There was once a time when licensed video games were always bad, especially movie tie-in games. These monstrosities were often rushed out by publishers, handed off to inexperienced or poor developers with little time or budget to make something good. Worst still, many of these games had to follow a strict structure established by whatever they were based on.
Nowadays, licensed games tend to be a little better. There’s still a torrential downpour of garbage on the mobile market, but AAA licensed games are usually pretty excellent. The Witcher and Metro series are two examples of games based on books that have been great. Insomniac’s recently released Spider-Man PS4 and Rocksteady’s Batman Arkham games have revolutionized super hero video games.
But, again, the deck is stacked against these games by greedy publishers and rights holders. For every one good licensed game, you can bet there are three Superman 64s or E.T.s for the Atari 2600 not far behind. Can you believe Cars 3 got a tie-in video game on PS4 and Xbox One? In this day and age, we got a throwback to crappy tie-in games from the PS2 and Xbox era.
But there are many licensed games that are truly bad, some of the worst games ever made. These games have been so bad they’ve tainted the name of whatever movie, TV show, or book they’re based on. These are the games that fans wish they could forget, but are haunted by in their worst nightmares. Pretty melodramatic since they’re just video games, but hey, it’s their nightmares, not mine.
25 Ju-On: The Grudge
While never really catching on in the West, Ju-On is one of the most popular horror franchises in Japan. Ju-On: The Grudge, the third film released in the series in 2002, got a video game tie-in for the Wii seven years later, sub-subtitled Haunted House Simulator.
Like many tie-in games on the Wii, Ju-On: The Grudge is a rushed, slap-dashed mess designed to capitalize on the success of the console. With terrible graphics, terrible gameplay that involves waving the Wiimote around at random, and only a few hours long, Ju-On is a terrible introduction to the series in the West.
24 The Itchy & Scratchy Game
Believe it or not, Itchy and Scratchy, two cartoon characters within The Simpsons, got their own game on the NES and Game Gear. You play as Itchy, with the sole goal of chasing and harming Scratchy.
The game was criticized for its repetitive nature, boring and overly simplistic gameplay, and oddly low-quality audio. A Genesis (Mega Drive) port was planned but never released, presumably due to the poor reception and sales.
It seems pretty easy to make a game based on Jaws, right? Just give the player a harpoon gun and a boat, going around hunting sharks. Well, that’s pretty much what the NES version of Jaws was.
Jaws (the NES game) had little in the way of gameplay. You get in your boat, randomly move around an overhead map until you run into an encounter, then go underwater to shoot a shark. That’s it. The graphics were basic and ugly, the gameplay boring, and is (mercifully) short.
22 Kiss Pinball
Kiss Pinball, based on the band of the same name, was released for the PlayStation and PC in 2000. How hard can it be to mess up a pinball video game, you ask? Apparently pretty easy, as developers Wildfire Studios and Tarantula Studios showed us.
The game’s physics were a mess, the ball felt too light-weight and would fly across the screen after the slightest tap, which would send the camera flying at light speed to try and keep up. Yet somehow, the tables were almost all completely empty, making the game incredibly boring.
21 Looney Tunes: Acme Arsenal
There have been some really good Looney Tunes games over the years, but Acme Arsenal is not one of them. Developed by new studios Redtribe for the Wii, 360, and PlayStation 2, strangely, Acme Arsenal is a 3D platformer.
The game is full of terrible jokes, bad physics, and boring gameplay. The levels are mostly empty, and the game has terrible controls. Game Informer went so far as to give the game a 1.8 out of 10, saying the best thing about this game is “a low point in Bugs Bunny’s career.”
20 Doctor Who: Return To Earth
Another low-rent Wii game, Doctor Who: Return to Earth, based on the popular BBC series of the same name, was released in 2010. The game starred Matt Smith’s Doctor, and he and Amy Pond must stop some bad people from doing bad things. That’s about the extent of it.
The game was roundly panned for ugly graphics and uninspired gameplay. Official Nintendo Magazine even gave it a 19% rating, calling it “an insult to Doctor Who fans.”
19 Ghostbusters (2016)
Ghostbusters, the 2016 game, was the lowest ranking game on Metacritic in 2016. The PS4 version currently has a 30 out of 100 score, with the highest score being 58. That tells you just about all you need to know about this awful twin-stick shooter.
Yes, they turned Ghostbusters in a twin-stick shooter, and not a very good one either. The game lacked any real humor and variety. Weirdest of all, developer Fireforge Games filed for financial trouble three days after the game came out, being approximately $12 million in debt.
18 Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Mega Battle
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Mega Battle is basically an online flash game that Bandai Namco thought they could get away with charging full retail price for. One look at the game is more than enough to tell you this game is cheap.
Mega Battle is a slap-dashed beat ‘em up, and that’s all there is to say about it. Like many games on this list, it lacks variety, looks cheaply made, and only just meets the bare minimum to be considered a video game. Bandai Namco likely rushed this out in 2017 to be ready in time for the Power Rangers movie that year.
17 Back To The Future (NES)
Turning Back to the Future into a video seems difficult enough, but trying to make an NES game out of it seems impossible. Proof of that exists thanks to LJN, who tried their hand at an NES adaptation of the classic film in 1989.
The game was… interesting, to say the least. It was an eclectic mix of skateboarding, side-scrolling, a rhythm mini-game, and even a Paperboy stage. The game was a total mess and remains by far the worst video game adaptation of Back to the Future.
16 Batman: Dark Tomorrow
If licensed games used to be universally bad, then superhero games were always train wrecks. Case in point: Batman: Dark Tomorrow, easily the worst Batman game, and probably the third or fourth worst superhero game ever.
Dark Tomorrow was a stealth action game chock full of awful controls, terrible graphics, and repetitive gameplay. Game Informer gave the game just 0.75 out of 10, saying the game was “incomprehensible and littered with bugs.” Ouch.
15 Friday The 13th (NES)
How do you make a family-friendly NES game based on Friday the 13th? The answer is you don’t, because those are too many restrictions. But that didn’t stop publisher LJN and developer Atlus (yes, that Atlus) from trying anyway!
A 2D side-scroller, you play as one of six camp counselors and must run around the camp waiting for Jason to turn up and throw rocks at him. You have to do this three times, and then you win. That’s it. Yeah, not quite Persona, is it?
14 Fight Club
You know how Fight Club is actually about toxic masculinity and a portrait of how not to live your life? Well, some people have managed to miss that message. Among them are developer Genuine Games and publisher Vivendi Universal. They decided to take the movie (book before that) and turn it into a generic fighting game.
Messaging aside, the game itself is garbage anyway. The mechanics are shallow and there are barely any moves. The animation was also remarkably terrible, considering it’s just a fighting game. This is just a quick cash-in game for the movie, everything terrible about licensed video games.
13 Aliens: Colonial Marines
Aliens: Colonial Marines was hyped as the canonical sequel to the original Alien trilogy, and boy did it under-deliver. Featuring dumb AI for both enemies and allies, ugly graphics, repetitive gameplay, and a bad story, it was clear the game was rushed out without any care put into it.
What’s worse though is how it was sold. The game was advertised with pre-rendered CG gameplay trailers that didn’t look anything like the final game. Worse still, Gearbox, who was supposed to be developing it, farmed out most of the work to another company so they could work on Borderlands 2 instead.
12 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct
The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct echoes Aliens: Colonial Marines in that it is official canon within The Walking Dead universe, telling a new story. This first-person shooter features the story of fan favorites Daryl and Merle Dixon right at the start of the zombie outbreak.
The game was bad, full of bugs, ugly and identical levels, terrible AI, and silly QTEs, this is a case of another game that was rushed out by a low-level, inexperienced developer just to make a quick buck.
11 Spider-Man 2 (PC)
Spider-Man 2 is one of the best Spider-Man games ever made, easily. But that’s the console version you’re thinking of. The game got a PC port as well, but it was entirely different.
Rather than a big open world sandbox where you could web swing anywhere, this was instead a linear game that only let your web swing at very specific points. The graphics were ludicrously flat and ugly, the AI non-existent, and was far too easy. Apparently, this version was meant to be more “kid-friendly,” so that tells you what publisher Activision thinks of kids.
10 Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
Who Framed Roger Rabbit? on the NES is notorious for its awful vehicle controls, and for good reason. Playing as Private Detective Eddie Valiant, it’s up to you to drive around randomly flashing buildings to enter a 2D platforming level to collect random junk. You then use that junk to defeat Judge Doom.
There’s nothing particularly noteworthy about this game, it’s a standard 2D platformer. What makes it so awful though are the driving controls in the overworld. For some reason, your car tries to lock itself into one lane, but also automatically swerves around at random like it's tipsy.
9 The Simpsons: Tapped Out
The Simpsons: Tapped Out is everything wrong with mobile gaming in a microcosm. The gameplay is shallow to the point of non-existence, the graphics look like they were made in MS Paint, it has almost nothing to do with its source material, and of course, it's jam-packed with microtransactions.
Tapped Out is the kind of game that expects you to fork over hundreds of dollars just to complete the most basic of tasks. It’s no wonder this abomination is known as one of the worst mobile games of all time, and that’s saying something.
8 South Park (1998)
Somebody (Acclaim Entertainment and Iguana Entertainment, in this case) thought it would be a good idea to turn South Park into a semi-open world first-person shooter. Except, instead of guns, Cartman, Kyle, Stan, and Kenny were armed with… snowballs.
The boys would shout one of a handful of the same lines at you constantly, the graphics were terrible even for the time, and the levels were largely empty. The best thing South Park had going for it were the controls, which were terrible.
7 Godzilla (2014)
Godzilla (the video game) was released in 2014 for the PS4. Yet, you could be forgiven for thinking this was a budget PS2 launch title from 2000. This empty game, whatever genre it’s trying to fill, is so boring it’s impossible to talk about it for longer than a few dozen words.
You play as Godzilla in this bleak, empty world, and you knock over buildings. Eventually, another monster will suddenly appear and fight you, but really you have to fight the awful controls. This was dubbed the worst game released in 2014 by many, and for good reason.
6 E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (Atari 2600)
Attributed by many as the cause of the 1983 video game crash, E.T. for the Atari 2600 is infamous as one of the worst, if not the worst, games of all time. It was programmed by one person in only a matter of months to meet the holidays in 1982, and boy does it show.
The game is a confusing mess, in which you have to guide E.T. around several identical looking screens, occasionally falling into pits that you have to raise yourself out of by extending your neck. The game is a mess, certainly, but it’s too simplistic and comical to truly be the worst game ever made.
5 Star Wars: Masters Of Teras Kasi
Masters of Teras Kasi has long been the biggest stain on the Star Wars franchise, more so than the prequel trilogy or even the deluded fans who think The Last Jedi is a bad film. This “fighting game” is more like an exercise in frustration, thanks almost entirely to its terrible controls.
Trying to get your character to simply move across the screen to your opponent is like playing QWOP with your fingers and keyboard covered in maple syrup. The game runs incredibly slow, and the lack of moves makes it dull beyond belief.
4 Rambo: The Video Game
Anytime a game ends with the tagline “The Video Game,” you know you’re in for a grand time. Case in point: Rambo: The Video Game, a terrible arcade game from the 90’s that somehow got made in 2014 for modern consoles and the PC.
Originally planned as a standard first-person shooter, developer Teyon realized they didn’t have the time, budget, or talent to achieve such goals, so they turned it into an on rail shooter. Featuring graphics from a PS1 game and audio ripped straight from a bootleg VHS tape of the original three Rambo movies, this is one of the worst licensed video games ever made.
3 Aquaman: Battle For Atlantis
Underwater sections in video games are always awful, so it’s a good thing nobody decided to make an entire game that was nothing but underwater levels. Oh wait, they did? Yes, we have the folks at Lucky Chicken Games (yes, that’s actually their name) to thank for the second worst superhero game of all time.
Aquaman: Battle for Atlantis, released in 2003 was notorious for its awful controls and broken physics. What do you expect for a game entirely underwater? The game was so awful that the PS2 version was scrapped, making this the rare game exclusive to the Xbox and Gamecube.
2 Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery
Just when you think mobile gaming couldn’t get any worse, along came Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery, a “game” that forces you to either fork over real life money to save a kid’s life from a vine that’s strangling him to doom for “energy,” or sit there and watch him be strangled for 8 straight hours for you to earn energy naturally.
That aside, this piece of software can’t even be considered a game, because when it’s not begging you for more money, it has you simply tapping the screen as its sole gameplay mechanic.
1 Superman 64
We all knew this was coming, didn’t we? Superman 64, deemed the worst superhero game of all time by man, and possibly even the worst video game ever made period, what else could be number one on this putrid list?
This lazy excuse for a game sees you playing as Superman, forced to flight through a bunch of rings on a timer that barely gives you enough time, fighting little other than completely broken controls. Consider yourself lucky if you’ve never had to play this game before.