With the Nintendo 64 classic GoldenEye making its way to the Switch after a quarter century, people are starting to look fondly at movie tie-in games again. Reader, that would be a terrible mistake. Often shoveled out as quick money cash grabs developed by third-rate studios, movie games are the scum of the electronic entertainment universe. In this piece, we’ll open up the vaults to reveal the worst of the worst, video games so bad you’ll throw your popcorn and your controller at the screen.
The lore behind Atari 2600 mega-flop E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial is well known by now—programmer Howard Scott Warshaw had a mere five weeks to get the game done for a Christmas release, and it was so puzzling, ugly, and unintuitive that it crashed and burned. Atari had paid a rumored $25 million for the right to make the game in the first place, so it stung extra hard. There were a number of obtuse adventure games on the 2600, most of which weren’t very good, but the ridiculous time frame (which forced Atari to skip user testing) made this one of the absolute worst. Atari would record a loss of $583 million in 1983, with this game partially to blame.
9. Bad Boys: Miami Takedown
The PlayStation 2 era was notorious for tremendous highs and catastrophic lows, especially near the end of the system’s lifespan. One of the absolute worst games the console ever saw was 2004’s Bad Boys: Miami Takedown, released in conjunction with the 2003 sequel. This game is a third-person shooter roughly following the movie’s plot, but neither Will Smith nor Martin Lawrence could be bothered to record dialogue for it, and their two stand-ins sound nothing like them. Action is monotonous, with each mission simply requiring you to go from one location to another while pumping bullets into thugs with horrible AI that often leaves them stuck to a wall while you kill them. A tightly zoomed-in camera that obscures the action is just the icing on the cake.
Most of the versions of this Activision tie-in to the hit 1984 movie are merely average, but the NES version (released in 1986) has a segment so terribly awful that it drags the whole product down. In Ghostbusters, you take your squad of paranormal investigators around New York City, earning money to buy better equipment before a face-off with Zuul at the end. But to reach Zuul, you have to play through a sequence that requires you to climb 25 flights of stairs by pressing the A button frantically while not getting hit by ghosts. It’s arduous, thumb-numbing, and can take as long as 10 straight minutes to do. And I hope you like the Ghostbusters theme song, because it plays on a loop through the entire game.
7. Fight Club
Releasing a tie-in game five years after a movie is released is a rare thing, but Vivendi Universal’s Fight Club sure didn’t take the extra time to polish the gameplay. Dispensing with the twisty, corrosive musings on society and identity from the film, Fight Club the game is a dull and repetitive one-on-one fighter that plays like Tekken with all of the charm and character stripped out. With only three basic fighting styles and an AI that ranks among the all-time dumbest in the genre, this is the very definition of a cheap cash-in. Even the inclusion of Fred Durst as an unlockable character for some reason doesn’t save it.
6. Charlie’s Angels
This dire GameCube and PS2 beat-em-up came out three years after the hit movie, which is already a bad sign. Developed by French studio Neko Entertainment, the minds behind Crazy Frog Racer and Garfield Lasagna World Tour, it delivers an uninspired and pig-ugly morass of punches and kicks delivered by low-poly models with nightmarish face textures and bizarre animations. Everything about this product is wildly inferior, down to the game-breaking bugs that can cause levels to repeat infinitely. When you’re selling a game on sex appeal and the characters look this ugly, you’ve got a real problem.
One would think the decapitation-centric narrative of the Highlander series would lend itself well to video games, but unfortunately, the ZX Spectrum just wasn’t up to the task in 1986. This brutally primitive title lets you take Conor McLeod through a whopping three heavily pixelated swordfights, where the only sound is a Pong-like blip when your blade makes contact. Even for the Speccy, this was a clunker, with unresponsive controls and bland, strategy-less battles. Your three opponents all have the same moves, even the Kurgan. Just an absolute waste of time and cassette tape.
4. Tunnel Rats: 1968
German director Uwe Boll is widely known for producing incompetent movies based on video games. But what would a video game based on one of his movies be like? Surprise, it’s bad. Tunnel Rats: 1968 was a tie-in game for his 2008 Vietnam War drama, and while the movie isn’t one of Boll’s worst, the game is atrocious. A glitchy first-person shooter with some absolutely inexcusable bugs (if you die, your grenades can simply stop working forever), the nail in the coffin comes from the game’s health recovery system, which requires you to painstakingly cut the ears off of Vietnamese soldiers. Gross, in bad taste, and not fun at all.
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2004’s Catwoman film is probably the most reviled DC adaptation ever, a muddled mess starring Halle Berry as the titular feline thief. The game was developed by Argonaut, who certainly should have known better—they helped make the legendary Star Fox—but by the 00s had fallen on hard times. This is a 3D action-adventure game obviously inspired by the then-hot Tomb Raider franchise, but the execution was dismal. The game’s combat features the bizarre decision to not let Selina take down enemies directly, requiring you to throw foes into hazards to defeat them. Controls are also horrid, with platforming sequences becoming frustration-filled trial and error tests. Argonaut would lay off 100 employees and put the company up for sale shortly after Catwoman was released.
2. Dirty Harry
The Nintendo Entertainment System had a flood of lousy movie games, but none were as aggressively bad as 1990’s Dirty Harry. Based on the 1971 thriller starring Clint Eastwood as SFPD detective Harry Callahan, the game takes…some liberties with the source material. At no point in the films does Harry, for example, traverse apartment buildings full of snakes and stun them by jumping on their faces, but it sure happens in the game a lot. Throw in extremely clumsy and unforgiving controls, an obtuse story that draws the game out by having you wander without any real guidance, and worst of all a room you can enter that has no exit, forcing you to restart the game and lose all of your progress without any warning, and you won’t feel lucky, punk.
1. Beverly Hills Cop
Eddie Murphy was at his peak as Axel Foley in the 1984 action-comedy movie, and there were contemporaneous video games released at the time for systems like the Commodore 64. And then there’s the nightmare that is the 2006 Beverly Hills Cop game, released only in Europe. Let’s start with the elephant in the room: For some reason, Axel Foley is white in the game. With that out of the way, the rest of the package isn’t much better. Enemy AI is so braindead that crooks won’t shoot you if you’re crouching because they can’t look up or down. Throw in stealth missions that fail you instantly if a foe spots you from across the level, tedious fetch quests, and unskippable cutscenes and you have a game that should never have existed, no matter what year it was released.
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