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The Mixed Blessings of Licensed Games

What do I mean by a “licensed” game? All video games are licensed by their manufacturers. But usually when we say “licensed game”, we’re talking about video games adapted from existing franchises in other mediums – movies, comics, cartoons, anime, and so on. Let me give you an example: South Park: The Stick of Truth. If you watched (or rather, struggled to stay awake during) the Microsoft conference at this year’s E3, you may have seen the unveiling of this game. As much as I enjoyed and appreciated Trey Parker and Matt Stone bringing their entertaining presence and mockery of Smartglass to an extremely dull conference, I just can’t get into South Park as a series. That’s not me saying that I’m better than any of the fans. Contrarily, it means that I could potentially be excluded from a fantastic video game.

Of course, if the game does indeed turn out to be a masterpiece, nothing’s really stopping me from playing. I’ll play anything, regardless of genre, humour, or who made it. But it still won’t be high on my priority list when it releases, and I’m likely to ignore it in favour of another highly-regarded game that happens to come out around the same time.

Even if I did play the game, I wouldn’t be gaining extra enjoyment out of it that the fans will. Think of all the references that will fly over my head, the jokes I won’t laugh at, the characters I won’t recognise. The gameplay could be really fun, but I won’t benefit from much more. It’d be like being given a fraction of a game. To franchise outsiders, licensed games can present a barrier – locking up some of the fun you’re supposed to be having. It’s like unreachable bonus content or DLC, that no amount of effort or money can unlock. I might like it, but I can’t love it.

I’m also one of the few living males that doesn’t really like Star Wars. That’s not me being hipster, because I’m actually quite envious of the fans. There are dozens of great Star Wars games; in fact Star Wars probably has the best line-up of video games out of any movie franchise. From Super Star Wars to The Old Republic, the franchise has over 20 years of classic games. Not only does the medium prevent George Lucas from monstrously tampering with it to an extent, it can also represent the story in an interactive way, and allow the fans to feel involved and a part of their favourite scenes. It also offers the possibility of an extension or re-telling of the saga, a la The Force Unleashed. Of course, I’m going by what I’ve heard and read, because I haven’t played a single Star Wars game.

Even if you are a fan of the franchise that is being made into a game, there is always the chance that you won’t like what has been created. Maybe you’re dissatisfied with the story direction, character portrayal, different voice actors/actresses – or, more simply, the game just really sucks. Fans of the franchise will be in uproar, the outsiders still won’t be tempted, and nobody wins. Those Regular Show and Adventure Time iOS games? They weren’t what I wanted at all. Because I know that they could be better, that both of those cartoon worlds could be explored more thoroughly and the humour and appeal of both shows brought into a video game with more love. If a game consisting of a brand new, original IP with no licensed franchise attached to it released, and sucked, I would of course ignore it and move on. But if you’re a fan of something external that has been simply thrown into your game system in a half-assed attempt, you want more. You know that they could have done more.

I’m pretty sure I don’t need to go into the whole licensed movie games debate. Anyone who plays games enough to go on Destructoid knows that they mostly suck, due to rushed development and greedy cash-in practises. And this is a shame, because my second love after video games is movies. Similarly, games-to-movies are always a disaster, and it’s sad that the two mediums rarely seem to get along.

There are some exceptions, though, and they’re usually revivals of old classic movies, rather than cinema release tie-in rush-jobs. Telltale’s adaptations of Back to the Future and The Walking Dead are fantastic. The former is an old movie franchise that could not be revived the way it was in any other format, and the addition of engaging interaction allows us to enjoy that world in a whole new way. The latter, a franchise gaining recent popularity from the great TV series, gives fans something more to enjoy while enduring the wait for season 3. And who knows, to people who haven’t watched any of either franchise before may feel compelled to do so after playing the games, discovering movies and TV shows they never before knew about or considered.

Batman: Arkham Asylum was one such game for me. I was never that much of a fan of the caped crusader – I never disliked him and I loved The Dark Knight (see, I do have some taste!), but it was this game that made me fall in love with the world and characters, even if it was Rocksteady’s own adaptation of them to a degree. I loved the game and I wanted more, and thus my interest in the movies and comic books grew. Similarly, The Darkness was a fantastic game, and it wasn’t until after I completed it that I discovered it was based on a comic book series. I’d never heard of it before, and I wouldn’t have nor would I have cared if it weren’t for that game.

Spider-Man on PS1, too, was what turned me into a wall-crawling fanatic as a child. That fandom has stayed with me ever since, and I’m now excited for the upcoming The Amazing Spider-Man game and movie. Earlier I mentioned Adventure Time, with its first disappointing dive into the world of video games. However, I can’t wait for WayForward’s new 3DS entry. I couldn’t think of a better choice for developing a game with such a wonderful and imaginative world. While there’s much to be excited about already with the amount of originality we see in video games, it can be just as riveting to see our favourite characters dipping their toes into a new medium.

When you’re on that other side of the fence, when you love a series and the game that it has been adapted to, then you feel overjoyed. What could be a barrier for some is now an enhancement for you. Your beloved franchise has been crafted into something special, and you know that the developer loves and respects it, just like you do. When you are part of that fanbase and enjoying that game, you can make faces at the people outside of the aforementioned metaphorical fence, knowing they’ll never enjoy what you can! But seriously, don’t be a jerk.

I hope that South Park: The Stick of Truth and Star Wars: 1313 makes you fans very happy. And who knows, maybe they’ll be the games to convert me too. Games can be a powerful tool, helping to continue those franchises after the several years of their existence, bringing in a new audience and allowing fans to step into that world, becoming more than a simple observer.

And let’s thank Christ there’s been no Twilight video game yet. Although maybe it could be the answer to a female gamer’s Leisure Suit Larry, consisting of a series of mini-games to seduce vampires and werewolves and goblins and whatever else is in those films. Get with the times, man, women don’t want you mere mortal men anymore.

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About ReeceTheBeastone of us since 5:40 PM on 10.29.2011

I'm Reece from England. I'm a newly-recruited News Writer for gaming site Explosion.com, and its all thanks to this here website and blog! I love it here, I love this community and I love to write. I'm always willing to read your blogs here too, so maybe we can be friends!

You can catch more of my work right here.
- Explosion.com
- GamerSyndrome
- Zelda Universe

Recent feature: Happy Birthday, Shigeru Miyamoto! Here Are His Best Moments and Quotes

I've been into gaming since I was about 4 years old, playing the Game Boy, PlayStation 1 and Sega Mega Drive (Genesis to you Americans! Damn you, stealing the better names). Having these systems around during my youth lead to the greatest and most-anticipated Christmas ever - the year I got my N64!

Ever since then I've been playing any and every game I can get my filthy mitts on, no matter what system or genre. I currently have a Wii, Xbox 360 and PS3 and a 3DS. Come on Vita, get more games so I can buy you too!

My favourite games are Resident Evil 2, Zelda: The Wind Waker, Streets of Rage 2, Left 4 Dead, Final Fantasy VII and Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater.

Feel free to follow me on Twitter at the handle @ReeceH92. If you do follow me, send me a PM on here so I know you're from Destructoid and I'll follow you back too if you like! I will be more active on there as I get more followers and won't just spam news stories, and I'd be happy to chat any of you. I'd appreciate it as I'm new there and the majority of my followers currently consist of sexbots. If they were real ladies at least I could pass myself off as some kind of Twitter pimp.

My promoted article:
- Collaboration: Nintendo and an old friend

Posts I'm proud of/had the most fun with:
- I Boiled A Broken Xbox 360 Game
- Resident Evil and Me - Part 2: Why REmake is the Scariest in the Series
- Top 10 Gaming Web Series