A licensed video game is one that is based on an existing intellectual property that needs to be licensed by the game’s publisher. Decades ago, most licensed games were top notch. Classic games like DuckTales, Aladdin, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time, and GoldenEye 007 were just as great as the Super Mario and Legend of Zelda games that were released around the same time and even helped to revolutionize and popularize the gaming industry. Most gamers who are old enough to remember these games and those fortunate enough to have been able to play them can attest to how fantastic they are.
However, there came a time during the 2000s around the PlayStation 2 era when licensed games became some of the absolute worst. At this particular time, it seemed like just about every movie or TV series had a video game based on it. It was like the gaming industry collectively thought “if it exists, there needs to be a video game for it.” Alvin and the Chipmunks, Batman Begins, Lilo & Stitch: Trouble in Paradise, and Nacho Libre are just some of the countless examples of video games that were only made because there was an existing intellectual property that could be profited off of, and they’re all pretty bad.
What made these particular games so bad is that they were hastily put together so a company could earn a quick buck regardless of quality. Video game companies realized that parents would be willing to buy a Shrek video game for their kid because they like the movie. However, what those unsuspecting parents didn’t realize is that those game studios used almost no budget to slap some generic, low quality, unentertaining “game” together. Spending so little money and time on something to earn a lot in return may be genius, but it led to some awful products.
Thankfully, there’s been a bit of a change recently. Licensed games are still being made, but they’re being made with much higher quality. There have been quite a few bad Batman video games based on the movies and cartoons, but Rocksteady Studios and WB games struck gold when they created the Batman: Arkham series. 2009’s Ghostbusters: The Video Game was a surprise critical success. South Park: the Stick of Truth served as a fantastic and unique RPG experience. 2018’s Spider-Man won a slew of awards and is still one of the most-sold PlayStation exclusives of all time. Guardians of the Galaxy won the award for Best Narrative at the 2021 Game Awards. Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl earned enough of a profit in pre-orders that DLC was confirmed to be added before the game was even released. Let’s not forget about the absolute blast that is Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: the Game.
These popular and fun games seem to already be opening the door for even more licensed video games to be made well in the near future. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan, which was released in 2016, is easily one of the worst TMNT games. However, another attempt is being made to recreate the incredible TMNT games from the 90s with the upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge. There’s quite a lot of hype about the future release of Hogwarts Legacy, based in the Wizarding World, and the game’s development certainly seems promising.
There are a few reasons for this positive change with licensed video games. One is that those of us who grew up in the dark ages of licensed video games are now older and control what games we spend money on. Instead of gambling on our parents to buy us something well made, we’re able to purchase video games that are actually good. This causes a lot less of those shovelware games (video games that are made with low budget and little time for the sake of getting as many products out there as possible) to earn a profit. Game studios are likely feeling the effects of that and adapting. People who’ve been burned too many times by purchasing bad games based on things they like deciding to spend their cash elsewhere are likely also contributing to that.
Another reason for the shift in the quality of licensed video games is that newer and younger developers have entered the gaming industry and are creating things they are passionate about rather than focusing on scamming people out of their money. It could also be that existing developers have finally realized that they would earn much more money if they made high quality products that people are actually willing to spend their money on. It’s likely a mixture of all of the above.
Licensed video games returning to their initial glory is a massive win for the gaming industry as a whole. Not only is it better for the developers because they’ll be more successful and profitable, but gamers get to play games based on franchises they love. It could also allow people to gain an interest in video games if they haven’t already if there’s a video game made based on something they enjoy. Let’s hope this trend will lead to more incredible video games to be created in the future.