There’s nothing that says great video games can’t come from the world of literature.
Cinema has been dusting off literary classics to find inspiration for well over a century, with many famous tales – from Little Women to Far From the Madding Crowd – being given vivid new life in a different medium.
Some of gaming’s biggest achievements have sprung from the pages of literature, too either directly – such as the Witcher series, which draws from the novels by Andrzej Sapkowski – or indirectly, as in the classic Castlevania series, which completely re-contextualises Bram Stoker’s Dracula character.
But then there is the other type of game adaptation – when a book is so ill-suited to the video game experience, it’s impossible to imagine who could have possibly suggested it.
1. Fahrenheit 451 (1984)
The hit dystopian novel by Ray Bradbury is hailed as a modern masterpiece of social criticism, envisaging a world in which literature is outlawed and books are systematically burnt. Trillium’s 1984 text adventure game put you in charge of the novel’s hero, Guy Montag, as he evades the authorities and tries to make contact with an underground resistance movement. Bradbury himself wrote the game’s prologue, as well as parts of the interface.
2. Super Don Qui-xote (1984)
Loosely based on Miguel de Cervantes’ iconic novel, this colourful but unenthusiastically received platforming game was released on laserdisc in 1984. Fans of the novel will be pleased to play through a scene in which “Don” goes tilting at windmills – they’ll likely be less impressed by levels which see the titular knight battle a series of supernatural enemies, including flying jellyfish, skeletons and an Egyptian mummy.
3. Ever, Jane (n/a)
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of... a World of Warcraft-style massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) set in the pastoral world of Jane Austen’s novels? That’s what game developer Judy Tyrer is hoping, at least. Ever, Jane’s website says: “it’s not about kill or be killed but invite or be invited. Gossip is our weapon of choice. Instead of raids, we will have grand balls. Instead of dungeons, we will have dinner parties.”
4. Odyssey: The Search for Ulysses (2000)
Homer’s immortal tale of the Odyssey only survived through oral repetition and re-interpretation, passing through generations of voices before eventually finding form in writing. It’s hard to imagine, though, what the ancient Greek poet would have made of the idea that his tale would one day be used as the basis for this poorly reviewed PC adventure game. The Odyssey has endured millennia without losing its lustre, but a half-baked game adaptation proved to be one translation too far.
5. The Great Gatsby (2011)
F Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel was adapted quite faithfully for this NES-style browser game. It first surfaced online in 2011, uploaded by a person who claimed to have found a game cartridge labelled “Gatsby” in a yard sale. The Great Gatsby was apparently an unreleased version of a Japanese game called “Doki Doki Toshokan: Gatsby no Monogatari”. Except it wasn’t: it was a ruse masterminded by San Francisco game developer and Gatsby fan Charles Hoey.
6. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1984)
Douglas Adams, the author behind the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy cult comic sci-fi novels, had a close hand in developing its 1984 game adaptation. In the game, you play as hapless human Arthur Dent, who is whisked up into space when Earth is destroyed to make room for an intergalactic bypass. Everyone found the text-based gameplay exceedingly difficult, however, which prompted Adams to personally draw up a list of hints to better succeed at the game.
7. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1989)
This NES platform game was adapted from Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (the lesser-known precursor to Huckleberry Finn), offering its own distinct slice of 8-bit Americana. The game sees Tom Sawyer save Becky from “Injun Joe” over the course of six perilous stages, with settings including the Mississippi River and a haunted house.
8. Moby Dick (2010)
You needn’t be a scholar of Hermann Melville’s classic sea-faring yarn to get the most out of this cartoonish flash game adaptation. Letting you play as the great whale itself, Moby Dick trades the novel’s heavy themes of obsession and marine biology for frivolous fun, as you score points by terrorising boats full of passengers. “Call me Ishmael”? I don’t think so.
9. Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (2015)
Daniel Defoe’s classic shipwreck story was transformed into a point-and-click survival game in 2015. Spanning 28 years, the game lets you hunt for hidden objects in cluttered environments, fending off cannibals and – eventually – constructing a boat on which to sail home.
10. Oliver Twist (n/a)
Of all the video games on this list, Oliver Twist might have been the most fascinating. Pitched as an Assassin’s Creed-like spin on Charles Dickens’ fabulous urchin tale, the idea for the game was floating for a while around games juggernaut Electronic Arts. Leaked concept art found its way online in 2010, and internal notes had mentioned the possibility of a “hunger metre” affecting the Oliver avatar’s performance. Alas, the studio came to its senses, and the perplexing adaptation was shelved before production.
11. Arm Joe (1998)
There are few games more baffling than this Japanese adaptation of Les Misérables, which pits characters from Victor Hugo’s classic novel in an arcade-style fighting game. Anyone who thought Russell Crowe’s wonky singing was the lowest moment for Les Mis has clearly yet to play this bafflingly ill-conceived fighter.
12. Vonneguts & Glory (2012)
Sci-fi writer Kurt Vonnegut’s coruscating anti-war masterpiece Slaughterhouse-Five served as the inspiration for this quirky, low-resolution first-person micro-shooter. Taking its inspiration from the novel’s hero, who comes “unstuck in time”, Vonneguts & Glory forces players to move backwards through the level, “unshooting” enemies in order to restore health and ammo. I suppose Vonnegut might have approved.
13. Dracula (1986)
Bram Stoker’s Gothic classic has had plenty of film and TV adaptations down the years – and a fair few game ones, too. The 1986 PC version took a wordy, text-based approach to adaptation, but that didn’t stop it from being given a 15 certificate (which was extreme for a video game in the 1980s) by the BBFC. Developers CRL followed up with more grim fare: a run of games centred on Frankenstein, the Wolfman, and Jack the Ripper.
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