The PlayStation era was one of great promise. No longer did we have to rely on abstract versions of movie characters and comic book villains, because finally we could have (incredibly blocky) 3-D representations of the things we loved in other forms, and all under our complete control. Sadly, the Law of Crappy Licensed Videogames is for the most part immutable for a variety of reasons: Short development times for titles meant to coincide with releases in other media, the cost of the license taking a huge bite out of funds better spent elsewhere, the joy advertisers only feel at Christmas when seeing the crushed hopes of small children, are all contributing factors to getting royally ripped when throwing money at the things you love.
Sometimes, however, a game will make up a small part of that to us, and we will love them for it. Six titles that showed off what 3-D promised us when it came to our favorite characters were a trial to track down, but we did it because we love you, and not because we technically got paid to play awesome old videogames. On to the list!
6) Disney’s Goofy’s Fun House
As far as licensed titles go, Disney has fared pretty well, with the SNES/Genesis adaptions of games like The Jungle Book and Aladdin. Both are, of course, beautifully animated, and while Goofy’s Fun House isn’t quite as pretty, employing a mix of 2-D, 3-D, and pre-rendered graphics, and (provided you don’t think too hard about how Xbox Live Arcade and its ilk have provided as with platforming pleasures the even go above and beyond what we got in the 16-bit era) it’s still good, clean, Disney fun. Uncharitably, it could be called a precursor to our shovelware-induced minigame compilation overload, but considering the era and the source material, it still has a buttload of charm, and the fact that completion of events unlocks classic Goofy cartoons, when that kind of thing was still somewhat novel, doesn’t hurt. Admittedly, it is difficult to see anyone firing up their PS1 emulators over their SNES/Genesis ones for a dose of classic Disney shenanigans, but at the time the game was a chance to see what one could do with newish tech and a Disney license, and the fact that it wasn’t terrible was more than good enough, but the fact that it was fun, eminently playable by the standards of the time, and graphically offered at the very least an incredibly interesting take on how one captures the magic of the source material with sources and resources old and new, was enough to provide some joy for fans of the Goof and friends.
5) Micro Machines V3
In single player, the Micro Machines games offered the collect-’em-all mentality and the delight of racing awesome little vehicles around the house while eliminating the “brrrrmmmmm” noise all toy cars require you to produce in order to achieve forward motion. And it could have stopped there, with the hallmarks of the license basically fulfilled, but Codemasters went the extra mile with the MM brand, and gave the world devilishly awesome multiplayer that still holds up today, along with a ton of charm, incredibly awesome track design (both in terms of racing and visual design), and with their first 3-D outing, truly multi-levelled, and sometimes multi-vehicled, play areas. But mention “Micro Machines multiplayer” to anyone of a certain age, and you’ll see either a big grin of good times remembered, or a grimace as The Ghost of Trash-Talk Past wafts through his skull. With the exception of GoldenEye, no game series has inspired such horrible, beautiful verbal cruelty than the Micro Machines titles for so many years, and the theory of constant turnover, with trasher becoming trashee multiple times per race, was gratifying, even if you sucked and cheated the win and anyway we were going easy on you so you didn’t go cry to Mommy like a big loser suckface butthead… theoretically speaking.
Even with the dubious “feature” of 8-player multiplayer, so long as you had a multi-tap with four controllers (you probably didn’t), and didn’t mind sharing a control pad (you probably did), it wasn’t really required; two soon-to-be-enemies were enough for a cracking afternoon of abuse gleefully repaid by crushing his whirring little Micro Machine under one of the greatest multiplayer weapons of all-time: A whopping great mallet that would appear on top of your beastly little vehicle. And while it wasn’t officially called “Thwacker: Hammer of Shut-Your-Stupid-Face, Asshole!” it should have been. While a Blue Shell is a cheap way to win, getting crushed to nothing under your glorious hammer of retribution seconds before the finish line was something even the most ardent of shit-talkers couldn’t eliminate the shame of.
4) Space Hulk: Vengeance of the Blood Angels
Warhammer: 40K can be a daunting universe to get involved in, with the required rules to be learned, miniatures to be acquired and painted, and play areas to be set up. But with Space Hulk: Vengeance of the Blood Angels, honor could be reaped by even the youngest or most impatient folks desperate to walk in the armor of one of the most famous Imperium Chapters in the 40k universe. Facing off against the hideous Genestealers, a race of six-limbed reptilian horrors, naturally armored, incredibly strong, and totally fearless, who are only capable of breeding through a host species, you and your brothers in the Terminator squad must stop these insidious, world-destroying horrors before they can infect another unfortunate colony.
This FPS was first released for the 3DO as a sequel to 1993’s Space Hulk, then ported to PlayStation along with versions for the Saturn and PC, and is a shining example of a licensed game bringing in atmosphere, which more than makes up for at-times shoddy gameplay. Set aboard the titular space hulk, a derelict ship wondering Warpspace for an unknown period of time, the early missions in the Campaign mode have you following orders, holding key markers and being on Overwatch, keeping an eye out for the dreaded Genestealers. The stately voice of your CO instructing you as you check your map for waypoints and perform the duties assigned to you. For the most part, you’re ears ache from the sound of so much nothing. Things definitely ramp up though, especially after you’re given control of the Terminator squad and are able to assign your brothers to hold certain points on the map as the slavering hoards move in to get between you and mission success. This is when you really appreciate an experience hard to get with miniatures and a board, as you backpedal, furiously firing your bolter at Genestealers, going toe-to-toe with the ones that make it through or sneak up you, as you listen to the static-filled sound of your brother’s dying screams. While it certainly wouldn’t replace the tabletop version, Space Hulk: VotBA was a great exercise in taking an established universe, and adding something new to the mix.
3) Alien Trilogy
Another first-person shooter, and with easily the highest pedigree of any of the titles thus far, Alien Trilogy was an excellent shepherd of the Alien license for the 32-bit generation. Though probably the most straightforward adaption here, thanks to the second film in particular’s focus on gunplay, it still manages to weave in elements from both the first and third in the series with the use of both the prison and the derelict spacecraft as areas open to shotguns and smartguns for the first time. Apart from the much-loved variety of xenomorphs in all their accepted cinematic forms, you have to contend with company men and androids trying to… accomplish whatever hanging around in an alien spacecraft with the most hostile species ever does. As mentioned, it’s a straightforward adaption, and the particular grist for this mill, the Alien franchise, is admittedly easy to adapt to game form after James Cameron’s seminal masterpiece had done the heavy-lifting, but as we’ve seen time and time again, games based on movies tend to flail and die like so many pulse-rifle aerated facehuggers, so even though it definitely could have taken a few tips on atmospherics from Space Hulk, to get something of this quality was a boon indeed.
Even in 1997, point-and-click titles for consoles were seen as something of an anathema, due to the fact the vast majority of gamers would be using the control pad, and also because according to PC gamers at the time, console gamers were troglodytes unable to do much more than shoot things and poop their pants, often at the same time. Nevertheless, a total of three Discworld-based games were made available for the PlayStation, each one a point-and-click adventure.
Eric Idle was a grand coup to voice Rincewind the Wizard; the developer, Perfect Entertainment, eventually went out of business, and it isn’t hard to think they went bust after acquiring the license and assembling a talented and funny vocal cast to play the roles of various Discworld residents found in Terry Pratchett’s beloved books. Tony Robinson, Rob Brydon, and John Pertwee all lend their voices to a number of characters. The game takes its cues from Guards! Guards!, although Captain Sam Vimes is replaced by Idle’s Rincewind.
It lends itself to reason that the masterfully written books set on Discworld would lend themselves quite well to the tightly-controlled nature of a point-and-click title, and eschewing pretty much all traces of 3-D for nicely drawn 2-D backgrounds and animation means that, unless the puzzles throw you off (they are notoriously difficult, even by the standards of the medium), it still looks good and plays well, as the basics of the genre haven’t changed a huge amount in the intervening years. It’s a solid-looking game that pays due deference to Pratchett’s humor, while also successfully parodying its own genre. More than enough to see you through the most-of-the-time shoddy controls, but the laughs ease the hurt.
The Amazing Spider-Man has certainly had his share ups and downs in the world of videogames. While the adaptions of Sam Raimi’s movies were excellent (most notably Spider-Man 2: The Game), his earlier outings were less than, well, amazing. But his first outing for the PlayStation was one of his gaming successes, even though, like a lot of the games here, the graphics don’t exactly hold up; Black Cat in particular looks like someone filled a leather jumpsuit with flesh-colored cubes and then asked a raging misogynist to draw his greatest fear in MS Paint to use for her face.
The story revolves around a Spider-Man imposter stealing some tech from a demonstration put on by Dr. Otto Octavious, while The Lizard fills the streets with a green gas that must be avoided. Eddie Brock is also covering the event as a photographer for the Bugle, and gets some great shots of what he assumes is Spidey pulling of the crime that will prove to J. Jonah Jameson that he really is a no-good criminal. Excited by the prospect of a great payday coupled with his employer’s acclaim, he manages to capture the crime, but the fake Spider-Man busts his camera. Enraged, the Venom symbiote takes over and he takes off the right this perceived wrong. But to go back to the Lizard’s gas attack for a sec; this is the technique the game employs to keep draw-distances down, and more importantly explains why the gameworld, is comprised of the upper parts of Manhattan’s skyscrapers in the outside segments, letting the player do whatever a spider can while still keeping within the boundaries of what the PS1 was capable of technically. Neversoft, the game’s developer, manage to do a good job with the first of two Spider-Man titles for the console, and also explains how they were able to use the same character model for Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2.