two-player head-to-head combat option is the real highlight of this enjoyable tie-in.
Ocean’s final licence of the month was It’s A Knockout (39%), which presented five wacky events including flan-flinging — followed the theme of the notorious TV series, with all those games to make the players very wet or very messy and sometimes both. It’s A Knockout is played like Ocean’s Daley Thompson sports simulations, though it’s hardly so enjoyable — this tie-in is quite close to its original, but perhaps the real-life TV mayhem is untranslatable to the computer.
The film licences have been divided fairly evenly between Electric Dreams and Ocean, the former bringing on Big Trouble In Little China (67% in Issue 40) just a few months ago.
The high-speed action film directed by John Carpenter (best known for spookythrillers like The Fog and The Thing) relates the rescue efforts of Jack Burton and Wang Chi, whose green-eyed girlfriends have been kidnapped by the skinless Mandarin Lo Pan. In the game the player controls three characters, each with different abilities, one at a time: the heroes Jack Burton and Wang Chi and their friend Egg Shen.
Big Trouble In Little China is basically a beat-’em-up with a few extras, and it’s not as funny as the film. As in Cobra, the best thing is the music.
At much the same time, Ocean released Short Circuit (71% in Issue 40). Like the film, it chronicled a robot’s attempts to escape from a bunch of scientists who want to pull it apart and discover how it’s assumed human qualities. Short Circuit is divided into two separate sections, the first a collecting game and the second an arcade dash — both enjoyable, though they have little to do with the actual film.
Grange Hill, Phil Redmond’s hit TV series of everyday comprehensive life, became an adventure from Argus Press Software (70% in Issue 40). As Goncho, you try to retrieve your Walkman from school after it’s confiscated in a lesson. The programmers tried hard to avoid Grange Hill being pigeonholed, combining both arcade and adventure elements.
But considering that five programmers are credited, Grange Hill is dull and a great disappointment, despite being based on a Grange Hill story.
Activision’s Howard The Duck (61% in Issue 41) cast the player as the eponymous duck, with a mission to rescue Phil and Beverly from the clutches of the Dark Overlord. The game closely follows the main sequences of the film — which isn’t much good in the first place.
Finally, Flash Gordon, the 25th-century hero of Thirties comic strips and films, got his own game this summer. But graphics and gameplay are appalling in M.A.D.’s version (42% in Issue 43), where (as usual) Flash has 24 hours to save the earth by getting through several levels and defeating the merciless Ming. It’s a shame such a well-known hero is represented so crudely — but then it’s a strange transition from screen to screen, and tie-ins have always been a mixed blessing.