Over the decades, the world of video games has been hit by plenty of licensed titles from outside the entertainment form. Although there are some examples that have been resounding successes, such as The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay and Telltale Games’ hugely popular The Walking Dead series, many licensed games are poorly received. This is down to a number of reasons, such as a rushed production time, a small development budget, and extreme executive meddling.
When it comes to licensed games, it’s not just a case of the good and the bad, however. Sometimes, these titles can be straight-up weird, with publishers pushing games based on franchises that have no place in video game form. Here is our rundown of ten of the strangest examples of licensed games.
Darkened Skye was released in 2002 for PC and Gamecube. Players took control of Skye, a magic user from a fantasy world trying to find her lost mother. There was, however, one major factor that made Darkened Skye stand out. Publisher Simon & Schuster had managed to gain funding from Mars, Inc., under the prerequisite that Darkened Skye became a licensed Skittles game.
This meant that Darkened Skye had some rather unique elements – primarily that Skittles were an important in-game item, used to power long-range spells and close-combat staff attacks. Mars also made a number of bizarre decisions regarding the game’s content. One instance was that Mars did not want any snakes in the game, but would allow “snake-like creatures” in their stead.
The Dallas Quest
One of the most popular gaming genres in the 1980s was the adventure game, with text and image-based content allowing for interesting stories and fiendish puzzles. As a result, some external franchises decided to break into the gaming trend. One of these titles was The Dallas Quest, based on the hit soap opera, and released in 1984 for the Commodore 64, Apple, Atari 8-bit and TRS-80.
The story of Sue Ellen and Bobby clearly failed to translate to the world of video games, however, as the creators of The Dallas Quest decided to make a number of fairly radical changes from the show. Rather than deal with the inner politics of the Ewing family, the Datasoft-produced adventure had players fighting off giant rats and parachuting into the jungle in search of oil fields. It certainly made a change from soap opera dramatics.
The Jaws franchise has not had much luck with video game adaptations over the years, with the 1987 NES version having a fairly egregious reception. Appaloosa Interactive, the creators of Ecco The Dolphin, were tasked with bucking this trend. The developer took its experience with Ecco on board, and decided that a major change in the player’s point of view was needed.
Jaws Unleashed was released in 2006 for PC, PS2 and the original Xbox, and gave the players the chance to play as the terrifying great white shark itself. Gamers were tasked with causing chaos in the water, sinking fishing boats, destroying piers and eating terrified swimmers by the dozen. The game received mixed reviews, with some criticizing the absurd use of the license, but Jaws Unleashed was a commercial hit with 250,000 copies sold on the Xbox alone.
Restaurant franchises have released video games ever since the entertainment medium started gaining popularity. McDonald’s released a pair of platforming titles in the 1990s, with M.C. Kids for the NES and McDonald’s Treasure Land Adventure for the Sega Genesis. Meanwhile, Dominos released Yo Noid! for the NES, a platformer starring the then-mascot of the pizza chain.
Burger King, however, took a different route when it released a trio of titles for the original Xbox and Xbox 360 in 2006. The crown jewel for fans of bizarre games was Sneak King, which gave players the role of the unnerving masked “King” himself, sneaking up on hungry NPCs and delivering one of the restaurant’s trademark burgers. The game, and its rudimentary stealth gameplay, has gone on to have a cult following.
It’s not only restaurants and fast food chains that have jumped on to the video game bandwagon, however, with snacks and drinks also entering the fray. 7UP managed to break the licensed game curse with 1993’s Virgin Interactive-developed Cool Spot, which is still held up as a good example of 90’s platforming. Meanwhile, Chex made a Doom clone called Chex Quest, which was given away free with boxes of the cereal.
Pepsi also made an attempt to break into the video game market, with twitch-based free running title Pepsiman for the original PlayStation. The game featured Pepsi’s brand mascot running through increasingly dangerous locations, hunting after refreshment. The title has become an infamous example of a licensed game, due to the aggressive advertisements on show and the sheer strangeness of Pepsiman himself.
Home Improvement: Power Tool Pursuit
Home Improvement was a popular TV comedy that aired from 1991 to 1999 on ABC. The show starred Tim Allen as Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor, host of fictional homeware TV show Tool Time, and followed both his time as presenter of Tool Time and his life at home with his family. Publisher Absolute Entertainment was then tasked with bringing the property to the Super Nintendo.
Unfortunately, the show’s story was clearly seen as unsuitable for the world of video games, as a huge number of changes were made for Home Improvement: Power Tool Pursuit. Instead of simply running Tool Time, Taylor was instead sent on a hunt for stolen power tools, fighting the likes of mummies and dinosaurs. The end result was a critical bomb, and Home Improvement: Power Tool Pursuit is now seen as one of the worst platformers on the SNES.
Ray Bradbury’s 1953 novel is one of the most important works in dystopian fiction. Set in a world where “firemen” are tasked with burning books, Bradbury’s iconic work painted a chilling future of an America where McCarthyism had been taken to its absolute conclusion. The novel had several adaptations over the years, including a 1966 Francois Truffaut film and a stage version written by Bradbury himself.
Bradbury was also involved in a video game adaptation for home computers in 1984, writing both the prologue and certain computer responses. Although the game was titled Fahrenheit 451, the text-based game instead acts as a semi-canonical sequel to the original novel, giving players the task of guiding Guy Montag to the New York Library to gain microcassette-transferred literature. Although it was an odd choice for a video game, the Telarium-developed title was a success at launch, with praise for the game’s story.
Rail shooters are a staple part of the arcade gaming scene, and the genre contains such gaming classics as Time Crisis and House of the Dead. It’s one of the few areas where quality licensed titles are a fairly regular occurrence, with arcade shooters such as Terminator 2: Judgement Day proving popular with gamers and financially successful.
Rock band Aerosmith saw this gaming genre as the best way to make their way into the world of video games. An on-rails shooter called Revolution X was released for arcades in 1994, with developer Midway releasing a follow-up home console version for the Genesis, SNES, Saturn, PC, and PlayStation. Although the arcade version was a success, the console release was less impressive. At least Revolution X made a change from sub-par licensed platforming titles.
Revolution X is not the only time musicians have made their way into the world of video games. The Wu Tang Clan had an ultra-violent 3D brawler called Wu Tang: Shaolin Style for the original PlayStation, whilst 50 Cent took on a paramilitary group to win back a diamond skull in 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand. One of the weirdest picks was 1983’s Midway-developed arcade title Journey – not to be confused with the smash hit of 2012.
The game saw the titular rockers travel through space in an attempt to reunite each band member with his respective instrument. Journey was nearly universally criticized upon release, and has become a notorious example of the poor choice of a license. The game’s visuals are particularly noticeable, falling into nightmare fuel territory due to the digitized and highly detailed black-and-white faces of each of the band’s members. It wasn’t the only time Journey was the focus of a video game, either: 1982 saw an Atari release called Journey: Escape.
It’s not just musicians that have invested in the celebrity game trend; sport stars can be just as tempted to lend their likeness to the video game format. Sometimes this can lead to truly weird results, such as what is potentially the most bizarre licensed game of all time: Shaq Fu. The 1v1 fighter sees basketball star Shaquille O’Neal travel to another dimension to fight mystical mummies, cat-women and voodoo priestesses.
Unfortunately for O’Neal, the public was not quite as enamoured with Shaq Fu as he was. Critical opinion has become worse with age after mixed at-launch reviews, and there is even a website dedicated to destroying all copies of the game. Shaq Fu must have done something right, though: last year, a Kickstarter campaign to create a sequel succeeded in reaching its funding goal. Get ready for some Shaq Fu 2 combat in the near future.
That concludes our brief glimpse at some of the more bizarre licensed video games the format has to offer. It’s up for debate whether these titles offer a better alternative to the safe bet third-person shooters and platformers that often come from an outside license. One thing is for sure: at least these titles were able to peak a level of curiosity.
What do you make of this list? Did we miss any particularly strange adaptations? Let us know in the comments below.