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Summer blockbusters: Big booms and bad games

By: Matthew Herst

 | Jul 24, 2014 - 1:22 PM |
Summer blockbuster movies promise excitement, but their video game counterparts always seem to disappoint. Supplied

Summer blockbuster movies promise excitement, but their video game counterparts always seem to disappoint. Supplied

It's summertime, and for movies that means large men with large guns, causing large explosions. The film industry always takes advantage of the summer months to show their big guns. This is a phenomenon that is specific to the film industry, but that hasn't stopped video games from trying to hop on the bandwagon.

Summer has always been a slow time for video games. The major releases tend to come out in October or November in order to take control of the Christmas lists of many a young child. But as summer blockbusters raked in millions for the production companies, some executive somewhere sitting in a corner office got the idea to make a video game of their hot new action movie.

This seems as if it would be a great idea as games have become more and more cinematic and the fan groups of the two mediums often intersect, but it quickly became apparent the companies weren't interested in putting enough money behind it. This started the unfortunate trend of licensed games being automatically labeled as bad.

The trend started as early as 1982 when Atari tried to rush the development of E.T: The Video Game for the Atari 2600. The game was almost unplayable and actually resulted in the temporary crash of the industry from 1982 to 1985.

The industry didn't learn from this lesson apparently, and all through the 1990s and 2000s studios still put out mediocre tie-ins to mediocre movies. There have been exceptions to the rule, of course, such as Spider-Man 2, released in 2004 and the Batman Arkham series.

Despite exceptions like these, most efforts have not been as fruitful. Movie tie-in games continued to underwhelm critics and consumers alike and slowly, over the past couple of years, movie studios started to get the message — it just wasn't worth their time to release full-fledged movie games that were doomed to fail.

Despite realizing this, companies were not content to release nothing and miss out on potential profits. The answer to this movie tie-in conundrum came in a surprising form: cellphones.

As the end of the 2000s neared, a new type of game emerged in the form of mobile games. These had been around for quite a few years, but as smartphones became more commonplace, video games began to claw their way into our pockets.

Phone games are designed to be taken in short, addictive bursts, and what better way to promote a big summer movie than get millions of people addicted to the game as they ride the train, or the bus or just stand around for a while.

Movies like Disney's Brave getting a Temple Run spinoff or Iron Man 3 getting an endless runner-style game are proof studios have changed their approach to movie-based video games.

The only downfall is that the results are not getting any better.

Licensed games are by no means bad ideas or products. Series like the aforementioned “Batman: Arkham” games are so successful because they don't tie into any movie, but instead focus on the putting the player into the shoes of the hero and focusing on gameplay, graphics, and story — in other words things games are supposed to focus on.

The only problem is licensed products of this calibre are very few and far between.

Licensed games don't have to cease to exist — we just need to invest more time and resources into their creation. Video games and movies are coming closer to an inevitable intersection — a new kind of hybrid — as games become more cinematic and cinema becomes more interactive.

The two mediums are closely interwoven in terms of fan base — and now presentation — so instead of a failed attempt like E.T: The Video Game, the next step is a true marriage of film and game.

We shouldn't worry about making licensed games better. Instead, just focus on making the best game possible, and relegate bad movie games to a lazy summer afternoon.

Matthew Herst is an avid gamer, NorthernLife.ca intern and Carleton University communications student. He lives in Greater Sudbury.

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