Video game adaptations of television shows are hardly something new. For years we've seen these games grace systems from the NES all the way up to today. Knight Rider, The Dukes of Hazzard, Lost, and more have all seen game versions of their respective shows - some with more success than others. Lately, we've seen some excellent adaptations such as Telltale's The Walking Dead, which brings hope for future adaptations. Unfortunately, not everyone is capable of making games that both emulate the series they're based on and are still fun.
How is it possible for games to come out which are accurate depictions of the series? It's usually due to developers simply not being able to discern how best to convey a show in a game format. Sometimes it even seems like they just don't know what makes games enjoyable. Other times, it's probably due to a low budget. Regardless, some awful adaptations have made their way onto systems over the years. Here are a handful of the ones you might remember for all the wrong reasons.
Desperate Housewives: The Game (PC)
Of all the shows that could probably translate into a decent video game, Desperate Housewives is not one. When you think about the soap opera stylings of the drama series it doesn't really seem to lend itself well to gaming form. Beyond that, does the Housewives audience and gamer one have a massive cross section of consumers? Incredibly, when the game launched in 2006 it did narrowly miss being in the top 10 PC sellers for the month. Still, what kind of game was it and what made it so bad?
Desperate Housewives: The Game basically ended up looking like The Sims but with focus on a story. This probably sounds awesome, but it didn't end up working out that way. For example, the Sims comparison is purely aesthetic. You wander around your very Sim-like house but can't actually modify your house beyond upgrading choice furniture. You take the role of the newest neighbor (with an awkward secret) on Wisteria Lane and are shoved headfirst into their gossipy world. The writing is surprisingly funny, but is generally reduced to very catty, petty, and overall unpleasant conversations. Most of the time your dialogue choices don't even seem to affect the reactions you get from them. The game was certainly ambitious but the story play aspects are a failure.
Beyond that, you've got the more typical gameplay stylings which also aren't good. Tasks such as cooking for your family are reduced to Cooking Mama-style minigames, except without any of the fun. Wandering around Wisteria Lane is hardly exciting, and even though you can warp, it still feels like more work than it's worth. If you really need to be immersed in the rumor-spreading, husband-stealing world of Desperate Housewives then you'll get that experience with the game. It's just that the matter of actually playing the game will leave you hungering for anything else. Why not just watch the show?
Xena: Warrior Princess (PS1)
Xena: Warrior Princess was an excellent, action-packed show when it aired in the 90s. With entertaining characters as well as fighting it makes sense that it would look like perfect game fodder. Under different hands, it probably could produce a massively fun game. However, for the release of Xena: Warrior Princess on PS1 it seems that Vivendi just did not set aside enough funding for it. Either that or they figured they could toss out some junk which would still get gobbled up. That's probably fair of many game adaptations though...
Yes, this was an earlier time in gaming, but the PS1 Xena hack 'n slash still isn't a good game. The graphics are acceptable but everything else falls into the category of miserable. Controlling Xena is probably the biggest chore and the biggest crime possible. If you're making a game about an agile warrior, wouldn't you think to make sure she feels that way to control? No, instead you're got a character as clunky as the original Resident Evil cast and are still forced into "action-packed" situations.
I put the phrase "action-packed" in quotes because the fights are anything but. The enemies are bumbling around a lot of the time and give you many opportunities to kick their butts. Because you're controlling cement-shoed Xena, though, you're instead likely to get beat up anyway. Attacking enemies accurately is much more of a chore than it should be, as is most everything else in the game. There is so much to draw from with Xena: Warrior Princess that it's a shame it never really got a game that worked well.
Grey's Anatomy (PC)
With a game like Grey's Anatomy, you would think they would be able to create something worthwhile. The Trauma Center series already existed when it launched so it would have been so easy for Ubisoft to crib from it. And to a degree, they did, but somehow managed to mess it all up. When you start playing the game you might think it's not that bad. The graphics are an interesting cel shading-like style and aesthetically pleasing. However, as soon as you get into actually playing it for more than a minute, then you realize it's all gone terribly wrong.
The game attempts to keep drama and discussion at the forefront, just like the show, but goes about it in the wrong way. You may choose options of what you want to do in certain situations, but then are forced to play inane minigames to go along with them. They're all incredibly simple and mostly rely on simply clicking and dragging the mouse. While some series like Rhythm Heaven and WarioWare thrive off super simple minigames, this particular game still falters for a few main reasons. One, there are only about ten minigames or so in the entire package (and they are just re-skinned or very slightly tweaked). Then there's the fact that they don't even look interesting or entertaining, and are just completely dull.
Beyond making choices and playing various minigames, there's nothing else to the package. The story is contrived (although perhaps the same could be said for the show its based off) so you probably won't be enthralled by it. The saddest thing about Grey's Anatomy is how it could have simply just ripped off something else and succeeded. However, even the surgery minigames are ridiculously simple and some are just plain disturbing to look at. Hopefully you were never gifted this game by a well-meaning but woefully uninformed family member.
When you've got a TV show with multiple Emmy awards under its belt you think it'd be worth creating a good game version. The Dexter video game started life as an iOS title but also received a PC port. Although the game itself is passable as an iOS title, it in no way stands up on the PC. Why couldn't there have just been a much more involved game created? It honestly feels like the developers were trying but it was to no avail.
In the game, you play as Dexter (who is actually voiced by Michael C. Hall). The soundtrack is all Daniel Licht's compositions too. You've got a lot of possible positives for the game so far, but once you start playing, you realize it's not at all what it could be. The graphics are okay on a smartphone but of course really gross on a PC. Even when compared to early PS2 games you see that there just seems to be no effort put into the design of the world. Even if you can't make something look graphically impressive you can still design things well.
Graphics certainly aren't the end-all be-all of games so how does it actually play? It plays a lot like you might expect a game born on a smartphone to play - badly. Poor Dexter controls in a haphazard fashion and this leads to a lot of issues when playing stealth segments. Goals and updates flash across the screen as big, gaudy buttons and make you feel like you're playing a PowerPoint presentation rather than a full game. One especially unfortunate gameplay element ported over is the way you kill characters. The actual killing is presented as a minigame where you do gestures in a set time frame. This works easily on a phone where you can directly touch the screen, but on a PC it ends up being an annoying feature. Despite all this, the game still did well and has an upcoming sequel.
CSI: Deadly Intent (360)
If you don't pay attention to the world of television-based games, then you might not realize that there are currently about ten separate games based on CSI available. The first was in 2003, but we're still seeing the games trickle in today. Despite so many titles though, it seems that many of the issues from the earlier games still plague the latest releases! It seems that no one is willing to learn a lesson and that apparently CSI fans will put up with all the trouble in the world to get more of it.
Focusing on CSI: Deadly Intent for 360, it's easy to see some of the biggest problems with the series. Although it features characters you know as well as interesting crimes, it fails to present them in an intrugiging way. Unlike watching an episode, you are forced to ponderously maneuver through crime scenes without much guidance. While characters in the show will find what they need and progress onto new scenes, you will probably find it more difficult. It's not that things are placed secretively, but the simple task of navigation is slow and even a bit confusing at times. You can look over lots of the scene, although most of it will end of being no use to you. All you really need to do is hone in on the specific spots the game wants you to so you can progress.
What's most surprising is that Telltale has been handling the games for a while. With the incredible effort they've put into things like the Back to the Future and The Walking Dead series, it's almost shameful to know they developed these too. Instead of attempting to work out their own wonderful way to make the games, they just stuck with the broken method of the old Ubisoft stuff and have continued to pump it out. CSI: Deadly Intent is not the latest of the CSI video games, but they're mostly all interchangeable as far as quality goes.
After looking at this smattering of games I think it's fair to say that TV fanatics are often an overlooked gaming audience. At least, if you're a TV watcher who wants good games then you're not factored in as the main audience. Still, we've seen some nice TV to game adaptations and with things like The Walking Dead Episodes out, then we're probably set to see more. It's possible for games, just like movies, to make the transition into the gaming world without being utterly terrible.
What are some of your favorite TV-based games? What are some of the worst you've played?