Good movies, good games?
Once upon a time, truly not that long ago, nearly every big Hollywood movie release came with a console and portable game to match. They were often expensive ($50-60) and rarely very good, so the reputation of terrible movie games grew and lingered.
Nowadays, with the rise of mobile gaming, film studios have found it much more beneficial to release iOS games—usually free-to-play ones, too—to promote their flicks with less expense and many more potential players to reach. But are these games any good? Well, sometimes—but the middling reputation from the console days hasn’t disappeared. Here’s a look at the biggest iOS movie games of summer 2015, and whether they lived up to their namesakes.
Fast & Furious Legacy
Furious 7 carried a lot of weight rolling into its release: Not only was its predecessor the series’ biggest smash to date, but star Paul Walker’s untimely death during filming both delayed the film’s launch and required technical wizardry to complete. But they pulled it off, delivering not only another entertaining action affair, but also the fourth highest-grossing film of all time. (And yes, we’re being generous with including this late spring release on the list.)
Luckily, Fast & Furious Legacy (free) maintains the film’s crowd-pleasing approach, serving up a free game that bounces between different racing styles—drag, street, and drift—and spotlights locations and events from the entire movie series. The freemium model isn’t too aggressive, and it not only looks great, but also delivers solid fun in short, mobile-friendly bursts.
Inside Out: Thought Bubbles
Inside Out is a true return to form for Pixar, telling a heartbreakingly beautiful and creative tale about the confusion and stress of childhood (and parenting)—which is surprisingly framed by an adventure about anthropomorphized emotions exploring a young girl’s mind. It might be the studio’s most adult film to date, despite the colorful exterior.
Which is why the game adaptation falls so flat. Inside Out: Thought Bubbles (free) is a simplistic, color-matching, bubble-popping clone of Bust-a-Move, and it’s clearly designed for kids in both scope and style. That’s fine, but it ignores the emotional heft of the film in favor of spawning an unremarkable diversion. There are better bubble poppers (even the Angry Birds one); the movie characters and imagery don’t really do much to enhance Thought Bubbles.
Marvel: Contest of Champions
The Avengers: Age of Ultron didn’t top its predecessor in terms of critical acclaim or box office bank, but it was another solid superhero flick that kept the Marvel Cinematic Universe rolling along into its next phase. And let’s be honest: it still made a ton of money.
Rather than release a brand new game for each movie, Marvel’s current mobile strategy is to update all of its ongoing iOS games when a new flick pops up. Marvel: Contest of Champions (free) is arguably the best of the bunch, delivering a slick and entertaining free-to-play fighting experience. When Age of Ultron came out, the game got its biggest update yet, adding the titular character himself along with additional play modes and story details. And the game has grown even larger since thanks to Ant-Man and other updates.
Few were surprised when Pixels ended up being a dud with critics and viewers alike: After all, Adam Sandler comedies tend to be lowest-common-denominator junk these days. Still, given the cooperation of Nintendo and Namco Bandai, it’s a shame that Hollywood couldn’t turn out a better film about gaming greats like Donkey Kong and Pac-Man trying to take over the world.
Believe it or not, there’s something even more obnoxious and dopey on this list than Pixels—and it’s Pixels Defense (free). This half-baked attempt at creating a tower defense game based on the film’s premise falls flat in every way. It’s difficult to control, has serious gameplay flaws (you can block a giant enemy’s path simply by standing in its way), looks terrible, and is riddled with typos. It’s fully free, but even so, don’t waste your time.
Jurassic World: The Game
After a 14-year hiatus, the Jurassic Park franchise was reborn this year with Jurassic World, a fresh spin on the original, beloved premise of a dinosaur-filled theme park—and viewers absolutely ate it up. Reviews were solid, but the box office returns were out of this world, as the film has racked up $1.6 billion worldwide. Now a sequel is coming in 2018.
Hopefully Jurassic World 2 gets a better game than its predecessor, as Jurassic World: The Game (free) is a bland park-builder with dull dinosaur combat sequences. Both aspects are totally superficial: There’s no depth to creating or customizing your park, nor can you do much in the dino duels. It’s a free-to-play game with constant nagging for you to spend money, and if the $50 card packs don’t scare you off, surely the tedium will (eventually).
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation continues the hot streak of 2011’s Ghost Protocol, serving up another thrilling spy caper with Tom Cruise performing a bevy of real stunts. This series has been up and down across its 20-year box office run, but it finally seems to have the formula down well, with Rogue Nation praised for its humor and style alongside the intense action.
By comparison, its companion game Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (free) is a letdown—primarily because it doesn’t feel like a Mission: Impossible game at all. It doesn’t have cool gadgets, cinematic shots, or any personality at all—it’s just a shooter in which you pop out from cover and shoot generic targets. That’s because it’s a rebranded version of Glu’s Contract Killer: Sniper, and to make matters worse, it’s always pushing you to buy insanely expensive weapon packs. See the movie, but skip the game.
No, Ant-Man isn’t quite the sensational smash that is Avengers: Age of Ultron, but it’s a welcome break from Marvel’s overstuffed superhero flicks. It’s smaller in scope, more focused in its storytelling, and it’s really funny to boot. And since the director of Bring It On (Peyton Reed) jumped in at the last minute when Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright was punted, it’s a minor miracle that it’s anything more than simply watchable.
We already mentioned Ant-Man’s presence in Marvel: Contest of Champions, alongside villain Yellowjacket, but his table in Marvel Pinball ($2) is also worth noting. Zen Studios always does a bang-up job with its digital pinball tables, and Ant-Man is no exception, capturing the look and feel of the film while delivering fun flipper action. It’s also in the Zen Pinball app, and is well worth it.
Terminator Genisys: Revolution
Terminator Genisys (terrible title aside) was supposed to be the film to right the ship on the action series, which produced its last great entry in… 1991. But no, it proved to be another critical mess, and was widely panned for its plot and performances alike. Even the commercial performance has fallen short, leaving the fate of the scheduled sequels unclear.
Terminator Genisys: Revolution (free) isn’t much to talk about, either. It plays very similarly to Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, in fact, which comes from the very same publisher—surprise! You’ll blast your way through bite-sized missions plotted around a world map, and the freemium design means you’ll either grind a lot through repetitive objectives or spend a bundle on weapons and other in-app purchases to spice things up. We don’t recommend doing either.