Licensed video games over the years have garnered a bad reputation, they are perceived as games for kids, rushed out to release at the same time as the movie they are based on. However, licensed games can be good, and some can even be excellent; more often than not however, the best licensed games are not based on a single movie or book, but come from a developer being given the freedom to create what they want for the product in question.
For this list I decided not to include more than one game per franchise, otherwise it would easily have been filled with Batman, Dragonball, Lord of the Rings and Star Wars games. This list also only contains games I have played, which may seem a strange thing to tell you but that is probably why there are other classics missing from my top ten. However, that is not to say that these games are not excellent nor deserving of their place in my top ten, I just wanted to make it more interesting for you, the reader, and me, the list making guy. Anyway, without further ado, here are my personal top ten licensed video games:
10: Mickey Mouse: Castle of Illusion
Coming from an era where the House of Mouse created the finest licensed games on the SNES and Mega-Drive alike, this is the best game Disney ever made. It is an ace platformer – difficult, fun and with great graphics. Mickey Mouse still hasn’t moved on from this masterpiece of simple game design and whimsy – this is the reason they remade the game during the last generation to give people a chance to play what I think is their finest video game.
9: The Wolf Among Us
The only game in this list based on a licence I’m unfamiliar with, it carries the successful formula of Telltale’s The Walking Dead, but instead of playing as a convicted murderer in the zombie-infested post apocalypse, you control Bigby Wolf, otherwise known as the Big Bad Wolf. Indeed, in The Wolf Among Us you play as the sheriff of Fable Town, a place where fairy tale characters live amongst the real world (hence the title) and the game is a murder mystery involving some pretty gruesome crimes. However, what makes this game so impressive is its design; moulded after the noir, this is a game that oozes style in every aspect of its production, telling an interesting, horrible tale.
8: South Park: The Stick of Truth
South Park: The Stick of Truth is essentially South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut 2. It feels exactly like South Park, and is just as funny as its source material – down to the fact that it was written by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Despite the game itself not being a brilliant RPG, it is hilarious enough that you just won’t notice – so go on down to South Park and have yourself a time.
7: The Simpsons (Arcade game)
A Konami classic, the Simpsons Arcade game is my favourite arcade game. I always looked for it whenever I was in an arcade, as it is a quality four-player beat-em-up game interspliced with humour from the Simpsons, with a fun story to boot. You can play as Homer, Bart, Marge or Lisa, each one with their own playstyle and special moves – you can even link up special moves with the right character combinations. A couple of years ago it was made available as a download for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, but the best way to play it is in its original cabinet form – I need to buy one of those for my house.
6: Goldeneye 007
The best shooter ever made? Possibly. Goldeneye re-evaluated what people wanted in a shooting game, giving the world what it always wanted: local split-screen multiplayer. Goldeneye to this day is still a benchmark for split-screen multiplayer for many people – a testament to its incredible stage and weapon design. I’d still play it today if I knew where the cartridge was – showing that a licensed game could be a master of its genre. Goldeneye was so popular that I believe it is the reason the film it is based on is so well remembered.
5: LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga
Back when LEGO characters didn’t talk and they didn’t bother with all of this “open-world” crap, LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga felt like Star Wars and LEGO, setting up a series of games that we can’t seem to be rid of these days. This is the simplest LEGO game and it is still the best. LEGO Star Wars did something nobody thought was possible: making the prequel trilogy fun. There are plenty of quality Star Wars video games, but to me, LEGO Star Wars will always be the best.
4: Dragonball Z: Budokai Tenkai’chi 3
My favourite fighting game, you can use the Wiimote and Nunchuck to perform a kamehameha, what more needs to be said? Oh right, yeah, it has over 120 characters to choose from, including some pretty obscure ones (great for fans of the franchise) and it looks perfect. The only bad thing I can say about this game is that some of the characters are vastly overpowered, but to be honest that only makes it funnier. With plenty of single-player options available, a decent online mode and local multiplayer, there is never a lack of things to do.
3: The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-Earth II
I could have put the first game in this place instead of its sequel (they both have their merits), but The Battle For Middle-Earth II for me, is the best strategy game ever made, and still I yearn to play a real-time strategy as good as this. Its gameplay is relatively simple, but the ability to build anywhere on the fantastic variety of maps is still unmatched in my eyes – it just plays like a dream.
Its story mode follows a story outside of the books and films – a quality little tale. However, to me, The Battle for Middle-Earth has the greatest online multiplayer of any game, ever; a shame then, that EA shut down its servers, else I’d still be playing 4v4 maps and losing.
2: Batman: Arkham Asylum
While some people prefer the length and size of its sequel – Arkham City – for me nothing can quite top Arkham Asylum. Arkham Asylum’s short length and compact narrative really work in its favour, it feels like a Batman graphic novel; separate from the series’ canon, but telling a great story in its own right. The game’s developer Rocksteady truly nailed their interpretation of Batman, from his movement to his voice: you truly do feel like the Dark Knight, prowling the corridors of Arkham’s infamous mental Asylum, picking enemies off one by one with an innovative stealth system and combat style that has now been copied/stolen endless times.
1: The Walking Dead: Season one
Like Arkham Asylum, Telltale’s The Walking Dead feels exactly like its source material, in fact, it is probably better than its source material – the dread and anguish you face at every turn is unmatched, even its sequel couldn’t manage it. This is a game all about character and story, and the main character, Lee, is one of, if not the best characters made for a video game – and this is a character who you make decisions for. This game is the pinnacle of storytelling and character building in video games and I think it always will be.
Unlike its sequel, Season one feels like a good ol’ fashioned adventure game, it is so perfect that Telltale cannot move away from it – each of their games since has attempted to emulate the formula with varying degrees of success. The Walking Dead is so good, Telltale have arguably become a one-trick pony and for a lot of people it is the game to blame for their pig-headedness in still going with episodic releases despite not being able to release them in good time.
I hope to have shown with this list that there truly are some spectacular licensed video games and this list only represents the icing on the cake – there are plenty of quality licensed games out there, both new and old, heck, there are plenty of great games based on movies too. I feel that for years people have been too harsh on licensed video games and that through my humble little list I have done some good in the world, proving to you that there are at least ten very good licensed games.
So there you have it, my top ten licensed video games and each one is fantastic in its own right. I’m sure you will have different ideas from me, so why not put them in the comments section? I love a good argument about personal opinions.
Toby Saunders is sometimes opinionated, and you’ll find him posting garbage about games, films and his beloved Spurs and Bath City FC on Twitter.