“The world is poorer for the loss.“Â
“Ten licensed games we’ll never see again.“Â
Licensed games are generally a dirty business amongst game development and publishing houses; games that have deadlines that coincide with major film or TV releases generally tend to be PtL fodder in the best of cases, while products that have no specific deadline can often be expected to coast to financial success on the back of their respective license and generally don’t turn out much better. For every subjectively mediocre game from Spider-Man and Venom in Maximum Carnage to Ghost Rider and beyond, a metric ton of awful games come along that most everyone on Earth absolutely cannot stand, and even the most loving of gamer can only shrug and say “I didn’t HATE it”Â, because they are either unwilling or unable to defend something that is so obviously bad (see Superman 64 or Aquaman, for instance). For those who’ve been reading for a while, you’re probably aware that these sorts of games are generally more my forte, but let it never be said that I don’t enjoy games.
See, occasionally a GOOD game comes out of a license, one that is not only awesome to fans of the license but is pretty damn enjoyable to people who have no idea what the license is about and don’t care (the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer game, the arcade and NES Willow games, Escape From Butcher Bay, and so on). These sorts of games are amusing because they’re something of a rarity; it’s often difficult to make something with a license attached that isn’t appealing only to someone who cares about the license itself, so when someone manages to make a game that’s entertaining to someone who doesn’t know anything about the source material, that’s a wonderful thing.
But we’re not here to discuss that; we’re here to discuss the part where you’re never going to see those games again.
With the move towards dumping out the contents of the back catalogue that a lot of game companies have made as of recent, some of us have probably been holding out the hope that certain developers and publishers might dump our favorite licensed titles onto compilation discs (or, barring that, Xbox Live/Playstation Network/the Virtual Console) so as to allow us to reminisce about our childhoods spent in arcades or in front of the TV, but that’s pretty unlikely, sadly. Owning the rights to a video game doesn’t mean you own the rights to publish said video game at any time you choose, which is often a problem for developers who, in essence, made games that they can no longer turn a profit from. When your back catalogue is chock-full of awesome games, it’s good to know that you can churn them onto a disc and sell it for $20 to make a profit, but it has to be even a little frustrating knowing that people write, well, lists like this about games they would GLADLY pay money for on nostalgic principles, only to realize that no, you can’t publish those games again, because someone else owns the licensing rights to the character or franchise the game is based on.
Of course, we can hold out hope, after all: Konami managed to release Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles the Arcade Game on XBL around the time the new movie came out (through, I assume, a deal with Ubisoft that involved tons of cash), and if we can have our hopes validated in other areas with releases/re-releases of games like Symphony of the Night, Castlevania Rondo of Blood and Earthbound, we can certainly be forgiven for hoping that TMNT Tournament Fighters someday finds its way to the Virtual Console. But then, I’m holding out the hope that Snatcher will be re-released on the VC, too, so I’m used to being disappointed.
Anyway, let’s take a look at ten games we really want to play but never will again, and silently hope someone will fork over the dough to make home re-releases of these games a reality, yeah?
1.) Dungeons & Dragons (both games, Arcade/Saturn) – Capcom
In general, I would more actively be interested in a home release of Shadow over Mystara than Tower of Doom, but I’ll take what I can get. In either case, however, the D&D arcade beat-em-ups published by Capcom hold many interesting distinctions; they’re arguably the best BEU’s Capcom has ever made, they’re arguably the best EVER, period, and they’re a whole lot of fun for games based on a license that has produced a movie where Marlon Wayans and Justin Whalin were given dramatic dialogue. You can choose your character from a group of various job types common to D&D (Cleric, Fighter, Ranger, and in SoM, Thief and Mage as examples), each with their own specific special items/spells they may use in battle, name the character (with the possibility of getting a magic item based on the name you pick), and from there you can watch as your characters mow through hordes of monsters and go up in levels, and in-between stages you can use the treasure you’ve acquired to buy items of various sorts to help you out.
I guess what I’m trying to say here is that Sticks to Snakes is pretty awesome, and this game rocks out hardcore.
The odds of seeing either of the D&D beat-em-ups again are generally pretty low unless pen and paper RPG’s suddenly become hot again… so they’re generally pretty low. D&D-themed PC games generally make their money well enough, but the console variants fluctuate all over the place in earnings, which makes sinking any money into licensing a risky proposition for Capcom as it is. If they could re-release it for a low fee as part of a large compilation, it might be a possibility, but generally speaking, it’s unlikely Capcom will see the value in paying any sort of licensing fee for a game that has, at most, cult popularity.
So, in other words, don’t count on it.
2.) Spider-Man (Genesis/Sega CD/Arcade) – Sega
Okay, in fairness, the arcade game is something of an acquired taste; on one hand, it’s one of the very few Spider-Man games to feature Black Cat, and it’s fairly amusing as BEU games go… but on the other, Namor is a playable character for some strange reason, and it’s rather slow all in all, so your mileage may vary. The Genesis and Sega CD games, on the other hand, were pretty cool and interesting when they came out; aside from cramming a ton of Spider-Man’s most feared villains into one game, the games were generally pretty fun to play. They also had some interesting gameplay mechanics, including taking pictures of foes to earn money to buy web fluid, a 24 hour timer that ticked down to a bomb detonating in the city of New York, and an interesting explanation for why the entire city wanted you dead that actually made sense in context. In short, it was pretty amusing at the time.
Nil. Sega managed to tie up licenses to several Marvel games, but Spider-Man is pretty much held in the iron grip of Activision and will presumably be for ever and ever until the end of time, so the odds of seeing a Spider-Man game from anyone else are pretty low, even as a retro throwback. Also, the Genesis version of the game hasn’t exactly held up as well as the Sega CD version pound for pound, and the Sega CD version… well, between the ugly cinematics, the mediocre voice acting, and the Mr. Big theme song, it’s kind of embarrassing at this point, to be fair, even if I do still love occasionally belting out the first verse of Swing Time at awkward times.
It’s really funny if you do it in church.
3.) Alien Vs. Predator (Arcade) – Capcom
If the aforementioned D&D BEU games could be considered arguably the best BEU games ever made by Capcom at the very least, well, AvP is the reason the word “arguably”Â is in the statement. Thematically it’s a fairly interesting and well done AvP product (certainly moreso than, well, a whole lot of the AvP games that had come before, solid FPS titles notwithstanding), but that’s not exclusively what makes it cool; no, that’s purely down to the fact that AvP is just a totally badass BEU game, period. The characters all carry their own melee and ranged weapons, and the Predator characters feel and play differently from the cyborg humans (as there are four characters, you get two of each) whether they’re fighting things or gunning them down. As arcade games go, this was and is one of the absolute best for sucking your pockets dry simply because it’s just flat-out entertaining as hell on top of the awesome presentation and strong license attached.
Aside from the fact that this is essentially the only Alien or Predator themed product Capcom ever made, and that the AvP license itself is presumably prime real estate at this point that would command decent bucks to use, the simplest argument one can make against seeing this again is “if they were going to release this game somewhere, they would have done so while the newest AvP film was still in theaters”Â. There’s always the possibility that a third AvP film will pop up and give us hope for the future, but unless a strong marketing prospect pops up for the game it’s unlikely to be worth the money Capcom would have to pay to use the license to publish a game that might not make them back the money spent.
Of course, TMNT sold really well on XBL, so there is always that.
4.) The Simpsons (Arcade) – Konami
Depending on what sort of gamer you are, when someone says “Licensed Beat-em-up”Â as a descriptive term you probably think of one of two companies: Capcom or Konami. Capcom, obviously, takes up two spots earlier in the list for what are two of the greatest BEU games ever, but any list of this sort without a Konami BEU on it would just be worthless, partly because Konami made SO MANY of the damn things that it’s hard to skip them all, and partly because they were all pretty goddamn fun.
The original TMNT was released as a downloadable game for XBL last year, so it’s hard to say that Turtles in Time needs to be on a list of this sort, and while there are plenty more Konami licensed BEU games (including Bucky O’Hare and Asterix), the two most people remember them for would, of course, be the 6-player X-Men cabinet and The Simpsons. Both are fun and amusing, but in all fairness, X-Men is really at its best with the 6-player cabinet design, and The Simpsons is really a case of making the absolute most out of a license that offers the absolute least (as Acclaim discovered for years and years) in terms of overall game ideas, so it gets the nod here. Any game that offers tag-team attacks between Simpsons family members while they rampage across Springfield kicking EVERYONE IN TOWN’S ASSES deserves the nod.
See above: the license is too valuable at the moment to be worth the expense and if Konami were GOING to re-release the game, it would have been most lucrative to do so while the movie was in theaters. The Simpsons Movie (and any hype associated with it) has come and gone, and so too has the hype surrounding it. At this point, The Simpsons would be another old game released into a sea of them… and probably wouldn’t make back the high licensing fees Konami would have to pay to republish the game.
5.) Any Capcom designed Marvel fighting game (Various) – Capcom
For anyone who loves 2D fighting games, this one is a no-brainer. While the Marvel and Vs. series of fighting games weren’t the most strategically deep games on the market, they were an absolute blast to play, in the arcades and on the home consoles. Whether you had a specific love for X-Men: Children of the Atom or Marvel Superheroes, or you were more in tune with X-Men vs. Street Fighter or Marvel vs. Capcom 2, they were all huge fun and featured great characters to goof around with. I mean, what other game series allowed you to put together team matches like Captain America, Captain Commando and Cammy against Spider-Man, Ryu and Felicia? None, that’s what, and that’s why the PS2 version of MvC2 is like $60, used: because it’s outright awesome.
Despite Marvel execs saying they would love to see the games pop up on downloadable services, and despite Marvel and EA canning their partnership to make Marvel fighting games (largely because the one game born from this partnership sucked a fat one), neither Marvel nor Capcom have made any sorts of plans at this point to partner up again. Marvel seems fairly content to allow Sega and Activision to release games based on their licenses for the time being (as these probably make a decent amount of money all in all) and Capcom seems to be unwilling to do much of anything fighting game related at the moment (aside from the fact that the company had to be CONVINCED that Street Fighter 4 would sell well to fans, they’ve handed off most of the heavy lifting of their three announced fighting games to third parties, which pretty much shows the general lack of interesting on the fighting game front. If the money is there, it’s most likely that they’ll dump the games out, but at this point, the likelihood is small.
6.) Ghostbusters (Genesis) – Sega
Before we get down to the game itself, a brief explanation is in order: there are, if memory serves (and it rarely does), four versions of the “Ghostbusters”Â (and by this I mean the original Ghostbusters characters, not the “Real Ghostbusters”Â or any other mutation of the brand) video game on the market: the old-school Ghostbusters game that popped up on the NES, SMS and PC’s that involved driving to a scene and busting ghosts to confront Gozer (or “Gorza”Â as the case was), the Sega-made arcade shooter, the NES sequel based on the movie sequel, and the Genesis platform action game. Now, since general consensus is that the original Ghostbusters game was ass (though I liked it fine on the SMS), the arcade game was “okay”Â and the NES sequel was ass, the Genesis version generally stands out as a fantastic piece of work because, by all indications, it took the IDEA of the Ghostbusters, threw out all of the movie concepts, and just did its own thing. It’s an adorable platform game that features all sorts of memorable Ghostbusters tie-ins while still being a completely different experience from any of the other titles, and it’s a great game that you could play and enjoy without being a fan, thanks to clever platforming sections, all sorts of weapons to choose from, and imaginative boss battles.
Of course, that’s assuming you didn’t totally hate getting tied up in tablecloths or having to buy more than one set of goggles in the fire level, but then, most people of above average intelligence were capable of figuring out that wiggling the control pad back and forth broke free from the tablecloths and that buying a bunch of goggles might be a good idea. Of course, most people of above average intelligence were capable of figuring out that you could fire horizontally by pressing THE OTHER BUTTON in the SMS Ghostbusters, too, but I suppose it’s too hard to think of those things when you’re trying to come up with six profane words to string together at one time. Or else you’d be a filthy liar.
Yes, I went there. He’s not even funny anyway.
Depends on if the third Ghostbusters movie actually comes out or not; it’s entirely POSSIBLE that Sega might either 1.) find it in their hearts to release a disc of their three different Ghostbusters games when the movie launches for a low price, or, as is more likely, 2.) drop the Genesis game onto the Virtual Console when the movie comes out. Whether or not such a thing comes to pass depends entirely upon whether or not Sega can come to an agreement with Sierra (or whether or not they would even WANT to). More likely than not we won’t see such a thing come to fruition, but keep your fingers crossed and let’s hope, shall we?
7.) Aliens (Arcade) – Konami
As noted above, Konami made a whole metric ton of BEU games back in the day, with a whole bunch of franchises attached, from comic character Asterix to cartoon character Bucky O’Hare, and of course the infinitely more notable TMNT, X-Men and Simpsons games, each of which is memorable for wholly different reasons. In fairness, a six-player X-Men game on XBL would be absolutely phenomenal, but as that’s unlikely even if Konami were to land the rights to publish the game in the first place (though it’s not like anyone remembers Dazzler anymore anyway… don’t look at me like that), and as we’ve been given a TMNT game and most people probably don’t remember Asterix and Bucky, well, aside from the Simpsons game we can safely let the rest of the games rest in peace.
But Konami didn’t just make arcade BEU licensed games, and one of their greatest games that DIDN’T involve punching people in the face was Aliens. Aliens was kind-of sort-of like Contra in spirit; you walked along the screen shooting the bejeesus out of aliens of various sorts until coming to a boss alien to kill; then you hopped into the APC and went through some entertaining driving sequences where you also shot the bejeesus out of aliens. The game really took the Alien concept and stretched it to the boundaries of logic, but as Contra-esque games go, Aliens was fun and ate more than a few thousand quarters back in the day, and was still close enough to the concept to not be a wash, to boot.
Konami, oddly enough, never really released all that many memorable arcade games outside of the 80’s that WEREN’T based on licenses (see also Data East), as their arcade compilations show; Rush “Ëœn Attack, Time Pilot and Yie Ar Kung-Fu pop up on all of them, with Contra, Frogger and Gradius making cameos here and there, along side games no one played. That’s nothing to be ashamed of, as the licensed games they made were pretty sweet, but it has the rather disagreeable side effect of making it difficult for Konami to release arcade comps that actually have games we want to play on them.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that Konami should really just invest money into being allowed to re-release their old licensed games and release them on something like the PS2 or whatever for $50 and hope for the best. Anyway, since other companies hold the rights to the Aliens license, unless someone comes along and remakes the movies (or, god forbid, makes a sequel), this is probably going to stay locked away in the vault for a long time to come.
8.) Goldeneye (N64) – Rare
Goldeneye is largely memorable for the fact that it was one of the first TRULY killer applications on the Nintendo 64; Perfect Dark was essentially an upgraded version of Goldeneye that’s still remembered somewhat fondly, but whenever the question comes up, it’s always “when will we see a Goldeneye remake/re-release?”Â from anyone in a position to ask such things. It’s not TOO surprising; while the games played similarly, Goldeneye has the interesting distinction of allowing players to run around plugging one another in the face as Jaws and Baron Samedhi, and Golden Gun multiplayer was riotous in its entertainment value. And the core single player game was pretty cool too, which makes the game a desirable candidate for re-release.
Unlikely for more than a few reasons. First off, the most likely place for a re-release, the Virtual Console, will never see one because, well, Rare works for Microsoft now. Second, and perhaps more importantly, the license has been locked up tight for the last decade or so; until recently Electronic Arts had their iron grip on the franchise until for whatever reason they lost their hold on it… to Activision.
Look, in plain English, unless Hell freezes over or Rare starts firing bags of money into the Activision offices you are never going to see Goldeneye ever again because Activision is not going to allow such a thing unless they can take the lion’s share of the profit. This further brings up the problem of MS not wanting developers to exceed a certain size for downloadable games on the XBL service (though they’ve been re-releasing Xbox games on the system for a while now, so maybe that’s not an issue).
In other words, you’re more likely to see Perfect Dark than Goldeneye, and the odds of seeing Perfect Dark aren’t high to begin with. So don’t hold your breath.
9.) Most of the 90’s Disney games (Various) – Sega, Capcom, Virgin and others.
If you’re in your late 20’s – early 30’s, you know what I’m talking about: Castle of Illusion, Quackshot, Mickey Mouse Magical Quest and Circus Caper, Aladdin (both versions), and so on… but not things like Fantasia and Lion King. Okay? Okay.
Back in the 80’s and 90’s, and I know this might be hard to believe, Disney games had a surprisingly strong chance of being absolutely awesome. While these days you’re often finding yourself subjected to 3D platformers and racing games and God knows what else that are being developed by people who apparently don’t love you very much, back in the day there were a whole ton of awesome Disney games a fan could grab onto and love unconditionally. NES and SNES owners had a ton of quite acceptable Capcom platformers to choose from that were all based on various and sundry TV and movie properties from Disney, with even the not so great ones still being playable and enjoyable and the better ones being stellar platform action games. Genesis owners too had plenty of stellar titles, with Castle of Illusion and Quackshot coming from Sega themselves and a surprisingly solid rendition of Aladdin from Virgin that, reportedly, was developed in under a month. Yes, it was a good time indeed.
And then Disney made their own development house and everything went to shit. Considering that their non-Pixar films did pretty much the same thing, well, at least we can admire their corporate unity.
Yeah, you see that part up there where I noted that Disney made their own development house? Right, well, there’s a reason for that: apparently Disney decided that they wanted to make all of the money for their games instead of a simple licensing fee from someone who, GASP, might make something that doesn’t suck. Unless the various companies who own the source code of all of these games decide to sell the lot of them to Disney, in the words of the Magic 8-Ball, “Signs point to NO”Â.
10.) Batman (NES) – Sunsoft.
Batman as a video-game character has a pretty interesting quality history: basically, the vast majority of Batman games released PRIOR to the film Batman Forever were generally pretty decent if not outright great, while everything AFTER Batman Forever pretty much stinks (which may or may not be related to Acclaim plunging the franchise quality level so far into the toilet that ANYTHING released after their games would be a dramatic improvement). Now, in fairness, the games based on Batman Returns were handled by separate companies (Sega and Konami, respectively) and were generally pretty decent, and the original Genesis and Arcade Batman games were fun in their own ways, but all in all, the NES version of Batman was far and away one of the best platform action games ever. It essentially had Ninja Gaiden gameplay elements to it (which were themselves more playable Castlevania elements), except that instead of having a pool of items that could be carried one at a time, Batman had three weapons he carried at all times: the short range Batarang, the long range pistol, and a spread-fire sort of weapon that offered both long range and a wide shot; each of these consumed what could essentially be called Batman’s Heart Meter (see the above Castlevania comment). The game also had its own Nintendo Hard elements like precision jumping puzzles (which featured Batman doing the triangle jump up walls and around damaging walls and such) and the old “die and go back to the beginning of the stage”Â rule… and, oh yes, every enemy had Boss-itis, and was a bit larger than Batman. And, come to think of it, aside from the Joker there weren’t many enemies in the game that were actually in the movie, either.
So basically it’s like every other movie game from that time period. Except that it’s pretty awesome.
Well, Sunsoft doesn’t make video games anymore and I have no idea who owns the rights to reproduce the game at this point, but chances are good it isn’t Warner. If, by some chance, they DO own the rights, you can pretty much expect this (and a bunch of the other Sunsoft Batman titles) to hit the VC around the time The Dark Knight hits theaters, but making the assumption that such is not the case, more than likely Sunsoft probably doesn’t even remember that this exists, let alone think that negotiating with Warner to publish it on the VC would be a lucrative decision. Of course, considering that most of the games they made on the PS1 were pretty bad, one wonders if they know what the word “lucrative” means.
Now, there were plenty of other games that fall into this category of being awesome licensed titles (Robocop in the arcades, X-Men with a six-person cabinet, and so on), and I’m sure plenty of you had your own favorites, so feel free to comment at the bottom here and share some of your own favorites (because I could always use more column fodder). Until next month, probably, this has been Playing the Lame, I’m Mark B. and you’re not.
And be very thankful for that.