Rise of the Licensed Game: Don t Be Afraid of Them Anymore

Oooh licensed video games. I don t think a more sure-fire way to scare off a gamer exists.

Anyone over the age of twelve has probably caught on to the fact that, in general, licensed games (games based on some other non-video game intellectual property like a movie, comic or TV show) are less than stellar. Obviously we can t put all the blame squarely on the game companies and developers involved though. Licensed games are often made with very small budgets and on tight time restraints. But the combination of these tight restrictions and often uninspired source material (Movies like Battleship for example) set a terrible precedent for game developers working on such projects.

Years of games ranging from average-at-best to just plain terrible have left a bad taste in our mouths and afforded licensed games a well-earned awful reputation. Sure there have been some gems over the years like Duck Tales, Goldeneye 007, Spider-Man 2, Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay and Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, but they haven t been enough to wash away the stain of extreme cynicism gamers carry for these games.

As of late though, particularly in the past 4-5 years or so, we ve started to see an abnormal number of licensed games that were… actually, pretty good! It s starting to appear that we live in a time where licensed games aren t necessarily instant crap.

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Lego Star Wars was a surprise hit

It first became noticeable early in the current console generation with the first Lego games. While nobody has managed to come up with a logical explanation as to why Warner Bros. Interactive insists on making lego spin-offs off basically everything, these games based on some entertainment s biggest properties like Batman, Star Wars, Harry Potter, et cetera, are all surprisingly good. Sure they re a little childish and obviously aimed towards a younger audience, but they all have sound gameplay and mechanics and do the source material justice. Who would have thought that Legofying Star Wars, something that absolutely screamed “Cheap cash in”, would be the beginning one of the those most consistent and successful franchises in gaming?

The game-changer however did come until 2009 when Eidos Interactive released the groundbreaking Batman: Arkham Asylum from Rocksteady Studios. Never before had a developer so faithfully and lovingly adapted a license into not only a good game, but into a critically and commercially game of the year contender. Rocksteady followed that success with the bigger and better Batman: Arkham City that somehow managed to not only live up to expectations but surpass them in every way. This little London Studio had set a new standard for licensed games as well as superhero games.

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Arkham City proved just how great a licensed game can be

It seemed like almost overnight licensed games weren t carrying the same stigma that they used to. Obviously for every Batman: Arkham City there were three Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters or disappointing games like Alien vs. Predator, but games like Batman, the Lego series and last year s critically acclaimed masterpiece The Walking Dead: The Game proved that truly great games can emerge when they re given the time and care they deserve.

While they weren t classics, this generation brought plenty of other strong licensed games that were all very solid and fun in their own right such as Transformers: War for Cybertron and its sequel Transformers: Fall of Cybertron, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, Star Wars: The Old Republic (in some opinions) and even the Ghostbusters game. There are more decent licensed games now than ever before and the average quality has gone up significantly. We can finally approach them with an air of moderate optimism. Certainly a breath of fresh air!

Though there is no way we re past the days of terrible licensed games. and let s be honest never will be, it seems we ve finally reached a time where we no longer need to avoid these types of games like the plague, just merely remain cautious.

The trend also looks like it ll continue well into the future with the recent release of Disney Infinity and games like the ambitious open-world action title, Mad Max, and the follow-up to Telltale Games The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us, on the horizon. Here s hoping all the beloved properties we grew up with can finally get the video game treatment they deserve!

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Two licensed titles to keep on your radar