Tie-in games based on movies have always been a pet peeve of mine. Especially because they tend to be rather awful, even in those occasions when the movie they’re based on seems to be well suited to be transformed into a videogame. It is difficult not to love a category of games that gifted us with such surreal gems as Street Fighter – The Movie – The Game.
Picture this: you’re Capcom, you made Street Fighter 2, the most famous fighter game ever released. There’s a rather so-and-so movie based on your perfectly good game out in the cinemas, and, for some godforsaken market reason, you feel the need to release ANOTHER game.
Based on the movie.
Based on the game.
A tie-in tie-in game.
What do you do?
Make a slightly tweaked version of Street Fighter 2 (and God knows there’s like a dozen of them around) as to make a quick buck? Oh no! That would actually mean we’d get a good game and no, we don’t want that. Instead, let’s digitize the movie actors, put them into a game and make a poor man’s Mortal Kombat.
You are interested in the unknown, the mysterious...
Besides tie-in games, I’ve always been a lover of b-movies. The pseudobiographical film about Ed Wood, one of the most famous “bad directors” of the 50s, is one of my favourite movies ever.
While I would hardly define myself as a Tim Burton fan, especially of his Disney period, Ed Wood perfectly married his sense of weird with his love for the outcasts and unsung heroes. The director was a crossdresser in a time where it was impossible to imagine someone like that as “normal”, hence it makes sense that his first movie, Glen or Glenda, was autobiographical and, also, rather awful, since he had little money and basically no actors.
Plan 9 From Outer Space was supposed to be his one shot at stardom. He actually managed to secure enough money to get other people beside himself. TV host Vampira, wrestler Tor Johnson and Tom Mason, a dentist, among them. It is true that Wood was a rather incompetent director, but he was desperately trying to make his dreams come alive on the big screen, on a shoestring budget.
Plan 9 from Outer Space has been called “the worst movie of all time” more times than I care to remember. Watching it today, a modern viewer might found out that it’s not offensive or even that boring. Ed had his heart in the right place but everything else didn’t really work out the way he wanted. There’s also the infamous Bela Lugosi footage that the director spliced in while using another actor as a stand-in for all his other scenes, because the romanian actor had died before the actual shooting had began.
We are bringing you all the evidence
Plan 9 is more an interesting piece of cinematic history than a dreadful movie, really. When I found out there was actually a tie-in game about Plan 9 from Outer space, I jumped out of my seat in excitement. It was like two of my favourite things in life coming together. Still, sometimes, even the best sliced cheese and the most delicious salami don’t make for an actually good sandwich. Sometimes, it is better to go with plain white bread.
Let us begin from the obvious: Plan 9 From Outer Space – The Game is not the worst game of all time. Having made that clear, another question remains why did somebody at Gremlin decide to develop a game, for Amiga, Atari ST and Ms-Dos, based on a movie released 33 years before? In my limited internet research I haven’t found any definitive answer. Because of the success of Mystery Science Theater 3000, the “riffing on public domain movies” show? Doesn’t seem likely, sounds like a quick cash-in to me.
I also have no clue how the design for Plan 9 The Game could actually have gone down. Imagine something like “ok guys we can’t make anything good or too memorable, let’s stick to our guns and keep the costs down”. Four people with little previous experience worked on it, two of them then went on to work on the platformer Litil Divil and… that seems to be the extent of their work in the gaming industry.
My friend, we cannot keep this a secret any longer!
Basically, Plan 9 is an adventure game and plays pretty similar to early 90s Legend point-n-click adventures: list of verbs in the bottom right, inventory just above and a small window where all the action happens. Music is basically non existent, same with sound effects.
The player plays a private investigator, hired by a movie producer to get back all the reels of his latest movie – guess which one – that got scattered all over the world. Does it make any sense? I’m pretty sure it is not supposed to, anyway. Obviously Gremlin wanted to milk the “worst movie ever” moniker so, naturally, Plan 9 is plenty self-aware. Most of the in-game characters are played by either Vampira or Tor Johnson in bad disguises. While it makes sense in the economy of the “cheap bad movie game”, it sure makes for a pretty limited cast of characters.
The movie is mocked through and through, which weirdly makes more sense now than in 1992, when people didn’t become famous just for making fun of bad movies and games. Too bad that the writing is not really MST3K level of goofy nor it contains the same fun pop culture references. Weirdly enough, or perhaps not, the game’s main problem is its self-awareness. The movie, cheap and bad as it was, had a kind of refreshing honesty about it, the game doesn’t.
It’s not even a case of a “so bad it’s good”, it’s just a run-of-the-mill adventure of the early 90s with average writing and the usual slew of illogical puzzles. One example? Having to use a picture of Bela Lugosi to drive the bats away from a cave, which sure it makes sense, but it does make less so since the player can actually dress as a vampire and even has access to garlic.
My friend, can your heart stand the shocking facts of... illogical puzzles?
Perhaps I’m delving too much about it, but trying to capitalize on a bad movie made on a shoestring budget in the fifties via an average adventure game almost forty years later, feels somehow morally wrong. Naturally I’m not blaming this on the developers, pretty sure they did the best job they could with the time and resources that Gremlin gave them. My point is that this was probably a project that should have been tackled in a different way. Or maybe not tackled at all. But still, somehow, I’m glad it exists. An illogical puzzle if there ever was one.
I’m happy that the whole crazy idea of making a game about a legendary b-movie ended up with an actual released game, as average as it is. Call me lunatic but it feels wonderful that the idea materalized in an actual game and didn’t just vanish into thin air. In conclusion, can we say that, yet again, the tie-in made a disservice to its inspiration, even though in this case it was a very bad movie? Welp… yarp.
Should one wish to play an actual good game that feels like being in a camp b-movie from the 50s, It Came From the Desert is definitely a much better proposal.
Perhaps, there is a silver lining in all of this. The original boxed copies of the game came with a Plan 9 VHS, since the movie had been in public domain for a while. At least, as average as the tie-in adventure was, one could have the pleasure to see the worst movie ever in all its low def glory.