There was a strange period in the 90s where Hollywood was making film adaptations of TV shows from the 60s and 70s. It may just be that the 90s was a peak time of nostalgia for people who grew up watching them, but it was an unusual trend. There was The Fugitive and The Beverly Hillbillies in 1993 and Lost In Space and The Avengers in 1998. This trend continued into the early 2000s as well with movies like The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle in 2000 and I Spy in 2002. Not many of these saw wide-spread success even with name recognition and a degree of nostalgia. But one film managed to become a franchise almost forty years after its original television run, 1996’s Mission: Impossible.
Notice: Apologies for the delay in reviews this last month. Things should be moving at a steady pace once again with weekly Saturday reviews.
A book cover, movie poster, or game box art can say a lot about what you can expect from a product. It can also say absolutely nothing at all. While the old adage is true, you can’t judge a book by its cover, that won’t stop some covers from having an impact. A book cover can affect how you imagine the world described within, a movie poster can set your expectations for what you’re about to see, and sometimes a game’s box art can leave you utterly dumbfounded. Enter 1992’s The Lawnmower Man.
Almost every film version of Bram Stoker’s classic novel Dracula has deemed it necessary to change major elements of the plot. The original Universal film changed names, character motives, and omitted major events. The Hammer film Horror of Dracula remained closer to the book, but still changed major plot points and names. Some more recent pictures have deliberately set out to change things in order to keep the story fresh, such as Dracula 2000, in which the Count is really Judas Iscariot, cursed by god to live forever, or Dracula Untold, wherein Dracula is really Vlad Tepes, a Romanian nobleman who willingly took on the vampire curse to save his people.
Author Michael Crichton often dabbled in other skills besides writing. He directed the sci-fi film Westworld in 1973, and later the period piece The Great Train Robbery in ’79. In the early 80’s, Crichton started to get interested in computer games. He taught himself basic, and after teaming up with a programmer and artist, set about designing an adventure game around his recently released jungle adventure novel Congo. Unfortunately for the project, Crichton did not realize that he had already sold the rights to the novel and could not base their game on it. After some hasty tweaks and alterations, Crichton and his team released Amazon. In essence it is the same story as Congo, but with a change of setting, some characters renamed, and set pieces altered.
I’ve often thought that the genre of videogames tailor made for expansive storytelling was the point and click adventure. In its heyday, adventure games were some of the most imaginative games around. They could take a player to very imaginative places and involve them in the progression of a story much more intimately than most action games. Games from Sierra and Lucas Arts could tell deep or shallow stories with superb writing in games like King’s Quest and Grim Fandango, Cyan Worlds produced the mind-bending settings of the Myst series, and Tell-Tale Games has used the medium to expand on the stories of popular franchises like The Walking Dead and Batman. These games have shown the versatility and expanded the story telling abilities of the genre through the years.
Movie licensed games can be handled in many different ways. Sometimes they can be really imaginative experiences that put the player into the midst of the film’s action. SunSoft’s adaptation of Batman (1989) on the NES is a good example of this, a fantastic action platformer set right at the climax of the film to let you feel the thrill of being a superhero. Other times they can be companion pieces to the film that expand on the characters and plot. Atari’s Enter the Matrix (2003) was an ambitious project that resolved key plot points of the second Matrix film to make the game a cannon part of the larger franchise. One of the stranger possibilities is when a developer doesn’t know what to do with a game and makes multiple versions across many platforms that retell the events of the film. Ocean Software developed four different video game adaptations of Sam Raimi’s Darkman (1991) across the NES, Gameboy, and several home computers, all of which offer slightly different retellings of the movie. Today’s game is an example of a company taking a different and rather lazy approach to a movie license.
When I was young, I had never seen any of the classic Universal monster movies. I had only vague ideas of what creatures like Dracula and Frankenstein were about. They are so much a part of popular culture that by the time I heard of them they were so played out that they were very hard to take seriously, even for a child. When I was a teen I read Stoker’s Dracula and Shelley’s Frankenstein and found them to be very deep and subtle horror stories that have stood up very well over the years. With a newfound respect for these characters I was curious to see how they had been presented in other media, and after being seeped in Universal and Hammer films, I went to see how games had treated them. For Dracula it was simple. He had shown up in numerous games throughout the years, but is most well known as the main antagonist of the Castlevania series. It didn’t take much to find him, but Frankenstein’s monster was another story. Although there are some examples of his presence in games, it is usually as a lackey for Dracula in Castlevania.