You may have read in the news recently how 2024 has had a slow start for the traditional summer blockbuster movie season. The studio can no longer guarantee its usual summer returns on marketable faces. There are a whole host of reasons for this shift in the landscape, but I think we can sum it down (incorrectly) to just one. Loss of mainstream movie tie-in game releases.

Back in the 90s, if you didn’t have a licensed console release to go along with your summer release, your movie must not have been worth talking about. The biggest summer releases had games developed as part of their marketing budgets. Heck, a lot even had multiple different games developed by different studios, for different consoles, of the same property.

These days, developing a AAA modern title to tie in with your movie just isn’t feasible from a scheduling and budget perspective, and Hollywood looks more to games for what properties to develop vs the other way around. There are examples, sure, but most tie-in releases have been relegated to mobile-type releases.

Back in the days before viral marketing strategies, movie promotions relied on blitzing your eyes from every angle that was available at the time. So let’s take a trip back to when releasing a summer movie meant you better, for better or worse, have a game ready to go with it.

Demolition Man – SNES/Genesis/CD

Demolition Man

Demolition Man on the RGB30

Looking to avoid any violations of the verbal morality statute, I’ll just call this game freakin-neato. This 1995 Acclaim release puts you in the run-and-gun shoes of detective John Spartan. It feels like something of a mashup between Blackthorne and Contra 3, complete with a few top-down levels thrown in. The game focused more on the apocalyptic version of the 90s that appeared early in the film, vs more of the upbeat false utopia seen throughout the movie.

Whether you’re watching the movie itself, enjoying a nice Taco Bell (there is nothing else) dinner, or getting in some time with the three seashells, bring your favorite emulator and try stopping Simon Phoenix yourself. The game had releases on SNES, Genesis, and the prestige of being the final NA Sega CD release.

True Lies – SNES

True Lies

Gil walks you through the level

True Lies remains one of the best action romps of the era with its great performances and effortless blend of comedy and explosions. This top-down perspective shooter a la Zombies Ate My Neighbors comes again from Acclaim. You are government secret agent Harry Tasker (Arnold) tasked with taking down the plots of a worldwide terror cell.

The game doesn’t dip into the awkward home life comedy of the movie quite as much, but there is a legit decent game behind the branding. It also doesn’t stray much from the formula it sets out with from the jump, but what’s done here is done well. Standard fare objectives like rescuing captives and defusing explosives keep you moving from room to room blasting baddies.

Independence Day – PS1/Saturn

Independence Day

ID4 on the Odin 2

If you were around in the summer of 1996 when it was happening, you might remember. ID4 was a full-on event. The marketing blitz for this movie was relentless, igniting a frenzy around the new property that made it the hottest ticket in town. The game is as awkward as any other early 3d entry of the time. It’s a middling flight sim that would be wholly forgettable were it not for the movie tie-in.

You take the flight seat as either the human resistance or the alien invading hordes, and either way they play pretty similarly. The new generation of hardware meant exploring some still rough waters of 3D and the result makes for a forgettable experience, but if you’re looking for an amusing companion piece of nostalgia to go along with a Sunday afternoon movie viewing, it’s here for you.

Jurassic Park – Separate releases on SNES and Genesis

Jurassic Park

Genesis (left) vs SNES (right)

This was something of an interesting trend at the time. Two different releases from different developers based around the same property, released at the same time.

The SNES release of Jurassic Park was a top-down perspective exploration shooter developed by Ocean with some levels of first-person perspective thrown in. The game challenges players to evade dinosaurs rather than confront them head-on. When I was a kid it felt like SNES kids got the more sanitized PG experience, which was something of the norm at the time, and a path we’ve seen Nintendo continue to generally favor over the years.

The Genesis version of the game puts you in a side-scrolling platformer where you inhabit Dr Grant, or at times, a velociraptor. It had a much grittier presentation than the SNES version and was generally looked at as the preferable version for my friends and I at the time. The Genesis’ inferior sound hardware is evident here, but it still does a good job of bringing you into the world of Hammond’s hellscape.

Cliffhanger – SNES/Genesis/CD


Cliffhanger on the Odin 2

This is an example that really defines the unnecessary 90s movie tie-in game. Stallone’s star had begun to fade in the 1990s, as he tried to find the iconic roles that had defined his career decades earlier. Enter Cliffhanger, or as it could be more accurately described, Die Hard on a mountain. Besides an out-of-left-field, deeply evil bad guy turn from John Lithgow, the movie has been largely forgotten by audiences. On paper, the idea of progressing up a mountain to take down baddies sounds like the perfect premise for a 16-bit action game.

In practice, however, it’s a demonstration that games, like movies, can’t just cash in on a successful formula all the time. The Cliffhanger game is atrocious. The controls feel sluggish and unresponsive, the graphics and presentation lack excitement, and the rare snowboarding sections arrive far too seldom to break up the monotony of the action. I would really only recommend it as a companion piece to the equally schlocky movie. It’s a beat-em-up without any of the elements that made the genre such a classic at the time.

Wayne’s World – SNES/Genesis

Wayne's World

Wayne’s World

In the 1990s developers didn’t let little annoyances like “How does this comedy sketch possibly translate to a game” worry them. This is another movie that got the multiple studio treatment. THQ published them all, but the NES and Game Boy versions are entirely different from the Gray Matter releases that appeared on the SNES and Genesis. The game picks a few references and locations from the movie and uses them as a springboard for a game.

You’ll get sucked into a game within Noah’s Arcade in one level, or be chased around by evil instruments in the guitar store. It was a bit of a reach with the source material and plays about as well as you’d expect. 90s games loved using low-bitrate voice samples, and this one is no different. By the 900th time I heard Wayne say his iconic “NOT!” it was wearing a bit thin. If you look back as fondly on the adventures of the basement-dwelling boys from Aurora as I do though, there’s surely some nostalgia mining to be done here.

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