We recently discussed the best licensed games ever released. When a video game based on an established property plays well and does the license proud, it’s a crowning feat. Unfortunately, it’s far too common for a licensed game to be below average and oftentimes released on a rushed schedule in order to cash in on the success of the source material. When looking for the worst games based on a license, there’s a much wider net to sift through than when seeking the best licensed games. The following are 10 games that put their source material to shame.
10. Batman Forever (SNES, Genesis)
Batman Forever is not to be confused with Batman Forever: The Arcade Game, which is an entirely different game confusingly released by the same publisher. The Arcade Game is an enjoyable beat ’em-up released for the PlayStation 1 and Sega Saturn, while the horrendous Batman Forever was released for the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis and later ported to PC and Game Boy. The game features jerky controls and hideous textures that simply look bad. A rather unforgivable sin is committed in the form of loading times. Cartridges don’t generally have loading times, making the loading screen that appears in between areas extremely obnoxious. It’s clear that Batman Forever was a lazy attempt to cash in on the success of the film, but this title is made even more disappointing by following the excellent Batman Returns, which was a Capcom game that represented the license very well.
9. Tomorrow Never Dies (PS1)
Released exclusively for the PlayStation 1, Tomorrow Never Dies was a clear attempt at cashing in on the success of Rareware’s GoldenEye 007 on the Nintendo 64. GoldenEye was released in 1997, and two years later was still being played at the time of EA’s release of Tomorrow Never Dies. GoldenEye was a major reason the Nintendo 64 managed to maintain pace with the PlayStation 1 during the early going, so there appeared to be a prime market for Tomorrow Never Dies to succeed. Unfortunately, Tomorrow Never Dies fails to live up to the revolutionary first-person shooter and every attempt to differentiate itself from GoldenEye miserably dumbs down the experience. Firstly, there’s no multiplayer in Tomorrow Never Dies, which is a farce when comparing it to the legendary GoldenEye. Secondly, the game switches to a third person perspective, eliminating any nostalgia gamers may have associated with GoldenEye. And finally, it features clunky controls and a spotty camera, along with a very shallow single-player experience. This is James Bond’s worst appearance in video game form.
8. Jaws (NES)
Jaws is a 1987 NES title that could best be described as shovel-ware junk. It was a shameless cash-in attempt to capitalize on a popular film franchise. It even modeled the box art of the video game heavily after the theatrical poster. Unfortunately, Jaws bears no resemblance to the film aside from featuring a shark, as the game very loosely follows any story or development made during the franchise. The game has gamers riding a boat and collecting shellfish until eventually encountering a shark. Gamers must then dispose of the shark by shooting projectiles at him as he charges in a straight line. Then rinse and repeat. The game is lame and entirely uninteresting, and in fact would be completely forgotten if it weren’t for the name it borrowed for its title in order to improperly emulate the franchise.
7. The Itchy & Scratchy Game (SNES, Game Gear)
The Itchy & Scratchy Game, based on The Simpsons cartoon within the show, is a Super Nintendo and Game Gear title that embarrasses the franchise on which it is based. The game is a very half-hearted attempt to cash-in during the peak of The Simpsons’ popularity. The gameplay is very repetitive, as it revolves around the mouse Itchy attacking Scratchy through the use of a side-scrolling level. There is no variety whatsoever, and locating Scratchy by traversing the bland levels that lack obstacles is a real bore. While the game is boring, repetitive and unimaginative, it’s also very easy and can be beaten in an hour or two. The challenge never picks up, but even more jarring is the complete absence of excessive violence. The series is notorious for providing outrageous cartoon humor, but that element is absent here and what remains is a game that is “Itchy & Scratchy” in name only.
6. The Death and Return of Superman (SNES, Genesis)
A rough side-scrolling beat ’em-up, The Death and Return of Superman is based on the DC Comics and does one thing well by accurately representing the storyline. The story is directly cut-and-paste from a previous comic and should offer significant interest for fans of the series. Unfortunately, while The Death and Return of Superman does follow its source material more closely than some of the most terrible licensed games, the gameplay is so poor that it completely overshadows any redeeming qualities in the game and renders it entirely unplayable. The game is a massive disappointment, as the gameplay consists entirely of walking through side-scrolling levels similar to Final Fight or Streets of Rage and fighting enemies. However, The Death and Return of Superman lacks any charm those titles contained and is extremely uncreative in execution. For those attempting to fight through the repetitive backgrounds and identical enemies, the problem of boredom will eventually arise. Even the most die-hard fans should skip this one.
5. Charlie’s Angels (PS2, GameCube)
2003’s Charlie’s Angels for the PlayStation 2 and the Nintendo GameCube is notable for being one of the worst licensed games ever made and sincerely one of the worst overall games ever released. The game encapsulates the issue with licensed games succinctly by showing that any developer can produce a lazy, shoddy title lacking gameplay or even much resemblance to the source material on which it’s based. However, if the title of a popular film is branded on the game, it will sell some copies. The game is a bland beat’em-up that features none of the nostalgia present in the 2D games of the genre that preceded it. Charlie’s Angels does nothing to advance the genre and instead features repetitive gameplay and a barely functional camera. Charlie’s Angels is only worth playing in order to laugh at its ineptitude. There are no attractive women and high-budget action scenes to distract from the shallow experience that occurs in Charlie’s Angels the video game.
4. The Simpsons: Bart’s Nightmare (SNES, Genesis)
Bart’s Nightmare, based on the TV show The Simpsons, offers very little substance and shamelessly exploits The Simpsons‘ brand by providing a product with little relation to the Fox property. The game involves Bart traversing an overworld in order to recover lost homework pages. When a player finds a page, a mini-game is encountered. One fun aspect of the game is that the player has some selection in the order in which the mini-games are played. Unfortunately, the majority of the mini-games are unpleasant and some of them are downright unfair. The Bartzilla mini-game is particularly rage-inducing, as a satire of King Kong has players climbing a tall building. The problem is that the game has obstacles randomly appear from windows but the viewpoint is too narrow. Players can’t see far enough ahead in order to avoid these obstacles so it comes down to sheer luck in avoiding them. There are other broken mini-games, such as the Indiana Jones mini-game which doesn’t even lay out clear guidelines regarding its obstacles. The game is not intuitive at all and even with trial-and-error will take gamers hours to understand without the use of a guide. Bart’s Nightmare should be avoided at all costs.
3. Back to the Future (NES)
1989’s NES interpretation of the 1985 classic film is a textbook example of why gamers should always be weary of a licensed game before giving it the benefit of the doubt. To put it generously, the game is loosely based on the movie and features none of its charm or wit. The game has players collecting random clocks in a clone of the arcade and NES favorite Paperboy. The Paperboy series was quickly becoming archaic by the time Back to the Future released, as the repetitive gameplay and unimaginative presentation could only go so far. Paperboy remained fun in small doses, but Back to the Future is an even further step in quality decline from the popular series. The biggest offense that Back to the Future commits is with its use of the DeLorean. Underutilized and featuring unresponsive controls, the vehicle is a major letdown.
2. Superman 64 (Nintendo 64)
Superman 64, (also known as Superman: The New Adventures), is a notoriously bad game, oftentimes popping up on “worst games of all time” lists. After playing Superman 64, it becomes clear that the game is as bad as everyone says it is. Based on “Superman: The Animated Series,” the game features terrible graphics even for the time of the game’s release, major technical glitches, clunky controls and lame gameplay. Despite receiving very poor reviews from critics upon release, the game sold well, becoming one of the most popular Nintendo 64 titles of 1999. Proof that a license is all a game needs in order to succeed commercially, Superman 64 abuses the Superman property by providing a shoddy, underdeveloped title and slapping the Superman brand on top of it.
1. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (Atari 2600)
Often cited as one of the worst video games ever released and a major contributing factor to the video game crash of 1983, E.T. is certainly the worst licensed video game of all time. The game was famously rushed for the 1982 holiday season and was developed and published in an astounding 6 weeks. The response to E.T.’s broken and repetitive gameplay was extremely negative, as the game offered little connection to the film and was a straight cash-in on the product. Atari’s fall as a video game giant is often traced back to this game and it’s difficult to refute that claim. Developers would continue to abuse licensed properties with terrible licensed games in the future, but none have been as bad as E.T.