Despite what most people think, there are a whole pile of really great movie/TV based games on the NES. Sure, the black hole created by terrible games such as Back to the Future and Total Recall is vast, but it is certainly not all consuming.
If I am making a list of the best movie/TV licensed games, why am I not including Capcom developed titles? Surely they made some of the best games of the 8-bit era, movie-based or otherwise. Therein lies the reasoning. This list inclusive of Capcom would be dominated by them. The purpose of this article is to highlight some of the lesser known franchise-licensed NES games out there, rather than list the very best overall. Capcom’s Ducktales would have been number 1 with a bullet, for the record.
10. The Goonies II (1986, Konami)
The original Goonies game was a title that was exclusively released for the Famicom in Japan for Nintendo’s home console, but we here in North America got it in the arcades as a Nintendo Vs. title. The game-only sequel to the blockbuster movie was released in both Japan and North America for the Famicom and NES respectively, and it remains a fun and highly addictive platforming game. Think of it as the halfway point between a static-screen arcade game (such as Popeye) and the full side-scrolling freedom of Super Mario Bros.
9. Star Trek: 25th Anniversary (1991, Interplay)
A port of a PC game, Star Trek: 25th Anniversary is both the lone original series Star Trek game officially released for the NES, and one of the few PC style adventure games to grace the console. While Star Trek is a fairly difficult game with a steep learning curve, it is ultimately highly rewarding and the game’s emphasis on exploration and puzzle solving over action is indicative of it’s PC roots. Do not miss this one if you are a PC or adventure game fan. The transition to the NES works better than you may think.
8. Batman: The Return of the Joker (1991, Sunsoft)
After the massive success of both Tim Burton’s 1989 film and Sunsoft’s 1989 game tie-in (more on that one later), a film and video game sequel were inevitable. While the NES video game rights to the film sequel were given over to Konami resulting in an uncharacteristically weak Double Dragon clone, Sunsoft continued on with the rights to the DC comic book. The result was Batman: The Return of the Joker. Not nearly as polished as their first outing, Return of the Joker none-the-less mixes the tight controls and steep difficulty of the game’s predecessor into a compelling and rewarding package.
7. Monster in My Pocket (1992, Konami)
Perhaps better known now for the video game than the line of toys on which it was based, Monster in My Pocket was a huge deal when I was a kid. Collecting the different monsters was a sensation in my neighbourhood for a summer, and I have fond memories of the little plastic figures. I never had a chance to play the NES game until a few months ago, and I must say I was a little let down. Perhaps I was expecting an unobtainable high, clouded by the nostalgia I held for the Monster in My Pocket toys. The game is pretty great, albeit slight repetitive, but it is better than most NES games, and for a toy-based game? It knocks it out of the park.
6. Star Wars (1987, Namco)
This one is a bit of a cheat, as was a Famicom exclusive game. Namco’s Star Wars is the game we SHOULD have got, rather than JVC’s turd fest. Due to a disagreement between Namco and Nintendo of America over the latter’s draconian licensing policies, the west was unfortunately denied a generation of console video games from Namco. This is a shame, because this Japan exclusive Star Wars game is a real mind-warp. Darth Vader at the end of the first level? Transforming into a giant crab? Light sabres on Tatooine? I am not a fan of Star Wars by any means, and even I know that’s blasphemy. The game is pretty tough, but the music is fantastic and it stands among the best side scrolling action games on the NES/Famicom. A true gem.
5. Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990, Sunsoft)
This game pretty much encapsulates 1991 for me. I played this game non-stop. The game is based, of course, on the hugely popular film of the same name. Gremlins 2 was the kind of game that required you to play the stages over and over again, exploiting every trick and tactic to make it the end. The game plays as a top down view (think The Legend of Zelda with bigger sprites) platformer hybrid. You play as the loveable Mogwai Gizmo, fighting your way through the Clamp skyscraper to the building’s computer control center. One of the best things about Gremlin’s 2 The New Batch is the password system. There is a password for every stage, and they are mercifully only four capital letters long.
4. Teenage Muntant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game (1990, Konami)
With TMNT II: The Arcade Game, Konami took the essence of their TMNT coin-op smash hit and shrunk it down to fit the NES’ less capable hardware. The result is a fantastic console port, and although it lacks the graphics and sound prowess of the coin-op, it included tons of enemies, a great score, and awesome between stage cut scenes. TMNT II: The Arcade Game was a flash of brilliance after the disastrous debacle that was the original Ninja Turtles game. Seriously, fuck that seaweed.
3. New Ghostbusters 2 (1990, Hal Laboratory)
New Ghostbusters 2 was the only good Ghostbusters game to be released for an 8-bit machine, console or computer. It’s a damn shame that we didn’t get it in North America due to an expired licence. New Ghostbusters 2 takes a top down view similar to The Legend of Zelda, and even lets you select any one of the four ghostbusters and even the Ghostbuster’s nerd accountant Louis Tully. The game has top notch music, a cartoony and colourful look and actually follows the plot of the movie fairly accurately. The sole reason that this game is not #2 or even #1 is because it is balls-out hard and hell. Old school hardcore gamers need only apply.
2. Bucky O’Hare (1992, Konami)
Perhaps more remembered as a NES game rather than the cartoon on which it’s based, Bucky O’Hare’s short TV run was none-the-less extremely popular, spawning comic books, action fugures, and a killer NES game from Konami. The game is a side scrolling platformer in the Mega Man vein. Like Mega Man, Bucky O’Hare’s non-linear approach, which lets you choose to complete the four planets in any order, gives the game significant replayability. Upon clearing each planet Bucky gets back a member of his team. You can switch between characters on the fly, each with their own strengths, weakness and special abilities. After clearing the planets and getting your team back together you must venture into a Dr. Wily-like final level that has some epically difficult levels. Bucky O’Hare features amazing controls, highly challenging levels, superbly level design, a kick-ass soundtrack and fantastic gameplay. If you have never played this game I suggest you correct that grievous error at the earliest opportunity.
1. Batman (1989, Sunsoft)
With Batman, Sunsoft not only crafted a brilliant movie-based game, they managed to make a impressive video game regardless of the source material. Every detail from the sprites to the backgrounds perfectly mimics the noir-art deco production design of Tim Burton’s film. The game is challenging, with fantastic level deign and inventive boss battles. The weapons, the controls, the wall jumping; it all screams polish and perfection. To top off the whole package, Batman features some of the best music written for any NES game, with a varied and expertly composed score that will get jammed in your brain for weeks after you are done playing. Over all, Batman proved that Sunsoft had the guns to turn a movie license into an innovative and spectacular video game experience.