5 Movie-Based Retro Games that Rock

retro, video games, license, movie, robin hood: prince of thieves, NES, gremlins 2: the new batch, batman returns, SNES, genesis, dragon: the bruce lee story, willow

Practically every 90s blockbuster spawned a video game tie-in that was released on every console imaginable. At best, modern flicks might be spun off into a endless runners on the App Store, but movie video games used to be worthy of a Nintendo Power cover story.

Most of these titles were dreck of the putrid sort, but a few notable exceptions hid slick gameplay beneath their celluloid trappings. Let’s rose-tint our world by taking a look back at five movie-based retro games that totally rock.

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (NES)

retro, video games, license, movie, robin hood: prince of thieves, NES, gremlins 2: the new batch, batman returns, SNES, genesis, dragon: the bruce lee story, willow

Before he starred in a lukewarm reboot of a Tom Clancy franchise, Kevin Costner was a Hollywood heartthrob. Although Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves skewed towards an older audience, Virgin Games decided to publish a Sculptured Software title on NES in late 1991.

Entire lines of dialogue are lifted straight from the movie and plopped into the game. Gameplay resembles Gauntlet, Street Fighter, or Ultima depending on a particular scenario, and while objectives can get a little obtuse, the scope and variety of Prince of Thieves makes this a tempting title indeed.

Gremlins 2: The New Batch (NES)

retro, video games, license, movie, robin hood: prince of thieves, NES, gremlins 2: the new batch, batman returns, SNES, genesis, dragon: the bruce lee story, willow

The films in the Gremlins duology couldn’t be more different from each other: the first is a suburban horror film with patches of dark humor, while the second is a gonzo spoof that would make even Mel Brooks jealous. Sunsoft’s Gremlins 2: The New Batch removes much of the humor and replaces it with solid, if a bit floaty, top-down platforming.

In an inspired touch, you play as the Mogwai Gizmo, wandering the floors of Clamp Enterprises. Gizmo battles foes with tomatoes at first, and gains better weapons with each level and an in-game item shop run by Mr. Wing. A spooky soundtrack keeps things going, but Sunsoft really outdid themselves with the graphics here. Gizmo resembles his film counterpart far more than most NES sprites.

Willow (NES)

retro, video games, license, movie, robin hood: prince of thieves, NES, gremlins 2: the new batch, batman returns, SNES, genesis, dragon: the bruce lee story, willow

Producer George Lucas and director Ron Howard wanted Willow to do for fantasy what Star Wars did for science-fiction, but they blended child abduction, parlor tricks, and bird poop jokes into cinematic failure. Good news is that the Willow NES game is an RPG longer than a Daikini’s dong.

A Ninja Gaiden-style cut scene spells out the movie’s plot, which the game then continues to ignore in the best way possible. Remember the scene where Willow battles slimes and a troll in a cave? Neither do I. Willow plays like The Legend of Zelda mixed with a proper XP system, fun animations, and larger sprites. Too bad you can only save via a cumbersome password system.

Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story (SNES, Genesis)

retro, video games, license, movie, robin hood: prince of thieves, NES, gremlins 2: the new batch, batman returns, SNES, genesis, dragon: the bruce lee story, willow

Few biopics have action laced throughout, but Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story is an enjoyable exception. A fun look at Bruce Lee’s life punctuated by moments of sap, the flick also makes for a damned good fighting game on the SNES and Sega Genesis.

There’s the standard two-player versus mode you’d expect, but Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story really comes into its own with its story mode. You play as Bruce Lee in one-on-one (sometimes one-on-two) fights against various baddies, with cut scenes filling in the film narrative along the way. And every sinew on Lee’s shirtless body is animated in eye-popping fashion.

Batman Returns (SNES)

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Tim Burton agreed to direct a sequel to Batman only if he had complete creative control. Warner Bros. relented, and Burton turned in a flick where the Penguin bites off a dude’s schnoz. Konami’s SNES take on Batman Returns straps the tried and true beat-em-up gameplay of Final Fight onto the Caped Crusader.

Batman Returns takes full advantage of the SNES’ generous color palette to render still images from the film in numerous cut scenes, and Danny Elfman’s depressing, creepy score is faithfully rendered note by note into an evocative 16-bit soundtrack. Batman’s punches hit hard; it’s always satisfying to punch clowns and carnies, particularly when they pop up in Gotham City’s snowy cityscape. Multiple difficulty levels change the game’s ending while adding a welcome level of challenge, and the final boss battle is faithful to the film — though it’s not impressive to beat on the Penguin while he’s sulking in his stained long johns.

Article by contributor Mat Bradley-Tschirgi.

8 thoughts on “5 Movie-Based Retro Games that Rock

  1. I forgot about that Dragon video game adaptation followed by an xbox one years latter. Great list and I still remember being bummed out by willow on nes because it wasnt like the arcade version I spent so many quarters on in my local Shakeys pizza.

  2. Thanks for liking the article!

    The Willow arcade game is a fun side-scroller. I wish the NES RPG had a save game option instead of having to rely on long-ass passwords.

  3. I haven’t sat my butt down to beat the NES Willow, but it always seemed interesting to me. Very familiar with Gremlins 2 and Batman Returns, will look more into Robin Hood and Dragon sometime. Also, I SHOULD have known Burton had complete control of Returns. No wonder the bad guys are clowns despite Joker being dead.

  4. Robin Hood and Willow were, as far as I remember, surprisingly competent games for their time. Willow especially. If I remember correctly Robin Hood was a slightly re-skinned version of a PC Robin Hood game that wasn’t based on the movie.

  5. Didn’t know that Robin Hood on the NES was a re-skinned PC game, but it would make sense. The inventory menus look like something straight out of an Ultima game.

    Glad to hear all the SNES Batman Returns love. As great as the game was, my experience of seeing Batman Returns in the theater was even better. My Grandma took me to see Batman and was horrified at all the sexual innuendo and violence. I was 10 years old and loved every minute of it. Years later she took me to see Jurassic Park: The Lost World and was also horrified at the violence in that movie. Will Grandmas ever learn?

  6. I think Goonies II technically doesn’t count because it’s a “sequel” to the movie…

    Although that could be a fun topic for another list- great games that take place after the movies or in the movie universe. Think of all the James Bond Pierce Brosnan games on the PS2 (Everything or Nothing was fun!), Lord of the Rings: The Third Age (an RPG that knocked off Final Fantasty X mechanics), etc.

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