Savage mutant Wolverine races up a mountainside path and is confronted by a horde of armed soldiers. He slays them with brutal, bloody efficiency, slashing and stabbing with his adamantium claws before being surprise-attacked by a helicopter. Without hesitation, he jumps off a cliff and onto the gunship’s cockpit, narrowly avoiding the spinning rotator blades, to smash the glass window and dispatch the pilot, and then leaps back to land as the airborne vehicle plummets to its destruction. It’s the type of breakneck-intense sequence that Wolverine was born to undertake, a thrilling rush of death-defying acrobatics and animalistic physicality that gets everything right about the character’s extrasensory abilities. And, as anyone who’s suffered through the summer’s first big-budget dud, “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” must realize, this scene doesn’t exist in the film. It’s actually an opening passage from the movie’s tie-in video game, which — while not amounting to more than a simplistic, button-mashing hack-and-slasher — manages to do what eludes so many of its disreputable genre brethren. It trumps the cinematic material it’s based upon.
It’s hard to understate how uncommon an occurrence this is. Games based on (and released to coincide with) event films have a track record only slightly more impressive than those of National Socialism and New Coke. From the dawn of the console era, would-be blockbusters have tapped the gaming medium for synergistic money-making opportunities, releasing titles that dovetail with big-screen counterparts to further stoke interest in their properties. Giving gamers the chance to play out the big screen spectacles they’ve been pining to see is a no-brainer, and one that consistently proves lucrative — year in and year out, movie tie-in games have been profitable, to the point where Activision and Acclaim have made a cottage industry out of such products.
But that financial success has to be chalked up to the strength of a particular film’s brand — the games themselves are, in spite of a few rarities, slipshod junk. If the name alone is going to move units at retail, why bother crafting functional gameplay, or putting serious effort into graphics, or designing novel and unique puzzles? The corporate strategy is clear: borrow ideas from some hit game series, take a few key elements from the movie in question and mash them all together with slapdash hastiness in order to get the title on store shelves by film’s theatrical debut.
As a kid, I learned early on to avoid these games. With a few exceptions — 1990’s Sega Genesis adaptation of Tim Burton’s “Batman” was a reasonably good beat-’em-up side-scroller — movie tie-ins were made to be suffered through. In the summer before high school, I became Marty McFly with Nintendo’s “Back to the Future,” only to realize that my memories of the film weren’t accurate: the story wasn’t about traveling back in time to keep my parents together, it was about navigating streets filled with hula-hooping girls and then going to the soda shop to throw milkshakes at people. With, I might add, insane difficulty. Undeterred, however, I pressed forward in my quest for an entertaining cinematic experience.