The Oscars may be over, but Vidjagame Apocalypse‘s weekly countdown is just beginning.
Beginning with tomorrow’s episode of Vidjagame Apocalypse, we’re trying something new: companion articles to go along with our weekly Top 5 countdowns, so you can play along at home. So! As weirdly off-tempo as Sunday’s Oscars were, we’re not quite ready to let the Academy Awards go just yet. Instead, we’re giving them a proper send-off on this week’s show with the Top 5 Games Based on Best Picture winners.
Actually, that should maybe be Only 5, considering that’s exactly how many of the Academy’s 85 Best Picture winners have ever gotten their own game adaptations. (That’s right: Jaws never actually won. I know, crazy, right?) True, a few of the movies/games we’re about to mention actually got multiple games based on them, but what we cover this week are the best – or at least, most direct – attempts at making them interactive.
Listen to our discussion of this Top 5 on Episode 4 of Vidjagame Apocalypse.
5. Platoon (1986 Best Picture Winner)
The Movie: A college dropout volunteers for duty in Vietnam, only to become disillusioned as he witnesses escalating atrocities and insanity.
The Game: A lone G.I. wanders back and forth through a featureless hedge maze, only to have his head repeatedly stomped by skydiving Vietcong.
Please take note: this will be the only time in your life you ever see the 1988 NES Platoon game on any list in conjunction with the word “best,” unless that list is “Best games called Platoon.” Released in an era when kids were expected to draw their own damn maps and die repeatedly, it opens with a huge side-scrolling labyrinth that features constant Vietcong suicide attacks and no scenery differentiation whatsoever.
If by some miracle you can make it through that, you’ll be treated to more mazes (this time in first-person), a “night attack’ sequence during which you’ll have to target indistinct blobs, and then a top-down run-and-gun bit that culminates in throwing yourself at a machinegun nest. You could try to suffer through it on your own, or you could just watch the whole thing in this speed run video:
4. The Godfather II (1974 Best Picture Winner)
The Movie: Cutting back and forth between the exploits of Michael Corleone (Quiet Al Pacino) in the late ‘50s and his father, Don Vito Corleone (Badass Robert De Niro), in 1917, The Godfather Part II weaves a complex and violent interconnected narrative to create one of the greatest, most fascinating gangster dramas ever ever ever.
The Game: After the first game’s protagonist is unceremoniously killed off, some dumb nobody calling himself Dominic Corleone is inexplicably handed the day-to-day management of the Corleone crime family, which mostly involves hitting people in the head until they say he can take over their businesses.
Except for maybe Platoon, it’s hard to imagine a movie that took a bigger tumble in the transition from film to game. It’s not that 2009’s Godfather II is bad, necessarily; as an open-world, moderately strategic crime game, it has a certain rough charm. It’s just that it’s very, very bad when put next to one of the greatest movies ever filmed.
Set during the less action-packed of the film’s two eras, it shamelessly squanders the license’s potential, boiling the movie’s plot down to occasional encounters with Frank Pentangeli, Hyman Roth, and Fredo and Michael Corleone (with the latter narrating the game’s tutorials). In fact, story in general seems to have been largely sidelined to make room for a complex-but-flawed racket-management sim that the developers initially showed off to press as a turn-based card game.
Why even bother with the license if you’re just going to ruin it? If we had to guess, we’d say it’s because nobody would have given Godfather II a second thought without it.
3. Rocky (1976 Best Picture Winner)
The Movie: A small-time boxer gets an unlikely chance to challenge the world champion for his title – and while he doesn’t win, he discovers love, and his own seemingly bottomless ability to absorb punishment, along the way.
The Game: Rocky punches his way through a few other small-time boxers before mindlessly battering Apollo Creed into submission without breaking stride. He then goes on to re-create the events of his next four movies, somewhat more accurately.
There’ve been a few games based on the Rocky movie franchise over the years, but the 2002 console version is probably the most faithful adaptation of the films – and, most importantly, of the first, Best Picture-winning one. Also, unlike the last couple of adaptations discussed here, Rocky is actually kind of… good. It’s not up to the standards that would later be set by the Fight Night series, but it’s enjoyably button-mashy, with a stamina system that does a decent job of approximating the ebb and flow of boxing. We’ll dock it a few accuracy points for demanding a non-canon victory against Apollo Creed the first time around, but otherwise this is pretty much what we’d expect from a game about a movie about a mumbly guy who hits people real good.
Its handful of cutscenes don’t hold up quite as well as its gameplay, unfortunately.
2. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003 Best Picture Winner)
The Movie: A band of heroes fight a last, pitched battle against hordes of orcs and giant Olyphaunts while their physically unassuming friends try to sneak a magic ring into a volcano. But let’s be honest, you probably only remember the fake ending where all the hobbits roll around in bed.
The Game: An assortment of heroes, voiced by the actors who played them in the movies, hack their way through linear paths of orcs and hit buttons on cue in loose re-enactments of movie scenes. Also Jonathan Rhys-Davies shouts tutorial advice at an expressionless re-creation of Sir Ian McKellen.
Considered to be the pinnacle of in-game production values and game developer/movie studio cooperation when it was released nearly a decade ago, Return of the King is a weirdly embarrassing artifact today. Now that its graphics have lost their once-impressive polish with age, we’re left with a sparse, linear hack-and-slasher with a bland color palette and faces that look like plastered-on photos.
So why’s this #2, especially when there’ve been better LotR adaptations produced since? Well, as much as its visuals have aged poorly, it still holds up reasonably well as a brawler, particularly if you want a no-nonsense action re-creation of some of the movie’s most memorable scenes. It’s also the first and only Lord of the Rings movie adaptation to focus almost exclusively on the events of The Return of the King – which is, again, the only film in the trilogy to actually win Best Picture.
1. The Godfather (1972 Best Picture Winner)
The Movie: War hero and mafia scion Michael Corleone (Quiet Al Pacino) tries to reconcile his desire to live an honest life with his duty to his family. A bunch of people get shot and Marlon Brando stuffs cotton in his cheeks and it’s great.
The Game: Teenage hoodlum and vengeful orphan Aldo “The Player” Trapani (lol I see whut u did there) works off-screen in 1940s New York to enact pivotal on-screen events, all while following an original storyline that runs parallel to the movie. A few actors from the film, now ancient, reprise their roles and it’s weird.
While it took a beating from the gaming press and film purists alike, I couldn’t help but fall a little bit in love with EA’s 2006 Godfather adaptation. Yes, its open-world version of New York was bland and shallow, and sure, its seemingly endless side activity – taking over rackets – was repetitive as hell. But where Godfather II was a soulless cash-grab, the first game was made with an obvious reverence for the source material.
It would have been easy to, say, turn Michael Corleone into a reluctant gun-toting anti-hero, or to artlessly re-imagine scenes from the film as action set-piece levels and leave it at that. Instead, the game cast us as a bit player in the movie’s larger drama, letting us interact with familiar characters without ever really supplanting them. We may have seen him rise from devastated kid to street punk to made man, but Aldo wasn’t ever the hero of the central story. Not really.
He was the hero of his own story, however, which featured original characters and its own surprisingly compelling arc of love, betrayal and loss that played out behind the movie’s scenes. I’m not about to claim it’s anything particularly soul-stirring (well, maybe it is to me, a little), but looking back, it’s difficult to think of any movie-to-game adaptations that put in a similar amount of story-building effort or went to such lengths to keep the existing narrative (relatively) pure.
Except for maybe Spider-Man 2. But Spider-Man 2 never won Best Picture.
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