When it comes to gaming, the movie license genre can be very hit or miss – with many, many more misses than hits. For every awesome GoldenEye 007 there’s a dozen or so Charlie’s Angels, Fight Club, Batman Forever and so on. The main thing about the movie licensed game is timing as developers/publishers want the game out in shops when the movie is in the cinema. A good film can result in a well selling game regardless of quality. Another factor of the licensed game is the cost as money has to go toward not only developing the game itself and paying all those wages of everyone that works on it, but there is also the cost of the licence itself. The bigger and more famous the movie, the more the studio want for the licence to make a game based on it. So what if a developer doesn’t really feel like paying for a movie license? Just make the game anyway and change a few details and claim the game is ‘inspired by’ instead of ‘based on’.
So here I’m going to take a quick look at a few games that are very clearly ‘inspired by’ movies but most definitely not ‘based on’ them…honest!
Werewolves of London
Developed by Viz Design and released for the ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC and Commodore 64 in 1987. Interestingly, the ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC versions were released on the same cassette as a ‘flippy’ with the Spectrum version on one side and the Amstrad on the other, probably to save production costs.
The basic plot of the game has you playing as a character who is cursed with Lycanthropy and you have to find the people who put the curse on you and kill them. An interesting action game with some light strategy elements. But the game was released unfinished as original publisher, Ariolasoft ended up going bankrupt. You play as a human but when the in-game timer hits midnight, your werewolf side comes out. This is when you are hunted by the folk of London as well as the police. The more people you kill and the more active the police become. Avoid the police and kill those who put the curse on you to win the game.
I suppose that 1981’s An American Werewolf in London would be the obvious reference with this game and there are definitely elements of the film in there. But I think it’s biggest influence would be the 1935 flick, Werewolf of London. The plot of the film features a character who is bitten by a werewolf while on an expedition to Tibet and infected with Lycanthropy. Back home in London and he manages to track down the person/werewolf who bit him, who is now in London and seeks his revenge.
A simple top-down arcade shooter that takes inspiration from the arcade classic Gauntlet but wearing a nice Sci-Fi hat. Developed and published by Team 17 in 1991 originally for the Amiga – though other ports soon followed. Alien Breed became a successful franchise with numerous sequels, updates and even remakes.
The game has a simple enough goal of getting the the end of the level to progress to the next. The goal itself may be simple but actually achieving it is not as each level is full of aliens and locked doors to hinder your progress. Thankfully each level is littered with power-ups and credits that you can pick up and spend in terminals to buy new weapons and upgrades.
Do I really need to mention which film(s) this game series is inspired by? Alien and its sequel Aliens are the all too obvious influences here. In fact the original Alien Breed game was so much like the Alien films (in particular the alien designs and weapons) that developer Team 17 actually approached 20th Century Fox who own the Alien film rights and asked for permission to make the game, which Fox happily agreed to. So Alien Breed is technically approved by but not based on the Alien films.
I feel a couple of honorable mentions need to go to Alien Syndrome and the Contra franchise who’s games are also very clearly influenced by the Alien films.
Ubi Soft are one of the biggest developer/publishers working today with successful franchises such as Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry and Watch Dogs to name a few. Back in 2012 they released a zombie survival game called Zombi U for the Nintendo Wii which was later ported to the PlayStation 4 and Xbox 360. Not many people know that Zombi U was actually a reboot of their very first game released back in 1986, Zombi.
An action/adventure game where you control four protagonists who find themselves stuck in a huge shopping mall full of zombies. You must scavenge the mall for anything to help you battle the unrelenting zombie hordes. Search shops for guns and supplies as you fight to keep your four heroes alive and find fuel for an awaiting helicopter on the roof to make your escape.
All of this should sound very familiar to any self-respecting horror film fan. Ubi Soft’s Zombi is basically an unofficial game version of the George A. Romero classic zombie flick Dawn of the Dead. Its the exact same plot and the game features several elements taken directly from the film including using trucks to block the entrances to the mall and a gang of bikers who turn up adding to the zombie chaos. Just as an interesting aside, the movie Dawn of the Dead was re-titled Zombi for some European counties including France where Ubi Soft originated from.
Speaking of Dawn of the Dead…
Capcom released the first Dead Rising in 2006 with the latest in the series released in 2016. Several spin-offs and remakes have been released along the way too. All in all, Dead Rising is a pretty successful franchise in its own right. Each game has its own unique setting, but its the first game in the franchise that we need to take a look at here.
Playing as photojournalist, Frank West – you find yourself in a shopping mall that becomes overrun with zombies. Explore the mall, search shops for weapons and save survivors along the way…any of this sound familiar?
Yup, we have another zombie survival game inspired by Dawn of the Dead. In fact, Capcom were so worried about facing backlash form George A, Romero that the original print run for the game came with a disclaimer on the cover that read:
“This game was not developed, approved or licensed by the owners or creators of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead.”
While Dead Rising only used a similar setting to Dawn of the Dead (unlike Ubi Soft’s Zombie with just ripped it off completely – story and all), you still feel the George A. Romero influence throughout and despite what Capcom may claim, its pretty obvious that Dawn of the Dead was a major inspiration.
So there have been several Shadowrun games over the years but I’ll be looking at the SNES version for this one. The games are most directly based on the tabletop RPG board game series but that itself is inspired by a certain movie. The SNES version of Shadowrun was released in 1993 by developer Beam Software.
Set in a cyberpunk-fantasy, dystopian future where you play as a Jake Armitage who wakes up in a morgue with complete memory loss and has to investigate who he is and why he woke up in a morgue. Jake explores the city interrogating civilians and being attacked by cybernetically enhanced humans.
Story wise, they are nothing alike (the story is actually based on the first Shadowrun novel – Never Deal with a Dragon) but its the setting and overall look that makes Shadowrun very, very similar to the 1982 Sci-Fi classic Blade Runner. The look of the characters, the lexicon the dialogue is written in, the weapons, the overall art style, etc all have a very distinct Blade Runner look and feel to them and all make the SNES version of Shadowrun one of the best (none) Blade Runner games.
Another couple of notable mentions to the games Snatcher and Syndicate as other Blade Runner-esque titles.
There are several other games that are quite clearly ‘inspired by’ other movies, but I’ll save those for another time.