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LONG BLOG

License to Play: 5 Licensed Games That You Never Knew Were Classics

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Hi, I’m João Pontes (call me Johnny) aka KeeperXIII, a nickname so old that it should be in a retirement community in Florida by now. I never thought I would enjoy writing about videogames. It just wasn’t me. Yet, somehow, two years ago, thanks to unemployment, I found myself creating a blog in Portuguese and talking about old games that I loved. Turns out that a surprising number of those games were not only based on licenses but also pretty damn good. But why doesn’t history remembers them?



5. Sheep Raider aka Sheep, Dog ‘n’ Wolf (PS1/PC)



Why is it a classic:

A whole article could be written on Melbourne House’s Looney Tunes games of the late 90’s-early 2000s. They were pretty good. But amidst safe bets like kart racers and platformers there was this game about Wile E. Coyote’s cousin Ralph and his ineptitude at stealing sheep from a watch dog (not that kind of watch_dog) trying to go the distance and impress core gamers. Playing like a proper 3D version of Abe’s Oddysee (so, plenty of puzzles using the environment in clever ways, a bit of platforming and sneaking), Sheep, Dog ‘n’ Wolf manages to capture the Looney Tunes cartoons perfectly even on the old gray box and features a ton of easter eggs for fans of the show. It’s the best Looney Tunes game you’ll ever play. Trust me on this one.

Keep it cool, I would say.

Why was it ignored:

The dawn of the 3D era was not kind to licensed games everywhere. Gone where the days of classics like Quackshot, Ducktales and Aladdin setting the trend. Your younger self wanted to play “mature 3D games” and so anything based on a cartoon would go on to live a life of mediocrity post 1994. The huge popularity of platform games like Spyro, Crash and Gex prompted Warner Bros and Melbourne House to create their own game franchises in the late 90’s, but despite being somewhat successful, Sheep, Dog ‘n’ Wolf was still a cartoon-based game trying to capture the heart of core gamers already enthralled by the Playstation 2.

 

4. Toy Story 2 (PS1/DC/PC/N64/GBC)



Why is it a classic:

Because it’s one of the few games at the time that succeeded at capturing the Mario 64 formula of free-roaming, spacious levels with various objectives (specially outside of the Nintendo 64). The levels here are huge and capture the sense of scale found in the movie pretty well. Everything looks great, the environments are used very well and you’ll be traversing levels both horizontally and vertically in equal measures. Starring as Buzz Lightyear also means that you’ll have access to a first person shooting mode (only standing still though) and plenty of unlockable items that can be used in earlier levels.


Apparently, Andy’s toys are constantly at war.

Why was it ignored:

Well, the fact that it was yet another late contender to the platform game throne with a “kiddie” license attached to it didn’t help differentiate Toy Story 2 to the eyes of the gaming public but the lack of difficulty (a requirement that plagued many Disney games of the time) further pushed the game away from the big boys like Spyro 2, Rayman 2 or even Ape Escape and the already established Crash 3. Still very much worth playing, mind you.

3. Scooby-Doo Mystery (GEN/SNES)



Why is it a classic:

The Genesis/Mega Drive game (created by Illusions Gaming, also known as the same folks responsible for the Duckman game) is pretty much a LucasArts adventure released on a console. The art is great, the controls are spot on and it captures the spirit of the show pretty well. Meanwhile, the Super Nintendo version gives you a sidescroller adventure/platform game hybrid where you’ll be tasked with finding certain items throughout the level to aid you in either traversing some areas or capturing whatever idiot is dressing up as a ghost and haunting the place. Not quite as impressive as the Mega Drive game but still an interesting game nonetheless.


This lovely gif is credited to The Snorlax Cave

Why was it ignored:

Because who would give a damn about a Scooby-Doo adventure game on a console? Scooby games aren’t known for their quality these days either, so I guess that leaves me as the only caring person.

 

2. Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis (PC/Xbox/PS2)


You eat fish, you asshole!

Why is it a classic:

Maybe you don’t think releasing a multiplatform 3D simulation game with complex dinosaur AI, animations and effects in 2003 is impressive. Maybe you don’t even agree with me that Jurassic Park is the best movie ever. That’s okay. But you have to at least appreciate the sight of a Triceratops flying with a tropical tornado in a videogame.

 

Releasing a game on 3 platforms at once was still a daunting task back in 2003, nevermind trying to one-up Zoo Tycoon with 3D graphics, a revolutionary animal AI (Pack leaders! Fights! Herds! Unique actions to each species! And tons more), realistic animations (having a dinosaur that looks around while walking and roaring, instead of just stopping and performing one action at a time, or people that you can actually see entering buildings) a huge map (Isla Whatever!), environmental hazards and even multiple 3D mini-games that actually work well and you’d be surprised this game was finished at all.


It cost me 14$ but at least I got to pee.

Why was it ignored:

As you might have guessed, creating such a complex 3D simulation game for 3 platforms at once in under 2 years was still a daunting task and the final product, while polished and still impressive, lacks a lot of the variety initially planned. The lack of emphasis on park customization also made it pale in comparison to, say, something already well established like Zoo Tycoon and its expansion Dinosaur Digs. The last few games sharing the Jurassic Park stamp, while decent, weren’t exactly Game of the Year material either, giving people reason to doubt the legitimacy of yet another licensed game.

You can find out more about the game’s creation by reading its interesting Postmortem article.

 

1. Donald in Maui Mallard (GEN/SNES/PC/GB)



Why is it a classic:

Aladdin and Earthworm Jim did an excellent job convincing Disney that it was time to join the vidjagame world with their own franchise. This time, Donald Duck was reinvented as Maui Mallard, an alter ego capable of inhabiting a world that was as dark and edgy as Earthworm’s. This might seem like a recipe for disaster but Disney managed to avoid sticking to the period stereotypes popular with the brand at the time (Quack Pack) and instead took inspiration from the character’s popular European comics and their successful attempts at remaking Donald over and over again.

 

This, of course, resulted in an incredible mix of Noir, Maui, Art Deco, oriental and even horror influences and one of the most beautiful games of the 16 bit generation, complete with solid gameplay, plenty of set pieces (literally as well) and an absolutely fantastic soundtrack (oh, just youtube the music, will you?). It certainly was unique for a Disney title.


Even Maui is impressed with the title screen.

Why was it ignored:

Cartoon animators, Hollywood composers, and even cover art by Drew “Star Wars” Struzan (later discarded on release) weren’t enough to save Donald from Disney itself. The dawn of the 3D consoles did not inspire total confidence in a 16 bit game for the parent company and the slow decision making led to the Mega Drive original being relegated to European and Brazilian releases only, in the winter of 1995, while the Super Nintendo game was released a year later worldwide. By that point, Earthworm had made his mark, the 3D consoles had an install base, and Disney quietly swept Maui under a rug, despite a sequel being planned already. A damn shame. You could be playing Maui Legends on your Wii U these days...

For a great retrospective on Donald’s reinvention as a videogame frontman, check out Remaking an Icon.

 

João Pontes aka KeeperXIII is always afraid he got his facts wrong. You can find his (lack of) compositions on Deviantart.

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About keeperxiiione of us since 5:31 AM on 05.24.2012

I'm a person, alright.




More to come.