The cross-pollination of movies and video games has been happening for quite a while now. Atari’s “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” released in 1982, was one of the first video game movie tie-ins – and generally considered the worst video game ever made.
Not long after that, we started to go the other direction and get movies based on games. The first international feature film based on a video game was “Super Mario Bros.” back in 1993. If you want to get technical, a previous “Super Mario Bros.” movie was made in Japan – in 1986. The immortal “Tron,” in 1982, was a movie based on a fake video game, so that doesn’t count.
It gets really confusing with “Wreck-it Ralph” (iOS; $0.99; rated 9+), which is actually five (real) games inspired by the several (fake) games in the one (real) film which celebrates (fake) arcade classics of the 1980s and beyond. It’s a video game based on a movie about video games.
In the mobile mini-game set, available on iOS and Android devices, you start out in Game Central Station – the bustling commuter terminal from the movie. From here you can move around to all the included games (completing one unlocks the next) starting with “Fix-it Felix.”
Like the game in the film, “Fix-it Felix” is a pitch-perfect riff on the arcade classic “Donkey Kong,” with primitive graphics and simple platforming. Your job is to climb up the apartment building fixing the windows that Ralph has destroyed, while dodging falling bricks and collecting the occasional windowsill Invulnerability Pie.
Touchscreen controls are designed to emulate the standard arcade video game interface circa 1984 – one joystick and one button. (By way of comparison, consider that an Xbox 360 controller has two joysticks, a directional pad and 13 buttons.) You slide your left thumb over the virtual joystick area of the touchscreen and tap the button with your right thumb. It’s that simple.
There isn’t much to it from a gameplay point of view, although later levels introduce new hazards like, um, flowerpots and ducks. Anyway, it’s really about nostalgia. The designers approximate old-fashioned gaming with clear affection. “Fix-it Felix” looks, sounds and plays like the real thing, with simulated 8-bit graphics and music.
The other games are all similarly designed – variations on themes from gaming’s past. In “Hero’s Duty,” you take on the role of Sgt. Calhoun (Jane Lynch in the film) and battle swarming cybernetic bugs in a two-stick, top-down shooter. Older gamers will recognize the homage to that frenetic 1980s arcade favorite “Robotron.”
In “Sweet Climber,” you play old Ralph himself in a very colorful but mostly annoying bouncing platformer that involves jumping up candy cane trees and collecting gumdrops. It’s about as much fun as it sounds.
The last two mini-games are set up to function like an old 16-bit era racer (“Turbo Time”) and a relatively advanced flight sim (“Flight Command”). Online leaderboards track your progress against friends or the global competition.
“Wreck-it Ralph” was one of last year’s better kids’ movies. With casual in-jokes spanning 30 years of video-game history, the film suggests gaming culture is now mainstream and multi-generational. As a video game tie-in title, “Wreck-it Ralph” is a nice companion piece. Kids will have fun with the individual games, which work well as slight mobile device diversions. Adults can enjoy all the sly design references to video games past.