The SEGA Megadrive was released at a time when the movie industry didn’t really have a particularly well-informed relationship with videogames and the companies that made them. Today a licensed game can mean big bucks but back in the 1990s videogames were little more than another merchandising opportunity like action figures or trading cards and as such they were almost always targeted solely towards children.
Perhaps due to the restrictions of time (there was usually very little discussion between movie and game producers until after the film was released) and available technology, some real stinkers were thrust onto shelves, usually in a cynical attempt to convince fans of a movie to part with more of their cash for an interactive experience loosely related to it.
I’ve spent several weekends punishing myself with nearly every piece of cinematic pixel-fayre launched on SEGA’s classic console to bring you the five main offenders of the genre.
01. The Terminator
- Released: 1992
- Developer: Virgin Interactive, Bethesda Softworks
- Publisher: Virgin Interactive
The Terminator falls into the odd group of games that were marketed to children but were based on movies rated suitable only for adults. The limited visuals available at the time meant that video games were still seen in rather benign terms by society at large.
Developers of The Terminator seemingly had it in mind to punish the player from the get-go and the onslaught is relentlessly brutal. The game has the strangest of opening gambits, launching you directly into confrontation with a gigantic hard-as-nails robot boss with only an infinite supply of hand grenades and a few collectible timebombs to hand.
If you manage to get past the giant, metallic goliath shooting lasers into your face holes then you’ll be bombarded by an aircraft littering tiny parachuting bomblets across your path. This is the least harrowing section and is merely a stop-go routine between batches of bombs.
Get past that and you’ll drop down into a long corridor rammed with infinitely respawning, muscle-bound soldiers carrying machine guns that they happily empty into you at waist level, gradually ebbing away your lifeforce. The game is strangely generous at how much of a beating you can take and health packs drop frequently enough that you can advance onwards.
That is until you reach a brick wall. If you haven’t saved a timebomb for this point you’ll be caught between a rock (wall) and a hard place (infinitely respawning soldiers) and you’ll have to trudge back past waves of enemies, the bomb plane and the giant robot to get some from the start of the level.
As a child I never got past this point. I can remember getting The Terminator as part of a 3-pack along with Alien 3 and Predator 2 and The Terminator often got left on the shelf on account of it being too rock hard to actually get anywhere.
02. The Lawnmower Man
- Released: 1992
- Developer: SCi
- Publisher: Time Warner Interactive
For those that don’t know, The Lawnmower Man was a sci-fi movie released in 1992 and was one of the first movies to address the relatively unknown subject of ‘virtual reality’ and ‘the internet’, giving it license to imagine any number of fantastical scenarios. Before the advent of the iPhone and the fashionable revolution of ‘wearable tech’, computers were still beige boxes that lived in school classrooms and geek’s bedrooms. Not since Weird Science had a movie leveraged the general ignorance of technology to tell a cool story.
The Lawnmower Man, adapted from the Stephen King short story of the same name (written, if you can believe, in 1975) and tells the tale of a simple man called Jobe. At the hands of his friendly neighbourhood scientist, Jobe is filled with experimental, mind-boosting drugs and connected to a virtual reality environment. It’s not long before he gains the ability to read minds, possess people and inevitably becomes corrupted and turns into an all powerful cybermonster.
Obviously by modern standards, Jobe’s final form looks like something a serial killer would make in Second Life but at the time he was a pretty convincing villain and the film did well enough to deserve a ropey tie-in.
The game itself is an odd beast, split into two main types of gameplay that alternate with each other as the player progesses. The game starts, oddly enough, inside “CYBERSPACE” where you are represented as two disembodied hands floating out in front of you in a pseudo-3D race through a series of archways. As you’re propelled forward forward you get the distinct sensation that you’re being hurtled face-first through a cardboard hellscape on a hospital gurney. With all the system’s power dedicated to calculating this migraine-inducing point-of-view, little seems to have been left over for actual artwork and the walls are little more than bland oblongs.
Eventually you hit a spinning ‘EXIT’ sign and it’s time to jarringly switch to the other type of gameplay which is a sort of generic platformer with tenuous elements only barely related to the movie such as monkeys with machine guns and government agents popping out of manholes.
Despite assurances that you are an adult scientist in pursuit of a maniacally unhinged digital overlord, the main player character during these sequences appears to be a 14 year old girl in a baseball cap. You pilot your teenage gunslinger across a very short area dispatching monkeys and government sewer dwellers with your magical supersoaker/nerf contraption that seems to turn smaller enemies into brown ping-pong balls and larger ones into clouds of spinning compact discs BECAUSE COMPUTERS USE THOSE.
For reasons I cannot yet fathom, you eventually fight a boss battle with a vehicle that’s trying to run you down. During this first section it appears to be a Volvo.
Once you find the ‘ACCESS DENIED’ portal and shoot it enough, it turns into an ‘ACCESS GRANTED and you’re back on the dizzying gurney section again, only this time there’s some up and down to contend with. It’s almost like Space Harrier but if Space Harrier was in first person and terrible.
Once you reach the end of this section you’re thrust back into platform mode, only this time the boss fight is a man trying to wheelie a motorbike into your face.
When you finally return to the whizzy cyberspace portion, you’re told that you’re entering CYBERWAR ZONE ONE and your hand has been clumsily replaced by what appears to be a shotgun that fires lasers.
At this point the dazzling blocks of colour were beginning to leave spots on my vision so I called it quits. For a more complete play-through see the video below.
Retro fans can still get their own copy of The Lawnmower Man here
03. Batman Forever
- Released: 1995
- Developer: Acclaim
- Publisher: Acclaim
Batman Forever is a side-scrolling punchathon which, judged only by the portion I was able to play, tells the story of when a bunch of mental patients escaped into the sewers and Batman was enlisted to beat them senseless with his karate skills. With names like MAD JON and MAD PHIL we can assume that the developers were not trying to forward the cause of mental health acceptance, instead choosing to depict the infirm as bonkers, straight-jacketed psychos bursting through doorways to beset the caped crusader.
Instead of using traditional pixel art, Batman Forever belongs to the legion of post-Mortal Kombat titles that chose to switch to using the less labour-intensive digitised photograph style and like most games that chose this path, it looks fairly clumsy and rubbish. Also, despite depicting a 90s Val Kilmer Batman, the sprite prances about and circles his fists like Adam West in the 60s.
I wish I had been able to assess this game fully but unfortunately there appears to be something up with the controls, at least on the version I played. The issue appears to be widespread enough to have a few forum threads dedicated to it and after 10 minutes of faffing about I threw in the towel.
Retro fans can still get their own copy of Batman Forever here
- Released: 1994
- Developer: Acclaim
- Publisher: Acclaim
If the true measure of a tie-in game was how well it stuck to it’s source material, Stargate would not do well. The opening level sees you trudging commando-like across desert terrain so repetitive that you begin to wonder if it’s just looping as you run along. For some reason, despite not featuring in the movie, you are required to fight a number of offensive insects and lizards that have taken issue with you. One particular breed of giant insect shoots bolts of lightning at crotch level.
At no point during this opening level do we see much of anything to do with alien races, stargates or the other military and government figures featured stongly in the movie. Nope, just our lone figure in the desert with the bugs.
But wait. Here’s Daniel Jackson. He’ll have a super-serious mission for us no doubt.
Right, so hunting through caves for boxes. Brilliant. If it were me I’d be asking some serious questions about why Daniel knows about hidden boxes on a planet we literally just arrived on.
The game continues apace and you’re required to run and gun your way through various very loosely tacked together combat sections that occasionally mention the movie. One of the main challenges is sticking it out through what is ultimately incredibly boring terrain based on a theme of desert/cave/eventually spaceship.
Retro fans can still get their own copy of Stargate here
5. Toy Story
- Released: 1996
- Developer: Traveller’s Tales
- Publisher: Disney Interactive
This one already struck me as weird as, from memory, I didn’t realise the Sega Megadrive and Toy Story had overlapped. It was kinda like seeing a Shrek game on the NES or a Neo Geo version of Peppa Pig. Culturally I thought they were too far apart. Maybe it’s because by 1996 a lot of people were way more focused on the Playstation that had been released the year before or the release of the N64 in the same year. It’s hard to reconcile those thigns side-by side.
Toy Story let’s you take control of Woody the cowboy doll. Considering the major beats of the movie, the game misses almost all of them in favour of letting you string out seemingly irrelevant events like getting a walkie-talkie down off a shelf. It’s a flung-together shamble of a platform game again using low resolution animated photos that appear to have been pulled from the movie leaving the game with a jagged, lazy feel to it.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing is that there is no clear indicator of what is solid and what is harmful. Nothing is clearly identified as an enemy so you frequently have to assume all moving objects are harmful or risk taking damage from something you thought was scenery. Likewise, platforms are indistinguishable from background decoration, leaving you hunting around for ways to ascend to objectives. It doesn’t help that all the platforms that actually are solid are usually too high for Woody to reach unaided, meaning backtracking to leap off a ball to reach platforms that would be easily reached but they come to Woody’s knee as he jumps so remain INACCESSIBLE.
Also, as if to really drive home the attempt to remove every ounce of gratification from the game, Woody can only stun enemies with his string. That’s right, he’s a cowboy and despite other movie tie-in titles handing a machine gun to literally anyone, Woody has to attack with the bit of string hanging out of his back. Only stunning the enemies means that within seconds after being taken care of they are back to clip you in the back and obstruct your progress.
Retro fans can still get their own copy of Toy Story here
That’s it for this one. If anything, tirelessly researching for this led me to discover the gems that really should suck but don’t amongst the Megadrive movie tie-ins pile. Prepare yourselves for ‘Top 5 SEGA Megadrive Movie Tie-ins That Don’t Suck!’
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