Since the advent of the gaming industry, TV shows and movies have taken advantage of the interactive medium. Sadly, I use the term “taken advantage” in a negative sense, as many games based on established entertainment franchises are nothing but quick cash-ins. Studios use them as a way of maximising profit by creating an unfinished shoddy product, usually tied-in with the release of a movie or show. The odds are against licensed video games, but some have defied the odds, meeting and even exceeding the admittedly low expectations gamers have for this type of game. Here are my top five greatest licensed games of all time.
5. The Simpsons: Hit & Run
Springfield’s favourite yellow family has a long and disappointing track record in video games. The Simpsons: Hit and Run is an outlier, however, and one of the best examples of how to use a licence the right way. Released in 2003, Hit and Run is something of a time-capsule for the TV show, cramming in the best references and one-liners from the shows best years (season 1 – season 10). Not only is the game fun, but it also features the most accurate recreation of Springfield ever made, with a gameplay structure right out of Grand Theft Auto. How this game has never received a remaster or remake is beyond me. I continue to hope that one day we’ll see this classic grace our consoles once more, but that hope is fading as the years go by.
4. GoldenEye 007
What can one say about Golden Eye 007? For an entire generation of gamers, this first-person shooter was as close as we’d ever get to portraying the famed spy. Based on the 1995 film of the same name, Goldeneye was released on the Nintendo 64 and quickly gained acclaim for its “Doom style” gameplay, combined with the 007 licences. What makes the game so memorable and meaningful is its place within the genre. The first-person shooter was a mainstay of PC gaming, but consoles tended to be ignored, considered to rudimentary to provide a good shooting experience. Goldeneye shot that belief in the head, no doubt making a witty quip while doing so. Bond games are rarely impressive, but Goldeneye has earned its place in history, to be considered forevermore as a giant of the FPS genre.
3. Batman: Arkham City
The dark knight has been around since 1939 and has shown up in almost every entertainment medium except theatre (to my knowledge). Though no stranger to the world of gaming, it wouldn’t be until Rocksteady’s Arkham franchise that the caped crusader got a real chance to shine. Out of the four Arkham games, none put the licence to good use like Batman: Arkham City. Simply put, Arkham City is the ultimate Batman simulator. Along with Bruce Wayne and Joker (voiced by Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, respectively), the significant slice of Gotham houses all your favourite bad guys from Two-Face to the Mad Hatter. The feeling of standing atop a rain-soaked rooftop, stepping off and gliding through the night sky is an enthralling experience that never becomes boring. You should play the entire franchise, but it doesn’t get any better than Batman: Arkham City.
Batman: Arkham Collection is available on PS4, Xbox One.
2. Telltale’s The Walking Dead Season 1
Robert Kirkman’s creation has encompassed comic books and TV, but translating the intricate weave of human emotions and difficult moral decision wasn’t possible in the gaming space until Telltale Games released The Walking Dead Season 1. The journey of Lee and Clementine is among the best in the genre. It’s a game that delights in forming close relationships, through stellar voice acting, then decimating them in horrendous, heartbreaking ways. Although the following three seasons never managed to capture the brilliance of the first, Telltale’s The Walking Dead is not only one of the best-licensed games ever made, but one of the greatest games I’ve ever played. If you haven’t played it, do yourself a favour and pick it up; you won’t regret it.
The Walking Dead: The Telltale Definitive Series is available on PS4, Xbox One.
1. Marvel’s Spider-Man
As the most recent release on this list, Marvel’s Spider-Man is a near-perfect example of using a licence to the fullest. Everything from the setting to the litany of characters oozes the very best that the web-head’s universe has to offer. Taking place years after dawning the costume, Peter Parker is a typical 20-something, struggling to make rent. After taking down Kingpin, the city is set upon by a verity of evil, including the supervillain group, the sinister six. There’s almost too much to talk about when it comes to how great this game is. For a more detailed analysis, check out our review. With Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales releasing later this year on PS5, you owe it to yourself to play this game if you have a PS4.
Marvel’s Spider-Man GOTY Edition is available on PS4.
Licensed games have a bad rap, but these five games prove that if a developer has the willingness to embrace everything a licence has to offer, while also adding to the universe in a meaningful way, they can create something unique. These are my top 5 greatest licensed games, but what are yours? Let us know your favourite licensed games in the comments below.