There was a point in time in which licensed games were, I don’t want to say terrible, but not on the same quality as other AAA games. Publishers made licensed games on a limited budget and time frame knowing there is a built-in fanbase who will buy it. Even Kotaku’s Mike Fahey mentioned how licensed properties have found a new home in the mobile game market.
The Marvel movie universe is actually a good focal point from which to observe the decline of console movie tie-ins. Iron Man, Captain America and Thor all had console game tie-ins, as did Iron Man 2. Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World and now Captain America: The Winter Soldier all got the Gameloft mobile treatment. The Avengers movie had no real game tie-in (though several comic book-based games came out around it), and serves as the turning point.
Instead of playing a mediocre Captain America game on Xbox 360, you can collect him in other Marvel phone games; at a premium price of course. This happened to almost any kind of popular IP with a sizable base of fans. Each of them trying to copy other mobile games with a micro-transactions business model by selling characters in packs, a clash of clans clone, or a card game. All hope isn’t lost though as even kids’ games are starting to make a comeback on consoles as well. For a while, it seemed that licensed games would stay in the mobile market place. It’s more appealing considering a publisher’s investment in making a mobile game is smaller and yields a higher return of profit instead of a fully realized AAA or AA game on consoles.
Tides Changed This Decade
Then came a little game called Batman: Arkham Asylum and changed the perception of licensed games in the AAA industry. Batman: Arkham Asylum not only showed how a batman game could be good but changed what it meant for a AAA licensed game could be if it weren’t tied to a timed-release with a movie or show’s end. Batman in many ways borrowed great elements from other video games while also developing its own competent combat system that other games would emulate for years to come. Game developers started making AAA licensed games again but instead of creating its own systems, it was practical to borrow known and popular game elements from others. Or give the IP to well-known developers and let them create what they wanted in the case of Marvel’s Spider-Man developed by Insomniac Games. Here are some of the game franchises I wanted to highlight this decade based on known licensed properties.
Batman Arkham Series
Batman: Arkham Asylum came out in 2011 and in many ways made character action games more methodical before any of the Souls. Before Arkham Asylum, we had a series of terrible Batman games one after the other. People at the time didn’t have high hopes for Arkham Asylum and wrote it off as another bad Batman game being added to his utility belt. In many ways Batman: Arkham Asylum opened the door again to make a highly polished licensed IP in a world of mediocre tie in games.
The entire series proved that games tied to a popular IP like Batman could flourish and bring in a bigger profit if given the chance to develop and cook properly instead of the cash grab games like Batman Begins or Batman: Dark Tomorrow. Arkham Asylum’s core design borrowed elements from Metroidvanias and created a unique combat style that games like Assassin’s Creed, Shadow of Mordor, and other games would copy. High production, beautiful graphics, stellar voice acting talent from the original animated show, and a ton of love and respect for the IP created a juggernaut series of games. This series remains a strong contender between its various sequels(and prequels) throughout the decade.
Honorable Mention: Injustice: Gods Among Us
NetherRealm Studios made an amazing DC-based fighting game that is now considered one of the best DC games in the franchise history. Injustice includes great multiplayer modes, lots of single-player content, and a quality story mode that tells an amazing story that became its own popular comic book run.
Star Wars…..STAR WARS! As a young boy being absolutely in love with this ever-expanding world of comic books, movies, novels, and games. This decade of Star Wars games is plagued by problems under EA’s leadership. Which is a shame considering the last decade (2000-2010) included some of the best games in the franchise: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Star Wars: Republic Commando, Star Wars: Empire at War, the original Battlefronts and much more.
While this decade under EA’s leadership didn’t produce as many Star Wars games a fan might want (KOTOR3?), it still gave us some of the best games in the series with late entries coming in hot in 2019. Star Wars: Battlefront (2015) and Star Wars: Battlefront II (2017) gave is a whimsical and battle-torn sandbox with some of the best graphics in the series to date. Whether you’re battling some Separatist droids in the halls of the Naboo Palace or stopping Imperial Walkers from destroying your base of Hoth. Battlefront delivered on creating a cinematic multiplayer shooter that anyone could enjoy alongside being able to play as iconic villains and heroes in the franchise. Battlefront II may have soured the reputation of these games but you can’t get a massive experience this polished from another studio like DICE. A studio that is constantly adding new modes and content to an evolving game that only gets better as time goes on.
Battlefront II delivered on making each of us play in the Star Wars universe but Jedi: Fallen Order gave us a single player narrative with some feistiness! Jedi: Fallen Order could not exist without the hard work and dedication from the developers at Respawn. Respawn is a studio made from former members of the Call of Duty franchise and they know how to create a good campaign for players to enjoy. Again, this is a game based on an IP that borrows elements from other games to make a great smoothie. you have the cinematic look and traversal of an Uncharted/Tomb Raider, the Metroidvania aspect of visiting planets once you’ve unlocked a new power to places you couldn’t reach before. Alongside some Dark souls -lite combat, Jedi: Fallen Order doesn’t do anything that other games haven’t done before but it is a solid entry for a licensed game with a unique story.
Lord of the Rings
When I first heard of Shadow of Mordor, like many, I was sceptical of a game that was based on Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series. LOTR games, like Batman, have been either trash or a good romp. However, Shadow of Mordor wanted to set itself apart from other open-world games at the time by not only creating an open world to play in but also developing & crafting the player a personalized Arch-Rival.
Shadow of Mordor borrowed elements from games like Assassin’s Creed by building a world that you could conquer with tons of collectible and forts to dwindled the forces of Sauron. The Nemesis system, however, was the crown jewel which gave the game an identity of its own. Shadow of Mordor would create these orcs and personalities your rivals and develop a player’s own personalized story between an Orc grunt who got promoted to Captain. With a history of your encounters and even scars to boot! Shadow of War iterates on what came before but Mordor would be the entry that I would highlight. It is mind-boggling that other open-world games haven’t attempted to create a personalized rival for a game.
The only problem I had with its sequel, Shadow of War, was the fact that Warner Bros. as a publisher will wring you dry of any time for as much money as possible. Let’s not forget that controversial changes they made to building an orc army with loot boxes only to reverse those decision months down the line. Which did confirm that gameplay was adversely affected by the “orc boxes.” It is a better game now with new enemies and a Pokemon aspect of building your Orc army but I still feel that Shadow of Mordor deserves the nod considering it came out early in the PS4/Xbox One life cycle.
LEGO games keep their commitment to delivering family-friendly fun and games based on some of the people’s beloved IPs for years. LEGO within this decade released several DC, Marvel, Star Wars, Ninjago, and other games at a consistent rate while also delivering some of their own unique takes on established formulas. LEGO World gave us a glimpse of creating its own Minecraft world.
One of the biggest reasons why I’m adding LEGO to this list is because of LEGO Dimensions. Never in the history of the video game medium did we received a giant array of movies, video games, comics, toy IPs in one single game like LEGO Dimensions. While LEGO Dimensions did arrive late in the toy to life craze. What they did to incorporate several vastly different IPs to play and work together was the ultimate cumulation of fan-favourite worlds that anyone in the family could play and a world to explore together. Look at this list: Ninjago, Legends of Chima, DC, Gremlins, Back to the Future, Mission Impossible, Harry Potter, The Simpsons, Scooby-Doo, Ghostbusters, Sonic the Hedgehog, A-Team, and that’s just a few out of the 30 different IPs! Tons of characters were represented with huge open worlds that were pretty much sandboxes to play in with their respective themes. LEGO Dimensions packed a ton of playable worlds including Doctor Who and Portal 2!
In a lot of ways, LEGO games have been consistent in offering family-friendly games to play while putting their own twist and humor to bring those IPs to life. Whether it be LEGO Marvel’s Avengers, LEGO Batman, LEGO Jurrasic World, or LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens. LEGO is a consistent brand that will always deliver a fun new mechanic and experiment here and there with the IPs they can.
What Are Your Top Licensed Games?
Of course, those aren’t the only games that came out this generation that represented an IP in a stellar way. Here are some other games I wanted to highlight this decade that stood out against the pack of original IPs in the video game landscape:
Honourable Mentions: Dragon Ball FighterZ, Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Disney Infinity, Transformer’s War/Fall of Cybertron. Alien: Isolation, Telltale’s The Walking Dead, South Park’s Stick of Truth and Fractured But Whole, Mad Max, Metro franchise, Digimon Cyber Sleuth, Magic Arena, Yu Gi Oh, Sword Art Online series, Marvel’s Spider-Man, Ultimate Alliance 3.
Thanks for reading! If you’re interested in some of my other articles, be sure to check out my reviews of LEGO Jurrasic Park World and Super Mutant Alien Assault! For more great interviews, reviews, editorials, and news stay tuned to CultureOfGaming.com or check us out on OpenCritic.com.