5 Video Game Adaptations That Totally Missed The Point
We're used to movies and TV shows being turned into bad video games. It seems you don't get the best work out of designers when you tell them they have to make something -- anything -- about Total Recall, and it has to be done in three weeks. But sometimes a game adaptation is more than simply a bad, nakedly commercial cash grab. Sometimes it goes against everything the source material stood for. Here are some of the worst examples.
South Park: Phone Destroyer Was Everything The Show Criticized About Free-To-Play Games
In 2014, South Park devoted an entire episode, "Freemium Isn't Free," to the predatory nature of free-to-play games. The show's mainstay TV stars, Terrance and Phillip, release a free game that Stan becomes obsessed with, and he soon finds himself spending thousands of dollars in "microtransactions." The episode tore into the mobile game industry, pointing out how most "freemium" games are boring, shallow experiences that reward players with pointless fanfare in the desperate hope of hooking addiction-prone people.
The show insists these games are more than bad -- they're actively evil. Most people who play them never pay a cent, but a small percentage of addicts will spend uncontrollably. Basically, the emotional disorders and financial irresponsibility of a small group of people fund the entire gigantic freemium gaming industry. To really hammer the point home, the episode has Satan himself explain addiction to Stan. South Park has never been known for its subtlety.
Trey Parker and Matt Stone talk more about this business model in the commentary for the episode. They discuss how they were approached several times to make freemium games back in the day, but decided against it. They even trash talk Family Guy for having a shitty game that needles weak-minded players into shelling out $100 for a pile of stupid virtual clams.
Fast-forward to 2017, and South Park came out with its own freemium game, Phone Destroyer. Players are greeted with an opening screen informing them that the game offers in-app purchases you need real money to buy. We were going to begin that last sentence with "To its credit," but no one should get credit for announcing they're doing something shitty right before doing the shitty thing.
In the game, you can spend as much as $49.99 on a single transaction. With a tap, you can swap a significant amount of hard-earned real money for a fleeting handful of fake cash. You can then swap that fake cash for gold coins. Like every unethical game before it, it's trying to hide its cost in confusing layers of currency abstraction. Suddenly, having a fake clam-based monetary system in your game doesn't seem so stupid.
Phone Destroyer also commits one of the most egregious video game crimes: It absolutely gives players who spend real money a competitive advantage. They get access to rare, better cards to use against other players. You can earn these cards naturally in the game, assuming you make enough healthy choices to live an unusually long life. This is unlikely if imaginary South Park battle cards interest you in any way.
The entire game is a predatory addiction vampire that rewards players who spend money, which makes it easier for them to win battles and get that sweet dopamine release, which makes them want to play more, which makes them need to spend more money. If only there was someone who had an international media platform they could use to warn people against this type of thing!
The Les Miserables Fighting Game Is Somehow More Insane Than It Sounds
Les Miserables is great. It's like Rent, but everyone is dying of tuberculosis instead of AIDS. It's more French than a baguette stuffed into a mime, and it recently inspired a movie wherein Wolverine and Gladiator sing about the nature of justice with Marla Singer and Borat. In Japan, however, they decided the plot needed more street fights against animals.
For transparency's sake, the following sentence is an explanation of a pun in another language, so you should adjust your excitement and interest accordingly. The game is called Arm Joe, which is a play on words based on Aa Mujuo or "Ah, Cruelty" -- the Japanese title for Les Miserables. And this is only the beginning of the many creative liberties that the developers took with the source material.
You can play as familiar characters like Jean Valjean, Javert, and Cosette, but they all battle each other with 20-foot jumps and super karate. This would be weird enough, but the roster also includes an evil robotic version of Valjean, a cartoon rabbit from a parallel universe, and the physical embodiment of "Judgement" itself. Instead of singing, the fighters might triple-flip suplex one another several times, and then drop 20 tons of garbage on an opponent's head. That's not a series of random joke words. That's a very, very partial description of Enjorlas' super move.
"Les Miserables: the 2012 hit movie is now a 78-hit combo!"
The whole project was a labor of love by a single, devoted developer. In a 2004 interview, he admitted that he was inspired by how "attractive" and compelling all the characters were. But instead of writing slash fiction wherein those characters fuck their way through Dawson's Creek, he made an entire game about them jump-kicking robot versions of themselves. So maybe Les Dawsonable Creek isn't so crazy after all, mom, friends, and book publishers!
The Ring Game Was A Very Confusing Resident Evil Knockoff
In 2002, The Ring was one of the most innovative horror movies of its time, even if that "innovation" was introducing millions of Americans to the original Japanese movie, Ringu, from four years before. It also spawned a wave of horrible knockoffs and remakes, then a bad sequel, followed by an even worse sequel. So getting The Ring wrong is a tradition going back almost 20 years. And this game adaptation definitely does that.
It came out in 2000. Japanese developer Asmik Ace Entertainment decided to turn a fairly straightforward horror story about a cursed VHS tape into utter mental diarrhea. It's truly nuts, which is perhaps to be expected from the guys who made a game called LSD: Dream Emulator.
You play as a girl named Meg, and the game opens with your boyfriend suddenly dying. It's hard to be too emotionally attached to a wad of CGI clay you met several seconds ago, but solving his mysterious death is your mission.
Meg heads to the dude's former place of employment to investigate, and things immediately go off the rails when she enters a virtual reality shooting game that is sort of like Resident Evil, in the way that a fart is sort of like smelling someone's dinner.
Logging back out of the game, Meg gets the classic "seven days" phone call, meaning she has been ghost-cursed and will die in a week. Strangely, she soon finds some of the same "healing jelly" in the real world while out butting heads with corporate executives and security guards.
In the course of investigating the company and playing more of the ridiculous game within a game, Meg learns that they are making a virus which turns people into monkey monsters in order to make them immune to the Ring ghost's attacks. It's the kind of logic you find only in video games, and not good ones. Here's how the evil executive explains it:
The game ends with Meg fighting Sadako, the ghost girl, on the roof of the corporate headquarters. You'd think that battling a ghost who crawls out of TVs to devour the souls of whoever watches its VHS tape would involve some kind of complicated ritual, possibly involving an RF adapter blessed by the Broadcast Pope. But no, you just shoot her with your gun.
Now, maybe this won't surprise you, but it gets crazier. After you gun her down, Sadako gives you a vaccine to cure the company's disease. But it's pointless. The world becomes a post-apocalyptic hellscape anyway, and the game ends with you dressed just like your character in that virtual monster-fighting game. It's both a callback and total nonsense written by a madman.
The Blair Witch Game Actively Ignores Literally Everything About The Movie
The Blair Witch Project is the seminal 1999 horror flick that kicked off the found footage genre, allowing audiences to truly feel what it's like to be shoved down the stairs while drunk. The plot was pretty simple: A team of cranky idiots sets out to make a documentary about a child-murdering witch who supposedly haunts some woods. It super does not go well for them.
It doesn't seem like a hard concept to adapt. Make a survival horror game with stealthy enemies and a shifting, endless forest maze. Seems obvious, right? Well, the developers went in a different direction. They took everything that made the movie work, and then did the opposite.
The game is an action detective adventure set in 1941, called The Blair Witch Chronicles, Volume 1: Rustin Parr. Agent Doc Holliday (no ... relation?) is sent by a secret government agency called the Spookhouse to investigate Rustin Parr's murders.
The movie worked in part because of its ambiguity. Did they all die at the end? Was there a witch at all? Or were these kids just exceptionally bad at camping? The video game not only removes all that ambiguity by spelling everything out, but it also spells out entirely different made-up words. And it even gets those wrong.
See, there never even is a Blair Witch. Instead there's a demon in the "Black Hill Woods" named Hecaitomix, who possesses Parr to do the killings. The demon also infects the town's inhabitants. Oh, and the town is filled with zombies you need to fight. With laser-mounted guns. In the 1940s. It almost feels sarcastic. It's like if someone made a Weekend At Bernie's game in which Bernie never died, and his name is actually Cliff, and Andy McCarthy is an army of spiders only your freeze ray can defeat. Plus it's Wednesday.
Slow-Burning Bram Stoker's Dracula Became A Bat-Kicking Karate Game
Francis Ford Coppola's 1992 version of Dracula is much like Keanu Reeves' career: good in some parts, occasionally horribly miscast, and always poorly accented.
But none of that matters, because Dracula, for the Sega CD, ignores its source material altogether. Here, Keanu's Jonathan Harker is not a timid, helpless accountant engulfed in terror. He's a danger-wading kickmaster who beats bats to death with his lethal hands and feet.
The game is not a slow thriller with creepy ass-headed vampires. It's a never-ending mission for the swamp's deadliest bat-puncher to find out what's happening over on the right side of the screen. And he doesn't just kill bats. All kinds of deadly enemies come after you in Dracula for Sega CD.
In the original story, Dracula's victims are complicated, sympathetic characters. You might remember Lucy from the movie, whom Van Helsing and his team try to rescue from Dracula's curse. In the game, Jonathan kicks her in the head until it comes off.
Then again, the case could be made that Bram Stoker's Dracula for the Sega CD is, in fact, the perfect video game adaptation. If you're going to ignore the source material, you might as well make it your own, and do so as awesomely as possible. That's why Jonathan doesn't sit down for dinner with Dracula on the Sega CD. Instead, our protagonist kicks the old man in the face the moment they meet. Immortal count, meet the way of foot and fist.
Jacopo (@Jacopo_della_Q) is the author of two books you should read now. This isn't the first time Mike Bedard has noticed when merchandise misses the point of the franchise. You can follow him on Twitter for more of his funny observations. Rani Baker made the video game DEATH SWORD that just won "Most Innovative" at the Intel Buzz Indie Gamedev Showcase and was showcased at the Portland Retro Gaming Convention. You can support the project here. Adam Koski also writes and produces The Vanishing Point podcast, a horror anthology show.
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For more clueless creations, check out 15 Times Characters Missed The Point Their Shows Were Making and 6 Movie Marketing Tie-Ins That Hilariously Missed The Point.
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