Even back in the fabled, long-ago infancy of video games, when the Atari 2600 was not only the state of the art, but practically the whole damn market, genius marketing executives realized they could sell games by tying them to popular films. Given the ultra primitive graphics, raw sound and minimalist control schemes available, most of these games didn’t have a lot to work with to replicate the summer blockbusters of the day in video game form. Perhaps thanks in part to the obstacles facing the programmers of the day, the legacy of shitty movie game tie-ins started early and goes strong to this day (*cough* E.T. *cough*). But even then, there was the occasional movie game that was actually good. These are the best of those efforts on the 2600, but keep in mind, the best back then was a pretty loose standard.
10) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
This game made the list solely for the fact that it exists. It’s considered a bad game by the 14 people who actually played it, but holy fuck! There was a Texas Chainsaw Massacre game where you got to play as Leatherface and attack running teens with a chainsaw, which is just awesome. It’s like getting a Saw game for the Xbox 360 that lets you play as Jigsaw (which would similarly suck but still manage to be kind of awesome for the simple fact of its existence).
It wasn’t as cool as the arcade version, but Krull helped pass many a Saturday afternoon immersed in the fantasy that you were living one of the cheesiest big-screen sci-fi turds of the entire ’80s. It had an unheard-of-for-the-time four modes of play and it even looked kind of, sort of a little bit like the movie if you squinted hard enough. Best of all, it actually sucked considerably less than the movie — not that that was any great feat.
The 2600 version of the Ghostbusters game is generally regarded as one of the worst versions (the NES is supposedly worse) of this multiplatform classic, and plenty of people hated this game on any platform it was out on. Despite that, it was actually pretty fun. You picked your ghostbusting equipment, drove drive around and shot ghosts with your proton packs while trying to trap them. Occasionally, the Stay-Puft Marshmellow Man would stop by, and you;d have to frantically flip the difficulty switches back and forth (god only knows why). But if you managed to earn $10,000 by the time the PK Meter hit 10,000, you could… uh, run under a bounding Stay-Puft and, uh… save the day, I guess. It might not be the greatest game per se, but it was pretty sweet compared to most other Atari games. Plus, it is unquestionably better than the awful second Ghostbusters movie, which ought to count for something.
Sure, the Alien game was a just a Pac-Man clone with a few minor graphical tweaks and specious explanation of familiar mechanics (those aren’t pellets you’re eating — they’re eggs you’re crushing!) but hey, it was a better Pac-Man by a long shot than the official 2600 version, which sucked unconscionable amounts of ass. Plus, the alien in the game was sort of recognizable as something akin to the one in the film, and back then, by gum, that was good enough.
Okay, Superman may not technically be an adaption of the 1978 Superman the Movie or 1980’s Superman II but it came out close enough in time to both that the publishers had to be hoping to ride the wave. The game itself is kind of confusing, but it’s pretty cool to fly around as Superman trying to rebuild a bridge and capture crooks. That, combined with the fact that its probably still the best Superman game in existence, is enough to earn it a place on this list.
Like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, this one gets points simply for being an adaptation of an absolutely classic horror movie, but unlike TCM it’s actually a decent game. You play the babysitter, attempting to escort children to safety while Michael Myers chases you and them relentlessly through the house. Especially great is the music — it sounds remarkably close to the classic theme — and the spurting blood animation whenever you or the kids gets stabbed.
4) Fantastic Voyage
On the down side, it’s ugly, overly complex and based on a movie no one who isn’t a grandparent has actually seen. On the up side, it’s a close cousin of River Raid, which is one of the best 2600 games of all time. It’s a challenging, addictive vertically scrolling shooter based on the movie’s premise of a tiny ship that’s been injected into a terminally ill patient.
3) Star Wars: the Arcade Game
A home port of an arcade adaptation of one of the most popular science fantasy movies/licensing juggernauts of all time managed to overcome its derivative heritage to rank as a solid shooter for the 2600 and one of the best film games for the system. It wasn’t a patch on its arcade cousin, but it had all three stages — blowing up TIE fighters, skimming the surface of the Death Star and avoiding turrets, and finally flying through the trench and avoiding force fields (okay, they weren’t in the movie, but the arcadde version had ’em too). It looked enough like that genuine classic to trigger the appropriate nostalgia among fans, and kill a few hundred hours during the stupider Saturday-morning cartoons.
2) Raiders of the Lost Ark
Despite the nigh-indecipherable complexity of this game, it was awesome. Far more complex than most 2600 games, with graphics that were bleeding edge for the time and gameplay that actually approximated some of the sequences from the movie, this game stands out in my memory of one of the 2600’s crowning achievements. If it had been possible to figure out WTF you were supposed to be doing more than half the time, it would have easily captured the number one spot.
1) The Empire Strikes Back
The tradition of pumping out as many Star Wars adaptations as possible got its start way back in the 2600 era and, just like today, the vast majority of these sucked liked an Electrolux. That made The Empire Strikes Back game all the more of a gem. The whole point was to fight off an endless assault of AT-ATs from reaching the rebel base on Hoth; you were aided by your ability to get your shields fixed by landing on the surface (to be helped by Rebel mechanics), a randomly appearing glowy “weak spot” on the AT-ATs that blow them up in one hit, and the Force, would would come along periodically to make up invincible. By capturing a good bit of the look and feel of the movie it was named after and being a genuinely fun game, it easily captures the title of best 2600 movie game — just as Empire is easily captures the title of best Star Wars movie.
Robert Bricken is one of the original co-founders of the site formerly known as Topless Robot, and its first editor-in-chief, serving from 2008-12. He brought the site to prominence with “nerd news, humor and self-loathing” as its motto, raising it from total internet obscurity to a readership in the millions, with help from his savage “FAQ” movie reviews and Fan Fiction Fridays. Under his tenure Topless Robot was covered by Gawker, Wired, Defamer, New York magazine, ABC News, and others, and his articles have been praised by Roger Ebert, Avengers actor Clark Gregg, comedian and The Daily Show correspondent John Hodgman, the stars of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Rifftrax, and others. He is currently the managing editor of io9.com. Despite decades as both an amateur and professional nerd, he continues to be completely unprepared for either the zombie apocalypse or the robot uprising.