Exploring some less than cherished Atari memories via some lesser-known bad movie tie-ins.
You youngsters don’t know how good you have it these days with your fancy graphics and your smooth gameplay and your sound effects that sound like what they’re supposed to sound like and your controllers with multiple buttons. In my day, console games looked and played like shit and we liked it that way!
The Atari 2600 was released the year before I was born and I’d like to think that when I was born, the doctor toweled me off and placed a paddle controller in my hand to stop me from crying. It was the first breakthrough home console system that popularized the idea of removable game cartridges. It pretty much rules my earliest childhood memories.
But not all nostalgia can be rose-tinted. I spent countless hours playing every game I could lay hands on to the point where I still remember many of them to this day even as I can’t recall what movie I watched last night as an adult. But even as a small child I had to scratch my head at some of the games that were placed before me.
As with the games of today, movie tie-ins were regularly among the worst of the lot. Today I’ve got some of the ones that were so bad and confusing and just…pointless that they left an impression on me that has lasted over three decades. It’s time to blast the past, and I’m not wasting a pick on the biggest fail in movie tie-in history, either. As stupefyingly lame as E.T. was, it had plenty of shovelware to keep it company that is just as worthy of your attention.
The Man of Steel has had a pretty rough go of it when it comes to video games. You’d think that controlling a character with that much power would be amazing. To this day, I’ve only played one Superman-based game that wasn’t garbage and it was a 1988 arcade-only game that had two players for some reason.
Speaking of multiplayer, Atari’s version had what’s got to be the worst idea in the history of the concept. One player could move Superman left and right. The other could control his vertical movement. Sound like fun? Didn’t think so. I can’t imagine I made it through even five minutes of that. Speaking of sound, every sound effect in Superman was actively designed to simulate nails on chalkboard.
At the beginning of the game a bridge blows up into a bunch of oddly-shaped pieces which you must find and return once you go to the phone booth to don your Supermanly attire. Along the way you find gun-toting gangsters and a Lex Luthor/helicopter hybrid thing which you can pick up and fly to a jail, bridge pieces to return to the scene of the crime (where the bridge then blows itself back together), and big flying, beeping X’s that are supposed to be kryptonite and follow you everywhere.
Should a flying X touch you while you repeatedly fail at picking up what you are supposed to pick up, you will be rendered impotent and are forced to wander about on foot until you find Lois Lane randomly wandering, who will cure you with a kiss or ten. This is a massive headache because in addition to having to deal with going back and forth through random identical screens trying to navigate, you are constantly being depowered.
If you want to see what this game can do to an objective reviewer, have a look at the following video. From enthusiastic optimism to curse-filled rage in minutes; it’s a beautiful thing in a way.
The Empire Strikes Back
At least Superman had a point; a goal to accomplish. This? This barely qualifies as a video game. The film is universally lauded as the greatest chapter of the most beloved film franchise in history. The Empire’s assault on Hoth in particular was life-altering for me as a child and it’s something that is still a masterpiece by any standard today. Who wouldn’t want to play a video game based on it?
You play Luke Skywalker (maybe) in a rebel Snowspeeder defending Hoth from a limitless supply of Imperial AT-AT Walkers. Your options are as follows: you can try shooting a single Walker and watch as it changes colors and eventually dies after a long time spent flying back and forth trying to shoot it as it shoots you, you can fly over and under dozens of Walkers looking for one that is a color that signifies it is already weak and finish it off, or you can keep flying and hope to find one that has a weak spot.
A weak spot on a Walker is a flashing square that occasionally pops up that allows you to kill it with one shot. So most of your play time is going to be spent either flying over and under AT-ATs looking for one with a weak spot or just saying “fuck it” and spending an too long flying back and forth shooting the same one until it eventually dies. In addition to cannons shooting a constant stream of projectiles at you, some will fire homing missiles that look exactly like a weak spot that you have to spend some time fleeing from before you can resume your impossibly dull and endless task.
When I say there is no winner in this game, I mean that in every sense. It goes on forever until you die or refuse to play anymore, usually the second. Check the enthusiasm.
What the hell is a Krull, you ask? It’s an early 80’s fantasy film I barely remember involving a boomerang/shuriken thing. I mostly remember it because of the game. A game with an infinite first level. Yeah, seriously. Basically, you start off defending your bride from a legion of monsters with a sword. But they never stop coming. No matter how many you kill, the game will continue until you either die or fail at the appointed task of defending your ladylove and they carry her off.
Now this brilliant game design precedent is the main thing I remember about this one, but there were some four levels total (an epic amount at the time), none very fun. You could ride horses across a desert where you would find the Glaive (the boomerang/shuriken thing I mentioned), then you had to avoid some spider thing while jumping over moving web strands. After that, you use the Glaive to play Arkanoid and bust your woman out of prison while a monster throws stuff at you.
I’m pretty sure I never beat this game because should you be dumb enough to use the badass bladed boomerang weapon to, oh, I don’t know….FIGHT THE MONSTER, you fail because the monster takes it and keeps it. Better hope you have extras. You may use said weapon to chip away at the wall imprisoning the damsel and ONLY to chip away at the wall imprisoning the damsel. There is a phrase I would have used at the time to describe this gameplay feature if I used such language at that time: Fuck. That. Shit. Oh, and that spider level is not as easy as it looks in the vid. It’s kind of extremely terrible to endure.
Now, here’s one the one that I hated the least. It actually had some cool features for the time. That said, it still pretty much sucked. The game begins with you playing as [drum roll, please]….the Ghostbusters logo. You travel amongst a lot of squares which represent buildings, one of which will be blinking. The blinking means there is a ghost there. When you go there, you get to drive the Ecto-1 and vacuum up ghosts you encounter for a few seconds. You get nothing from doing this, although there is currency in-game they could have rewarded you with. Ghostbusting on the road is its own reward.
You are then allowed to set down a trap and attempt to capture the ghost at the location. You first position the trap, then you position your first ghostbuster. You then position your second and then turn on their proton streams to attempt to trap the ghost as it quickly flies around. Once your busters are positioned you can move them closer together, but not further apart. This means you only get one go at it.
The idea is to use the proton streams to trap the ghost without crossing them, which knocks you on your ass. But even if you do it just right and trap the ghost right above your containment unit, the busters turn off the streams when you activate the trapping mechanism, often allowing the ghost to dodge the trap anyways. And if you take too long or miss, the ghost puts its bum on you and then flies off, presumably leaving excretory ectoplasmic bodily fluids upon your person.
I didn’t understand the in-game economics (a feature well ahead of its time) so I didn’t know how to achieve the endgame where you run under a bouncing Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man for some reason, but rest assured that I was regularly even more agitated playing the game as a child than this fully grown man becomes during this video.
The movie was the epitome of delicious Queen-fueled Saturday afternoon 1980’s cheese. The game? Just painful. It’s like watching Defender get raped. Remember Defender? Good, good times. Well, this is like they played that classic and then said “This is in space. Flash Gordon is in space, and people like that. Let’s do a thing like this and tie it into that movie we didn’t bother watching!”
So no, there is no football, nor flying jetskis, nor hawkpeople, nor Brian May guitar; not even any whip fights. There’s a spaceship, and then there is stuff you can shoot with the spaceship. The bottom half of the screen is a map that you used to navigate since every single thing on the actual gameplay screen looked exactly the same.
You conquer the city by finding stuff to blow up using the map. Along the way, you can rescue people randomly floating about for no good reason. How does one justify calling this Flash Gordon? The cover art, I reckon. For all of their mind-melting flaws, at least the other games on this list are recognizable as having something to do with the franchise they represent. Even the legendary E.T. had more to justify itself, and that one was so bad that it was blamed for crashing the entire gaming industry.
Then again, this one wouldn’t have seemed so terrible if it were advertised simply as the challenging early bullet hell shooter it was instead of Flash Gordon: The Game. But a movie tie-in that doesn’t even attempt to resemble the franchise in any way whatsoever? That’s the kind of irresponsibility that led to people abandoning gaming altogether during the mid 80’s before Nintendo swooped in to save the day. Any more room in that landfill where they dumped the E.T. cartridges?