Some of these have aged rather well
Disclaimer: I don’t intend for these games to compete with top-tier AAA videogames, but I do believe that some of them hold their ground against said top-tier games. Some are mediocre, elevated only by fond memories. Nostalgia is the engine that powers these games; not necessarily innovative mechanics or groundbreaking visuals, but those features are on offer too.
While most of 1982’s Atari E.T. cartridges ended up in a landfill, not every film tie-in was a shoddy five-week rush to cash in on a brand name. Some even outdid expectations to become games that minds would recollect fondly. They have one strength in common that few games have: a reputation without having to build one.
But while it might be enough to pique the interest of fans of a particular fandom or franchise, keeping them hooked is another thing entirely. And a failure would impact the franchise as much as it would the game studio, which meant Hollywood giants thought twice (sometimes) before giving their IP away.
Not every game on this list is a masterpiece, but they did right by their fans. And in the end, that’s all that was expected of them. Some games went beyond expectations, bringing in game mechanics that popular games would implement years later. Platformers, beat-’em-ups, and even first-person shooters were born from game studios who captured the spirit of the films they pay homage to. I’m sticking to animated films because I’ve had my fair share of experience with their tie-ins and because this list would be huge if I included the likes of GoldenEye and Wolverine.
And with that, let’s dig in. Nostalgia is a powerful form of love.
Back when I ran across the pixelated streets of Agrabah and the haunting Cave of Wonders, I had no idea that the game was older than I was. Aladdin’s fluid animations coupled with its quirky level design make it a game worth replaying. The platformer also strikes a fine balance between challenging and punishing. A balance that most games of its time failed to achieve.
A solid 16-bit 2D platformer, Aladdin jumps effortlessly from ledge to ledge, vanquishing foes with a well-placed apple toss or a trusty sword slash. Mini-games based on the movie are set between these stages to provide a change in pace, keeping things from going stale.
Virgin Interactive worked with Disney to ensure that the characters looked exactly like the ones in the film. Licensing issues aside, it’s something I hope Disney’s subsidiary team at Marvel takes a page from. Its upcoming Avengers game has failed to garner the attention it deserves because of this very reason. The charm exuded by Aladdin is one that will capture the hearts of its fans for years to come. It’s not perfect, but it’s almost there.
And yes, you can ride a carpet.
You’ll be seeing a lot of Disney titles on this list, I’m afraid. Remember that balance I spoke about, the one between challenging and punishing? Well, The Lion King is downright sadistic. I barely got past a couple of stages before losing all my lives. There’s good reason why Digital Eclipse’s remaster includes a rewind button. If Dark Souls had a precursor, it would probably be this little cub right here. The devourer of dreams, the sealer of fate.
The punishing difficulty gets better after you transition from young Simba who bounces on enemies and growls to adult Simba, a lethal lion who can swipe with his paws, pounce on lunch, and toss it away for snacks. While the character arc is driven home by this gradual development, I still wished for a young protagonist who wasn’t at the mercy of bugs and lizards.
The Lion King offers a solid soundtrack and the visuals bear resemblance to their film counterparts, holding up pretty well against the ravages of time. The platforming segments are brutal, requiring you to time your jumps better than an Olympic athlete. This is why jumping off the heads of giraffes or riding ostriches don’t happen at the Olympics. If you’re up for a game that treats you like prey, dive right in.
Adorable nightmares await.
32-bit graphics. Pseudo-3D with z-axis movement. A handsome dude dropping punches like rain on a glass pane.
There’s a lot to like in Disney’s Hercules. While its past may have influenced its appearance, thank the Gods it didn’t mess with the difficulty. I actually managed to finish this game. Thank you, Virgin Interactive.
Its set-pieces are straight out of the film, but the love that has gone into each pixel is evident. From a running sequence that makes Temple Run look tame to boss battles that are unique (gods, the number of games that don’t get this right), Hercules is a masterpiece.
The animation work that must have gone into this is insane. The idle animations were so good that my eyes were glued to the screen even during snack breaks. Dialogue from Danny DeVito and James Woods among others means that this is far more than a half-hearted effort to mint some cash. Its cartoony eye candy, glorious soundtrack, and hidden items are more than reason enough to try the game out.
Truth be told, the only downside was that it was shorter than I’d have liked it to be. Nonetheless, this 2D platformer seamlessly plays with 2D and 3D objects to create a masterpiece that looks and plays like a Greek God.
Raining death on Titans while riding Pegasus? You’re in luck.
It’s almost a routine at this point.
Once a Disney film hits the box office, a game releases that subverts the age-old emotion of witnessing another terrible tie-in. It came right at the heels of the poorly received A Bug’s Life, an unoptimized and sluggish cash-grab of a game from Activision that failed to ape Banjo-Kazooie or Super Mario 64. My experience with it wasn’t terrible but it wasn’t riveting either. Back to Far Cry Primal, err, Tarzan.
Lush environments that differ from stage to stage, replete with hidden items and tokens. Action set-pieces that mirror the film’s own. A simplistic yet intricate charm reminiscent of Crash Bandicoot, one of the best platformers out there, period. Slide across trees, swing from vines, and keep leopards away with your spear as you navigate uncharted forests.
Just like The Lion King, you control a child who slowly grows into the film’s protagonist, gaining abilities along the way. Tarzan is an experience that begs to be played. Responsive controls and fluid animations help this game stand out from a sea of platformers and exceeds movie tie-in expectations. It’s one of those gems that know how to give you a good time while keeping things challenging.
Pro tip: Eat bananas to restore health.
This game is complex enough to warrant long loading screens. Or is it?
Focused primarily on arcade experiences rather than innovative mechanics or a compelling story, I’d recommend Activision’s Shark Tale only for fans of the movie or a younger audience. It’s a good game, but not a great one. Decent graphics alongside fluid animations give this denizen of the deep a solid coral reef to build on.
Its polished sandbox regions can be revisited to unlock secrets, giving it an open-world vibe while it is often no more than an arcade game packed with mini-games that work as set-pieces to fuel the story. I’d have liked the difficulty to be less forgiving but it was aimed at kids so I can’t really fault the devs. The mini-games aren’t innovative per se, but they’re fun. And charming enough to get you through them.
Be it dancing to solid beats with your arrow keys (cough, Dance Dance Revolution), tossing urchins at finned folk racing in the sewers or other object-collecting shenanigans, there are many ways to gain fame points to advance to the next stage in Shark Tale. It’s even got some stealth and action sequences, my favorite segments of the game. Sharks get visibility cones that you have to avoid and seaweed acts as cover, akin to stealth games.
And this was way before Assassin’s Creed was a thing.
One of the best games of the generation. A videogame that critics absolutely loved. A game forever etched in the annals of gaming history.
Being one of the above warrants any game incredible success, but Peter Jackson’s King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie was all three. The name’s a mouthful, so I’ll stick with just King Kong. It isn’t an animated tie-in, but it is too good a game to keep from this list. Few games offer satisfying moment-to-moment gameplay, a challenge handily bested by King Kong and the screenwriter Jake Driscoll, the characters you’ll be controlling during King Kong’s romp through Skull Island.
I still can’t believe I found this gem in a bargain bin.
The haunting atmosphere in tandem with the minimal AI and hazy yet crisp visuals all add up to an immersive experience, the likes of which I had yet to experience in a videogame. The chilling soundtrack and top-notch dialogue reel you in, until the patter of rain distracts you back into the endless loop of despair. Jake can only hold on to a single gun at a time and has to make do with bones and spears that you find scattered in the desolate ruins of Skull Island. Ammo is scarce, which means that you’re often outgunned by devious dinosaurs, giant scorpions, and 10-foot-long millipedes.
Jake announces the number of magazines he’s got on him until he’s dry, elevating the cat-and-mouse ordeal you take part in with powerful enemies. Sequences are gripping and tense, making today’s action games look like a walk in the park. Its puzzles share the desperation that much of the game permeates. This is a game where you’ll learn that fire is man’s best friend. King Kong is one experience you won’t forget.
The King Kong segments flip these, making you the predator. An experience that I won’t spoil here.
Ah, Kung Fu Panda.
The first game I played on an Xbox 360 (I was 9 at the time), Kung Fu Panda stands out from the tie-ins of its time for all the right reasons. It’s got an in-depth combo system that can keep more than just young fans engaged, majestic set-pieces set within the film’s own, and just the right blend of exploration, combat, and platforming. An upgrade system rewards you with more powerful moves and outlandish costumes. Characters run and fight about like a dream, even those you control for brief periods of time like Master Shifu.
The dialogue is on point and so is the soundtrack as Po weaves through exotic locales, facing warriors of all forms of fauna. It retains the style that made the film a blockbuster, a romp through cartoony China that is sure to keep you entertained from start to finish. Once you’re done with Tai Lung, the game also has a set of multiplayer mini-games that I grew fond of. From survival modes to games with defensive objectives, a squad of four players can take control of a variety of characters, ready to fight with unique combos and attacks. A worthy addition to this list.
I’ve lost track of the time my brother and I spent cleaning foes up.
A journey through Africa with Alex and co. is one of silly fun and merriment. Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa is often a platformer masquerading as an open-world game, offering a variety of sandboxes with plenty in terms of exploration and mini-games, be it across the African Plains or the underwater tunnels. Each character has a distinct feel to them with unique abilities but the combat itself is woefully simple. And the non-linear mini-games aren’t the most challenging, save the ones where bugs mar the experience.
Fortunately, the pacing is chaotic, pushing you from one set-piece to another in quick bursts. This keeps things fresh while dropping in new elements from time to time. Every character has their own little arc to complete, keeping things coherent with the film. There isn’t much motivation to run through the game unless you’re a Madagascar fan. An upgrade system would have been nice. But its cartoony mini-games retain the charisma of the film, with sequences that range from penguins driving wranglers to Alex running across obstacle courses.
Again, a good game. But an uninspired one.
Few fantasy universes can compete with Narnia.
Filled to the brim in terms of iconic characters and environments, Traveller’s Tales does a fair job of bringing this franchise to life in a videogame. While it has belted out hit license games in the past (the LEGO games and one of the Crash Bandicoot titles come to mind), it hasn’t followed its principles through to the end in this one. Prince Caspian’s levels often boil down to barebones combat mixed with basic puzzles, redeemed only by exquisite set pieces. But what makes this game shine is that you can bring a friend along for the ride.
Be it a speedy centaur or a meaty minotaur, each character weaves through foes a little differently, despite mashing the same buttons. While the game doesn’t reinvent the action-adventure genre, its pacing keeps things interesting, albeit with repetitive sequences. Thank goodness this game has a mini-map on the HUD, else I’d have barely survived Narnia’s rich expanses. The ruins of Caer Paravel, the battlefield of Beruna, and Miraz’s castle are all here, gorgeous stages for you to explore. The audio experience is splendid as well. It’s an enjoyable experience, just not an innovative one.
While the game won’t make C. S. Lewis roll in his grave, it won’t make him proud either.
Wall-E. Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class robots.
The game follows the beats of the animated film to a fault. You get to take the little robot through an abandoned Earth and eventually the Axiom spaceship, filled with puzzles to solve. You can go into a box form to get past obstacles and charge yourself up with built-in solar panels. Later, you even get to use a laser. Once he gains access into the ship, he can play “Hello Dolly” to charm robots to his side. A touch that fans will appreciate.
The puzzles are the reason you ought to take Wall-E’s blocky self and Eve’s blasters for a spin. In fact, I’m pretty sure they’re tougher than what kids are normally exposed to. Some sections involve carrying a block from one area to another, evading powerful sentinels who can shoot or toss cubes at you with eerie accuracy. While some sections are challenging, the sheer diversity of the puzzles will keep you coming back for more. It’s a game I recommend without hesitation.
Give me the plant.
Think of Dawn of the Dinosaurs as an arcade portal of sorts, one that connects stages with the film’s charming plot.
You take control of most of the cast as you tread from one genre to another, from forgotten melting peaks to the realm of the dinosaurs. The saber-toothed tiger Diego hunts gazelles in a racing game of sorts, Manny the mammoth can mow tree trunks down, while Sid and Buck take center stage in the more action-oriented sequences. So does Scrat to an extent, and his love interest Scratte, a flying squirrel whose quest for nuts takes them across fun 2D side-scrolling platforming challenges. While Sid’s combat system and platforming ability aren’t all that inspiring, Buck flips things over.
It’s almost as if this stuff would have been DLC had the game launched at a different time. The lush jungles are stunning. So are the dinosaurs that inhabit them. Buck’s vine whip and fruit-based projectiles make him a blast to play. Said whip also grants him enhanced maneuverability.
And he can wall-run. It’s breathtaking, especially as a kid.
Some of the set-pieces are downright mesmerizing, like Buck riding a pterodactyl across the skies in a shooter-esque segment, Sid running from the T-Rex (cough, Temple Run) or the battle with Rudy the Spinosaur. While this is a solid showing from Activision, I’m still not sure whether it’s sheer nostalgia or the systems underneath the game that make me endorse it. None of it is original, but all of it is charming.
“I woke up and I was married to a pineapple! An ugly pineapple… but I loved her!” — Buck
No tie-in list would be complete without mentioning LEGO’s excellent set of videogames. Your favorite characters, now made of toy bricks, retell crisp narratives and go on adventures seasoned with slapstick humor, that of the LEGO variety. Breaking everything you see in a bid to earn some studs (LEGO’s in-game currency) often takes precedence over the overarching plots themselves.
Almost every LucasArts, Marvel and DC franchise has a LEGO experience of its own, and they’re almost always worth checking out. Indiana Jones, Lord of The Rings and Harry Potter have their own LEGO stories as well.
Pick a game and dive in. Their platforming escapades and puzzle variety are second to none. And that’s before the fact that you can share your adventure with a friend. Until it turns into a fight for studs.
While this is by no means a comprehensive list, these are among the more memorable and successful forays into animated film territory.
Let me know if there’s a game that ought to be mentioned here. This list was a rollercoaster of memories to pen down.
Most of them were flagbearers of their genres, while others were unoriginal retreads, saved only by charming characters and delightful plots furnished by the films they wished to replicate.
Some of these games no longer have price tags, so give them a shot today and relive the golden era of gaming!