The PlayStation 2 was arguably an important era in gaming. Major series such as God of War, Ratchet & Clank and Kingdom Hearts started out on Sony’s sixth generation console, while ongoing series like Grand Theft Auto reached new heights of popularity. The PS2 has sold over 155 million consoles worldwide since its release in 2000. It’s fair to say that a lot of current gamers grew up playing it, such as myself. Personally though, I wasn’t regularly playing the aforementioned titles. Instead, I found playing as my favourite TV and movie characters in their own games to be more appealing.
Film, TV and even comic book tie-ins have a very mixed history in gaming. For decades, studios have worked with game developers to either expand franchises or increase the promotion of their upcoming projects. The end result is either a quality game that sometimes becomes its own series, such as Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham, or a rushed commercial failure like the famous ET: The Extra-Terrestrial. On the PS2, however, these adaptations found some consistency in quality for a few years. It’s not just the child in me saying this.
I have gone back to certain games as an adult and still enjoyed playing them. The last few years have shown that other people share this love for PS2 tie-ins. Let’s take a look at why some of these games were so good, and the impact they’ve left on the public and the industry.
As a child, people dream of being able to venture the streets of Springfield or roam the waters of Bikini Bottom. The PS2 was their opportunity to make those dreams as close to reality as possible. The first game that springs to mind is The Simpsons Hit & Run. The Grand Theft Auto parody featured linear open world gameplay that was full of life and fun. Whether driving or on-foot, there’s plenty of enjoyment to be had through chaotic missions or searching for collectibles. Just simply kicking Ned Flanders around as Homer is still enough to keep me entertained for a few minutes.
The game provided players with a unique Simpsons plot that included many characters and great laugh-out loud moments. The less said about the final mission though, the better. I still get shudders to this day thinking about it.
Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is a movie tie-in that’s also remembered for its great open world gameplay. While the missions lacked variety, the game would up the ante by introducing new locations and enemies. It wasn’t a complete carbon copy of the motion picture plot either. Players had some fresh story arcs and dialogue to discover. What I liked most about this game is how the gameplay would completely change at night when animals would transform into monsters. Platforming and strategy is replaced by close combat which provided new challenges. There was plenty of variety for different players to enjoy.
Perhaps the most memorable tie-in game on PS2 is Treyarch’s Spider-Man 2. Up until Insomniac’s Marvel’s Spider-Man, this is the game that gave players the most freedom as the web-slinger. There was a big Manhattan open world to explore with superb web-swinging mechanics. There was a huge variety of side content and a lot of villains to fight as Spider-Man. Again, the game did not solely follow the exact plot as the movie.
I have fond memories of the Mysterio missions which featured a funhouse and the most challenging web-swinging task of getting to Liberty Island. The combat was excellent, with Spidey boasting many different moves and combos in his repertoire. For me, it’s still one of the finest open world games I’ve ever played.
Some video game adaptations have had a lasting effect on the public. For example, every so often people will reminiscence on The Simpsons Hit & Run through a viral tweet on Twitter. There have been petitions calling for a sequel, with one reaching 25k+ signatures. Last year, it ranked 9th in a survey asking what game people most wanted to see remastered. The Simpsons Game, another tie-in released on PS2, finished 21st. Simpsons Hit & Run also has a strong modding community on PC, where fans create their own missions and expand the in-game worlds.
It’s clear that this is a game that holds a strong place in many hearts. EA are being cruel by restricting the franchise to the mobile city building title Simpsons Tapped Out. Even the developers would like to see it back, so what’s going on EA?
SpongeBob SquarePants is a show that had plenty of games on PS2, from one based on the movie to Creature From the Krusty Krab. However, Battle for Bikini Bottom is the game that sticks out in many people’s minds. It was an enjoyable platformer that carried over the show’s charm and humour. The game has gained a cult following, which includes a large speedrunning community. Across Twitch and YouTube, there are fans who continuously try to one-up one another through achieving the fastest completion time. It’s always nice to see video games bring people together into a community and create fun competition. I’d say Battle for Bikini Bottom deserves a long victory screech just for that.
It takes a lot to say that a video game affected parts of the industry itself, but movie and television tie-ins have done that before. ET: The Extra-Terrestrial was actually a major contributor to the video game crash of 1983 due to its horrendous quality and rushed development. Spider-Man 2 had a bit more of a positive impact than this. The game has been credited for inspiring Insomniac Games in their development of 2018’s Marvel’s Spider-Man. Their take on Spidey featured excellent web-swinging mechanics that felt like an enhanced version of Spider-Man 2.
It’s possible that without the feature film tie-in being so successful, Insomniac’s title and Miles Morales do not exist. Treyarch proved that superhero games can be of high quality, at a time where they had garnered a bad reputation e.g. Superman 64, Catwoman etc.
TT Games’ Lego series mostly consists of TV, movie and comic book tie-in games. Their first entry of these games, Lego Star Wars, was one of the best selling games in 2005 and received rave reviews. There have since been 25+ tie-in games released with the series showing little signs of slowing down. With sales exceeding 200 million, Lego is one of the most successful franchises with those games being a major contributor. By developing games for many different media properties, they’ve ensured that there’s a little something for everyone.
In 2020, SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom received a long-awaited remake on PS4 and Xbox One titled Rehydrated. It’s the first game from this era of media tie-ins to be remade. The game has been a success, selling over two million copies, causing THQ Nordic to consider developing similar titles in the future. This could mean a sequel or more SpongeBob remakes. The success of Rehydrated gives hope, though, that the likes of Simpsons Hit & Run could make a return. Fan demand can work. It just takes a lot of patience.
It’s been satisfying seeing tie-in games blossom into AAA series in recent years. Batman: Arkham City and Marvel’s Spider-Man, in particular, are two of my favourite games of the past decade. The PS2 titles that I’ve mentioned throughout this piece were just as fun as AAA games in my eyes, however. Some of them still have strong fan communities and have left a lingering presence in today’s era of gaming.
What movie and TV tie-in games from the PlayStation 2 do you have memories of playing? Let us know in the comments below!