We saw the most video game adaptations ever – but how did they stack up?
The eighth console generation — from 2013 to 2020 — saw a boom in game-to-film and game-to-television adaptations. They were everywhere. It might have a lot to do with gaming’s surging popularity, where streamers, esports and a growing player base have pulled games back into the mainstream spotlight, or maybe it’s because the industry pulls in a ludicrous amount of money, more every year, and has stockpiled a bunch of classic and modern icons primed for exploitation.
Either way, there’s been a ton of adaptations lately and they ain’t stopping. Some were bad, some were impressively mediocre, while a fated few managed to break the curse and were arguably almost pretty good. We covered a few of these adaptations in our Press X To Adapt series, but not all of them, so check out what you might’ve missed below.
The earliest adaptation during the last generation, releasing only a few months after the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One’s launch in holiday 2013, Need for Speed absolutely lived up to its namesake: a generic, mediocre film that struggled for an identity.
Also like recent games in the series, there isn’t much more to say about Need for Speed. It was a humourless, unambitious movie trying to ride the popularity of both the Fast and Furious franchise and Aaron Paul post-Breaking Bad. There’s nothing distinct about it as a Need for Speed adaptation – cars, street racing, the end – or as a film.
Heavenly Sword was pretty unique for a game-to-film adaptation. It closely followed the look of the original game, which is rare for an adaptation that isn’t based on a kid-friendly series, and it even used the game’s original assets to do so. Actors Anna Torv and Alfred Molina returned to the roles they played in the original game, too. Out of all the entries in this list, Heavenly Sword might actually be the one that most resembles its source material (even if I can’t tell you much else about it; the internet is running dry on “Heavenly Sword movie”).
Sonic Boom (TV, 2014-17)
One of a sparse handful of good things to come out of the Sonic franchise last generation, Sonic Boom was the TV part of Sega’s multimedia “Boom” spin-off series. Unlike its three games, it was pretty rad.
As an adaptation, Sonic Boom kept things simple by focusing on what was most iconic and charming about the series. The standard crew – Sonic, Tails, Knuckles and Amy – live on Seaside Island at Hedgehog Village and defend the island from Doctor Eggman and his robots. According to the AV Club’s Patrick Lee, Sonic Boom took a “great deal of inspiration from Looney Toons” with a “refreshingly relaxed atmosphere” due to its relatively low stakes. It was also openly progressive at times, using at least one episode to call attention to gender inequality. Welcome to the resistance, Sonic.
Hitman: Agent 47 didn’t exactly have high expectations to live up to and it still couldn’t match the meh first movie. It didn’t help that real-life cowboy Timothy Olyphant wasn’t playing the titular assassin anymore, replaced by Homeland‘s Rubert Friend – not that either of them is especially well-suited to playing a living murder-mannequin (at least Friend has the blue eyes), but it was still disappointing.
Regardless, Agent 47 was too big, loud and superhero-y for a series about disguise, quiet murder and black comedy. As I wrote back in 2019: except for the bald white guy in a suit, Agent 47 lacks everything that makes Hitman, Hitman.
Unlike everyone reading this, I actually didn’t mind Warcraft. More of a passion project than almost any game-to-film adaptation, Warcraft was an indulgent, overstuffed fantasy film based on the basic story of Blizzard’s original RTS Warcraft: Orcs & Humans.
It’s rare to see a film so clearly divided in both quality and structure, split down the middle by following the orc and human sides of the story equally. The orc side was at least worth watching and managed to find a heartfelt story about family and so forth (and the CG was pretty impressive, too). Meanwhile, the human side – led by a very-underserved Travis Fimmel as Anduin Lothar – was a dull slog only worth watching for Fimmel and his giant game-accurate pauldrons. Definitely a disappointing movie, but it had its moments.
Assassin’s Creed had real potential. Directed by Snowtown’s Justin Kurzel and starring Michael Fassbender alongside a handful of other acclaimed actors, it’s one of the truest examples of the video game movie “curse” that constantly sinks great-on-paper projects. It doesn’t even adapt any one of the games specifically, focusing on a brand new modern-day ancestor of a historical assassin set during the Spanish Inquisition, meaning it didn’t even have to haphazardly fit an existing video game story into a movie.
It should have been great, but in the end, it’s just a sluggish mess of bad CGI and confusing lore dumps that can’t even make the scenes of 15th century spectacle entertaining.
Video game movie auteur Paul W.S. Anderson finally brought his six-film saga to a close in 2016, a couple of months before the release of Capcom’s Resident Evil 7. In a series that was both extremely faithful to the games and also not at all, filled with latex outfits, clones, post-apocalyptic wastelands and lame Matrix-style fights, the last entry capped it all off with… even more.
Remember the Skylanders series, the yearly Diablo-like from Activision that suddenly burned out hard amidst an avalanche of other toys-to-life titles? Skylanders Academy is the Netflix cartoon based on it, following a bunch of fantasy creatures defending Skylands from the evil efforts of villain Kaos. Simple kid-friendly stuff.
The Ace Attorney anime series was better than most adaptations, but it didn’t quite live up to the games. According to Anime News Network’s Rebecca Silverman, this was because of two things: it stuck far too close to the overall story and content of the games, refusing to expand on or adjust to take advantage of the new format; and its poor animation quality, at least in comparison to the main series. This extends to the series’ unique visual style, too, like its impact frames and sound cues, which could be either inconsistent or totally out of place without the player’s involvement. Overall, just a half-hearted (or low-budget) effort that could have been better.
Ratchet & Clank is the second in a slow-going series of Sony adaptations, starting with the aforementioned Heavenly Sword film and meant to continue with aSly Raccoon film (but probably won’t anymore). Sony had a lot of faith this time, too, with Ratchet & Clank launching as a major theatrical release. The movie didn’t fare well with critics or the box office though, earning just $14 million on a budget of $20 million.
As a game-to-film though, Ratchet & Clank was a curious thing. One of the only films in what feels like decades to launch alongside a full-on console tie-in game, featuring the same overall story just like a licensed game would, it also kept the same long-time voice actors James Arnold Taylor and David Kaye as Ratchet and Clank respectively. The game even featured a bunch of cutscenes lifted straight from the movie, blurring the line even further.
I’m always surprised that there haven’t been more releases like The Angry Birds Movie in recent years, using well-known game icons for straightforward kid movies. It seems like the easiest way to tackle game adaptations, especially arcade-era classics, so it’s weird that there aren’t more of them.
Instead of being explicitly faithful to the games though, The Angry Birds Movie actually expanded on Rovio’s main series out of necessity. It added meat to the bones of the game series by giving its coloured throwables distinct personalities and a story to follow. Meanwhile, the movie thoroughly looped back around in a very Street Fighter: The Movie: The Game sort of way: it had three tie-in games based on The Angry Birds Movie, while the film’s version of “Red” (the main bird) even bled into previous games by replacing their app icons with versions from the movie.
Castlevania (TV, 2017-present)
Netflix’s Castlevania is potentially the best entry on this list. A loose adaptation of the game series, starting with Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse for the first and second season before borrowing elements from Castlevania: Curse of Darkness and other titles for the third, Castlevania is an exceptionally well-plotted dark fantasy series that smartly focuses its time on character work before all the exciting GIF-ready action sequences.
Another film I like more than most, Tomb Raider was largely saved by Alicia Vikander’s performance as Lara Croft. Everything else, including a plot that kind of resembled the “surviving a messed-up tropical island” premise of Crystal Dynamic’s 2013 reboot, was forgettable and ho-hum. It’s very middle-of-the-road as a survival-action flick – but as a video game adaptation, this pulls it high above most of the dreck that qualifies for Press X To Adapt.
Historians will eventually say that Rampage sat beside Tomb Raider and The Angry Birds Movie in representing a slow, unexciting shift towards half-decent video game adaptations. It doesn’t make Rampage a better movie, but it does make it almost interesting to talk about.
Mega Man: Fully Charged (TV, 2018-19)
I refuse to believe that anyone reading this knew this show existed. Refuse.
Based entirely off a single clip, Mega Man:Fully Charged is the blandest of adaptations and turns the classic video game into a very basic superhero serial. Aki Light is an android schoolboy who transforms into Mega Man to save people and battle bad guys, usually robots but sometimes just regular ol’ bank robbers. It’s very inoffensive and not really aimed at fans so much as young kids who like robots and superheroes.
Maybe the most creatively ambitious game-to-film to date, Pokémon: Detective Pikachu adapted the 3DS game of the same name instead of the main series while using a more realistic, uncanny visual style for the pocket monsters themselves. It was an odd but novel approach to live-action Pokémon: a spectacle-driven, neon-soaked, noir detective tale that tried to thread the needle and appeal to both kids and adults. What a wild sentence that is.
While it was still in cinemas (remember those?), Cai summed the film up as “a decent enough movie to put on, turn your brain off and enjoy the fuzzy taser-mouse with Ryan Reynolds’ voice, but if you’re not already a Pokémon fan, it’s not for you” — and that’s about right.
Amazingly, The Angry Birds Movie 2 is not only a much better film than the first, it’s also better than every other video game movie (according to aggregate scores).
Giving the film creators far more creative freedom – something that other companies could learn for future game adaptations – the sequel expanded on the world and concept of Angry Birds by defying the series’ core ideas. It upturned the central conflict between birds and pigs by having them work together while also introducing a lot of new characters and settings that break further away from what’s seen in the game series. As an adaptation, Angry Birds 2 was an outright evolution of the game series.
Costume Quest (TV, 2019)
Costume Quest was an adventure cartoon that follows the same formula as the games: kids wear Halloween costumes to magically transform into bigger, tougher versions of said costumes and fight monsters. Judging from the trailer, it looks like it has the vibe of Adventure Time with an animation style closer to something like Regular Show; an adventure-comedy with a dash of horror. How haven’t I seen this already?
Besides that, Sonic the Hedgehog was a solid family flick that made good use of the ingredients it had. Ben Schwartz does a great job channelling the enthusiastic cockiness of Sonic’s current go-to actor Roger Craig Smith, while Jim Carrey plays Dr. Robotnik with the same manic intensity that made him famous (and with the classic not-Eggman name, too!).
The movie’s not exactly faithful to the series but it captures the attitude and energy of the games well enough. It’s light, fast-paced fare where Sonic runs fast, cracks wise and eats chilli dogs, while the credit stingers tease the arrival of Tails and a crazier, more game-accurate take on Robotnik.
Dragon’s Dogma (TV, 2020)
Dragon’s Dogma falls squarely in the “forgettable and mediocre” camp. It made for an interesting comparison to the game, with a lot of similarities, but it was also bland and indistinct, as if it exists purely to fill a gap in Netflix’s schedule instead of providing something worthwhile. The 3D animation was decent and the opening credit sequence was a higher quality tone-setter than you’d expect, while the story and writing was darker and bleaker than it probably needs to be. It felt more like a riff on Attack on Titan rather than its own thing, especially when the game itself was rarely so grim.
The first official adaptation of the ninth console generation – which makes this more of a bonus entry – Monster Hunter was set to follow the Resident Evil film series as a bizarrely successful string of poorly-reviewed sequels directed by Paul W.S. Anderson and starring Milla Jovovich. It’s been getting better reviews than Anderson’s films typically get so I’d say it has a decent chance, too, but after being temporarily pulled from Chinese theatres after backlash towards an insensitive line of dialogue, it’s hard to say whether the film will spawn a new series after all.