What do 1993’s live action Super Mario Bros. movie, the long running saga of Resident Evil movies, and last year’s Assassin’s Creed movie all have in common? The answer is that they are all adaptations of beloved games, and they are all objectively terrible from a critical perspective. In an attempt to emulate the financial success found in their original incarnations, movie studios have long laid their greasy paws on games. In all cases, the result has never risen above mediocrity, yet still fans buzz with excitement at the thought of a movie adaptation of their favourite game, ignoring the probability that history will continue to repeat itself. So why, after countless attempts, have movie studios failed to capture the magic that makes us love games in the first place?
The reality is that the stories within games are rarely strong enough to stand tall as an individual piece of entertainment. Instead, they must rest firmly on the crutches of stellar gameplay in order to be perceived positively. Once said stellar gameplay is removed from the equation, as is the case with movie adaptations, the weak story becomes exposed, and consequently crumbles. A perfect example of this can be found in 2016’s attempt at bringing the beloved Ratchet & Clank franchise into the realm of cinema. With everybody’s favourite Lombax and robot duo starring in their own self-titled movie for the very first time, fans eagerly awaited the result. Following a positive response to its trailers, Ratchet & Clank seemed ready to break the cycle of poor video game movie adaptations. Sadly, what resulted was an atrocious mess of a film, featuring a depressingly unfunny script, a bland story, and underwhelmingly short action scenes. This came as a shock to some, as Ratchet & Clank features the same writing style and voice actors of the beloved games – so what went wrong?
As a matter of fact, nothing went wrong, and the poor result should have been expected. The games were never very funny to begin with, and their stories were never out of this world in the quality department (pun intended). What they do feature, however, is wonderfully addictive and polished gameplay, which can make any amount of cringe-inducing comedy appear as if it’s infinitely better than it actually is. Sci-fi-themed jokes that would ordinarily sound irritating and bland instead seem as if it is taken straight from an episode of Rick & Morty. Of course, the humour and stories of the Ratchet & Clank games is still serviceable for its purpose, which is to provide a background layer of simplistic chuckles and narrative to casually exist alongside the main attraction, the aforementioned wonderful gameplay. When existing within the background of a far stronger feature, the storytelling of Ratchet & Clank causes no trouble, but when existing as the main event, as is the case with the movie, suddenly problems begin to rapidly arise.
This same flaw exposed in Ratchet & Clank can also be found in many other games. Without the excellent gameplay to mask certain shortcomings, it becomes apparent that the overwhelming majority of game stories simply aren’t as good as we may think. The quality of each story is birthed through the personal experiences that a player creates whilst investing time in a game. For example, upon completing The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, the player will more than likely feel an overwhelming rush of emotions and satisfaction. This is not because the story is technically groundbreaking in its detail and depth, but because their long journey within this fictional world has finally reached its epic conclusion. They have become attached to characters such as Navi, not because of the story, but because of the amount of times she has used her loveably-annoying voice to interrupt gameplay and provide a hint. They will miss Hyrule Field, not because it is where Princess Zelda gave them the Ocarina of Time, but because they spent countless hours rolling across it being serenaded by an addictively-upbeat soundtrack.
The personal experiences that a player shares with each and every character and location within a game counts for far more than the narrative, which in actuality serves little more purpose than providing some form of basic context for a player’s goal and motivations. With this in mind, it can be deduced that creating a form of entertainment – such as a movie – based solely around a game’s narrative is a foolish endeavour. There shouldn’t be a game of Pulp Fiction, just as their shouldn’t be a movie of The Last of Us. Some experiences are perfect as they are, and to adapt them into a predominantly incompatible medium is only to defile the accomplishments and quality of the source material.