Braving the Terrible World of TV Tie-In Video Games

Cheap but so far from cheerful, the years have given us some truly awful games based on TV shows.

by Ellie Gibson
08 September 2016, 3:22am

The bad news, Jasper, is that someone had to play 'Golden Balls' in order to get the footage on YouTube (from where this screengrab is taken)

What's the worst video game you've ever played? For me, the answer is easy: Golden Balls. Bloody Golden Balls.

This was the tie-in for the late 2000s British game show of the same name. Presented by Jasper Carrott, the TV programme encouraged contestants to betray and deceive each other. It basically celebrated psychopathy, and was criticised by an actual psychologist for, among other things, encouraging deceitfulness.

The video game version encouraged pyromania, as it was so bad there was a huge impulse to throw the disc, the Wii it played on, and everything else it had ever touched onto a huge bonfire. Everything about the game was wrong, from the appalling AI to the hideous CGI representation of Carrott – imagine Gollum in a Next suit, with worse hair.

Despite the fact the game's file size can't have been bigger than your average Word document, the whole thing was punctuated with endless loading screens, where the words "LOADING DATA" would pulse backwards and forwards, as if the 1990s had never happened.

It's almost as if television companies will sell their licences to any old developer willing to knock out a cheap cash-in at a moment's notice, isn't it? Which would explain why Golden Balls isn't the only terrible TV tie-in out there. In fact, the genre is rivalled only by movie games for consistent dreadfulness. Here's a round-up of some of the worst ones we've been subjected to through the ages.

A brave man tries to play 'EastEnders'

EastEnders the Arcade Game (Spectrum, 1987)

What classic moments would you expect an EastEnders game to feature? Michelle revealing the father of her baby? Den serving Angie her divorce papers? Mike Reid using a clown's bow tie to construct an unsubtle metaphor for his tumescent penis?

Nah. Instead, players of EastEnders on the Spectrum got to experience all the arcade thrills of weeding the allotment and going to the laundrette. Except these locations were barely recognisable, and the game doesn't feature any actual characters from the TV show. (Having said that, there is a particularly weird bit where you have to feed milk to what might be a giant baby, but could be Ethel after a nasty fall.)

It looks like the game's makers, Macsen Software, put all the effort into copying the title font and producing a nice chiptune song, then tossed off the graphics one afternoon after a pub lunch. Still, it's questionable whether this game is worse than the beat 'em up Phil forced his child to play some two decades later.

Here's Ironfist, a Simpsons character who never actually featured in the TV show (screengrab via YouTube)

Bart Simpson's Escape from Camp Deadly (Game Boy, 1991)

There have been more than 25 Simpsons video games, varying wildly in quality. But the one that sticks in my mind, because it totally ruined the summer of 1992, was Bart Simpson's Escape from Camp Deadly.

The plot is horrific: Bart and Lisa are sent to a summer camp run by Mr Burns's nephew, Ironfist, whose goal is to make the children in his care suffer as much as possible. "You're happy little punks now, but you won't be by the time you leave," says Ironfist, "Or you won't leave here AT ALL."

Over the course of the game Bart is chased by bees, bitten by giant mosquitos, attacked by piranhas, and stabbed with forks by the camp counsellors. The idea was, of course, is to avoid all these fates, but that's largely impossible thanks to the dreadful controls.

What with its nightmarish vignettes, sinister soundtrack, and monochrome visuals, spending time with ...Camp Deadly feels more like you're playing a video game tie-in for Eraserhead. Except that would be fun.

The intro to 2002's 'Knight Rider' was better than anything that followed

Knight Rider: The Game (PC and PlayStation 2, 2002)

This wasn't the first Knight Rider game, but it was the most shit. It was produced by Dutch developer Davilex, known for other classic works like M25 Racer, Amsterdam Taxi Madness, and of course the seminal 112 Reddingshelikopter.

Perhaps in a nod to leading man David Hasselhoff's strong European following, Michael Knight and all the other characters in the game have Dutch accents. This includes his evil twin brother, whose name they haven't even bothered to spell right in the on-screen text. Mission objectives vary between "chase the bad guy" and "drive round a multi-storey car park looking for crates", which is as exciting as it sounds.

Amazingly, though, the game sold alright enough to warrant a sequel, shifting 170,000 copies in Europe. Yeah, we're probably best off out of it.

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Don't know what you're smiling about, mate, given this is more like 'ShiteBox' (screengrab via YouTube)

FightBox (PC, PS2 and Game Boy Advance, 2004)

Remember FightBox? This 2002 BBC show was basically Robot Wars, except with player-created video game fighters, and completely rubbish. The highlight of every episode was watching Trevor Nelson console contestants with motivational quotes like "Keep your pecker up" and "Off you go, no room for a loser," while Lisa Snowdon stood around in a boob tube saying "Wicked".

There was, of course, a video game tie-in. And, obviously, it was terrible, thanks to unresponsive controls, awful AI, and laughable visuals. But at least there were no boob tubes in it (today, they'd no doubt be a microtransaction extra).

FightBox only lasted for a single series, and unsurprisingly there was no video game sequel either. But it's a mystery why there's never been a tie-in for Channel 4's Sex Box. Perhaps it's being saved for the launch of PlayStation VR?

What even is this? (Screenshot courtesy of the author)

Hollyoaks: The Game (iOS, 2014)

I haven't watched Hollyoaks since that girl took an E and died (which, if my children are reading this, happens every time). It would appear things have moved on a bit, because this mobile game features loads of people I don't recognise, with not so much as a whiff of Jambo.

Apparently there's someone called Nana McQueen in it, because this game is all about the quest to give her a pearl necklace. This is achieved by completing a series of tediously easy match-three puzzles. It's Candy Crush for people who love Hollyoaks and hate thinking, which I imagine is a pretty large demographic.

To be fair, the gameplay is solid, and it's all decently polished. But the lowlight has to be the "Selfie" feature. This allows you to paste your face onto the heads of random strangers standing next to Hollyoaks stars. Mind you, there's no rule that says you have to use your face.

So there you go. What's the worst TV tie-in you've ever played? You can tweet me your own horrors at @Elliegibson.

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