5 Licensed Games You Never Knew Were Classics

Laser Time, licensed games, Sheep Raider, Toy Story 2, Scooby Doo Mystery,  Jurassic Park: Operation Genisis, Maui Mallard

Hi, I’m João Pontes (call me Johnny) aka KeeperXIII, a nickname so old that it should be in a retirement community in Florida by now. Two years ago, thanks to unemployment, I found myself creating a blog in Portuguese and talking about old games that I loved. Turns out that a surprising number of those games were not only based on licenses but also pretty damn good. But why doesn’t history remember them?

5. Sheep Raider aka Sheep, Dog ‘n’ Wolf (PS1/PC)

Laser Time, licensed games, Sheep Raider

Why It’s a Classic:

A whole article could be written on Melbourne House’s Looney Tunes games of the late 90’s and early 2000s. They were pretty good. But amidst safe bets like kart racers and platformers, there was this game about Wile E. Coyote’s cousin Ralph and his ineptitude at stealing sheep from a watch dog (not that kind of Watch_Dog), trying to go the distance and impress core gamers. Playing like a proper 3D version of Abe’s Oddysee (so, plenty of puzzles using the environment in clever ways, a bit of platforming and sneaking), Sheep, Dog ‘n’ Wolf manages to capture the Looney Tunes cartoons perfectly, even on the old gray box, and features a ton of easter eggs for fans of the show. It’s the best Looney Tunes game you’ll ever play. Trust me on this one.

Laser Time, licensed games, Sheep Raider
Just be cool…

Why It Was Ignored:

The dawn of the 3D era was not kind to licensed games. Gone where the days of classics like Quackshot, Ducktales, and Aladdin. Your younger self wanted to play “mature 3D games,” and so anything based on a cartoon would go on to live a life of mediocrity post 1994. The huge popularity of platform games like Spyro, Crash, and Gex prompted Warner Bros and Melbourne House to create their own game franchises in the late 90’s, but despite being somewhat successful, Sheep, Dog ‘n’ Wolf was still a cartoon-based game trying to capture the heart of core gamers already enthralled by the Playstation 2.

4. Toy Story 2 (PS1/DC/PC/N64/GBC)

Laser Time, licensed games, Toy Story 2

Why It’s a Classic:

It’s one of the few games that succeeded at capturing the Mario 64 formula of free roaming, spacious levels with various objectives. The levels here are huge and capture the sense of scale found in the movie pretty well. Everything looks great, the environments are used very well, and you’ll be traversing levels both horizontally and vertically. Starring as Buzz Lightyear also means that you’ll have access to a first person shooting mode (only standing still though) and plenty of unlockable items that can be used in earlier levels.

Laser Time, licensed games, Toy Story 2
Apparently, Andy’s toys were constantly at war.

Why It Was Ignored:

Well, the fact that it was yet another late contender to the platform game throne with a “kiddie” license attached didn’t help differentiate Toy Story 2 to the eyes of the gaming public. Plus, the lack of difficulty (a requirement that plagued many Disney games of the time) further pushed the game away from the big boys like Spyro 2, Rayman 2, or even Ape Escape and the already established Crash 3. Still very much worth playing, mind you.

3. Scooby-Doo Mystery (GEN/SNES)

Laser Time, licensed games, Scooby Doo Mysteries

Why It’s a Classic:

This Genesis/Mega Drive game (created by Illusions Gaming, also known as the same folks responsible for the Duckman game) is pretty much a LucasArts adventure released on a console. The art is great, the controls are spot on, and it captures the spirit of the show pretty well. Meanwhile, the Super Nintendo version gives you a side scrolling adventure/platformer hybrid where you’ll be tasked with finding certain items throughout the level to aid you in either traversing some areas or capturing whatever idiot is dressing up as a ghost and haunting the place. Not quite as impressive as the Mega Drive, game but still an interesting game nonetheless.

Laser Time, licensed games, Scooby Doo Mysteries
Watch out for dishwasher ghosts!

Why It Was Ignored:

Who would give a damn about a Scooby-Doo adventure game on a console? Scooby games aren’t known for their quality these days either, so I guess that leaves me as the only person who cares.

2. Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis (PC/Xbox/PS2)

Laser Time, licensed games, Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis

Why It’s a Classic:

Maybe you don’t think releasing a multiplatform 3D simulation game with complex dinosaur AI, animations, and effects in 2003 is impressive. Maybe you don’t even agree with me that Jurassic Park is the best movie ever. That’s okay. But you have to at least appreciate the sight of a triceratops flying within a tropical tornado in a video game.

Releasing a game on three platforms at once was still a daunting task back in 2003, never mind trying to one-up Zoo Tycoon with 3D graphics, a revolutionary animal AI (pack leaders! fights! herds! unique actions for each species!), realistic animations (having a dinosaur that looks around while walking and roaring, instead of just stopping and performing one action at a time), a huge map (Isla Whatever!), environmental hazards, and even multiple 3D mini-games that actually work well. I’m surprised this game was finished at all.

Laser Time, licensed games, Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis
It cost me $14, but at least I got to pee.

Why It Was Ignored:

As you might have guessed, creating such a complex 3D simulation game for 3 platforms at once in under 2 years was still a daunting task, and the final product, while polished and still impressive, lacks a lot of the variety initially planned. The lack of emphasis on park customization also made it pale in comparison to something already well established like Zoo Tycoon and its expansion Dinosaur Digs. The last few games sharing the Jurassic Park stamp, while decent, weren’t exactly Game of the Year material either, giving people reason to doubt the legitimacy of yet another licensed game.

You can find out more about the game’s creation by reading its interesting Postmortem article.

1. Donald Duck in Maui Mallard (GEN/SNES/PC/GB)

Why It’s a Classic:

Aladdin and Earthworm Jim did an excellent job convincing Disney that it was time to join the vidjagame world with their own franchise. This time, Donald Duck was reinvented as Maui Mallard, an alter ego capable of inhabiting a world that was as dark and edgy as Jim’s. This might seem like a recipe for disaster, but Disney managed to avoid sticking to the period stereotypes (Quack Pack) and instead took inspiration from the character’s popular European comics and their successful attempts at remaking Donald over and over again.

This resulted in an incredible mix of noir, Maui, art deco, oriental, and even horror influences. It’s one of the most beautiful games of the 16 bit generation, complete with solid gameplay, plenty of set pieces, and an absolutely fantastic soundtrack (just YouTube the PC version’s orchestrated music, will ya?). It certainly was unique for a Disney title.

Laser Time, licensed games, Maui Mallard
Even Maui is impressed.

Why It Was Ignored:

Cartoon animators, Hollywood composers, and even cover art by Drew “Star Wars” Struzan (later discarded on release) weren’t enough to save Donald from Disney itself. The dawn of the 3D consoles did not inspire total confidence in a 16 bit game for the parent company, and slow decision making led to the Mega Drive original being relegated to European and Brazilian releases only, while the Super Nintendo game was released a year later worldwide. By that point, Earthworm Jim had made his mark, the 3D consoles had an install base, and Disney quietly swept Maui under a rug, despite a planned sequel. A damn shame. You could be playing Maui Legends on your Wii U…

For a great retrospective on Donald’s reinvention as a gaming icon, check out Remaking an Icon.

João Pontes aka KeeperXIII is always afraid he got his facts wrong. You can find his (lack of) compositions on Deviantart or his attempt at a blog on Destructoid.

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13 thoughts on “5 Licensed Games You Never Knew Were Classics

    1. That it is. It just lacked the variety of objects and customization of Zoo Tycoon (which is a huge part of the genre) but it was still surprisingly polished. Very playable and worth playing for those of you that haven’t yet. Being based on my favorite movie helps as well, but I promise I wasn’t too biased.

  1. Toy Story 2 is indeed a classic! As a kid, the ability to run around as Buzz Lightyear was the most fulfilling childhood experience. God, I want to track that game down!

    1. I legitimately loved the original Toy Story game for SNES. Every stage is wildly different, and there’s even a first-person Doom stage. On a SNES cart!

      1. I hated that level with a passion, I always got lost and the amount of times I had the last LGM on my screen and ran on of time, it wouldn’t be so bad if the level immediately beforehand wasn’t so %#! hard. You had to knock Buzz out of the claw using Woody’s pull string as a weapon and it required precision accuracy.

        Actually thinking about it, I’d love to see someone else suffer through that although I suspect what will happen is that the level isn’t hard and I’m just incredibly bad at games.

        1. I never played the original game but people seem to like it. Actually, Toy Story games seem to be pretty decent all around. Even Toy Story Racer on the PS1 (ah! remember that?) got decent reviews. Yeah, I’ll be playing that one day.

  2. Seriously, I loved Operation Genesis. The best part was “Site B” mode, where you could just build an ecosystem of dinosaurs and observe the really robust (and not just for the time) AI doing its thing. I want more games like that! And now that Zoo Tycoon is but a shell of its former self (thanks, Microsoft!), I have precious few options. Maybe we’ll see an HD re-release when Jurassic World comes out next year, but I’m not holding my breath. Anyway, I guess it’s time to drag out the old Xbox and boot that little gem up.

    1. Have you tried the GEPv2 mod? It added a few new interactions between dinos and a nice, blueish fog that kind of reminds me of old dinosaur illustrations for some reason. It’s just an installer as well.

      I wish I could use Site B mode as a screensaver for sure. I still think a well made Operation Genesis remake could sell on consoles, with all the fun mini-games, dinosaur attacks and decent console controls if they were to release it when the movie comes out. It doesn’t need a huge budget either. The original game is still ahead of its time.

      There are also some neat HD mods out there that should make Site B look great. I’m looking for some myself.

  3. Mr. Pontes, this is a fantastic article! I played 5, 4, and 2; and I can completely agree with you and share your memories. I quite literally could not have written it better myself.

    The main point all these games have in common is the accurate capturing of each franchise’s “spirit” – a term so damn abstract and open, but so damn important.

    P.S. Anyone else make an “arena island” on Site B and have a crap ton of T-Rexes and Triceratops fight each other? What? Animal cruelty? Oh, well, I didn’t do that…

    1. I couldn’t agree more CaptainInArms. You can tell when a game is a love letter to the original source material and feels like part of the universe.

      I think the GEPv2 mod for Operation Genesis adds in a Rex vs Raptors animation and a few new interactions for the AI if you want to test that out in Site B 😉 If I recall correctly, the mod came with an installer.

  4. Fuck yea, Sheep Dog ‘N’ Wolf.

    Absolutely loved this game, it had so many Looney Tunes references and was just a friggin blast to play through!

    1. I’m still baffled that that game got made back in the day, even with all the platformers back then.

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