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11 Video Games Based on Classic Literature
written by Sam Greenspan

I'm surprised more video games don't come from books. Instead, the most common pattern is book -> movie -> video game. And that seems strange to me, especially now, as video games tell grander stories. There are plenty of grand stories sitting there waiting for you.

For this list, I searched for video games that were based on classic literature, not the film adaptations of classic literature. They're a little tricky to find -- most of these are pretty old -- and most of them sound like they'd be pretty entertaining to play. (As we learned with last year's Great Gatsby NES video game parody, seeing books come to life as video games can be better than seeing them come to life as Vincent Chase movies.)

Here are 11 video games based on classic books. Enjoy...
  1. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1985, VX Spectrum)

    This game seems to have been a collection of what we'd call mini games today -- kind of like Roald Dahl meets whatever scam of a game they package a second Wii controller with. But the mini games sound fantastic -- trying to make Augustus Gloop float the right way down the chocolate river; dodging blueberries thrown by Violet Beauregarde; dodging squirrels with Veruca Salt; and fighting TV characters with Mike Teavee. Take that, FlingSmash.

  2. The Magic of Scheherazade (1989, NES)

    This was actually a pretty clever game -- it's a Legend of Zelda-style game that borrows some settings and characters from Arabian Nights. I remember renting it once and liking it; but, fittingly, the only time it's been mentioned on this website before is for its 8-bit nudity. Still, this is arguable one of the best things inspired by the Arabian Nights other than, of course, the timeless comedy of Sinbad.

  3. Treasure Island (1984, Commodore 64)

    This looks kind of like Pitfall -- and appears to have pretty good graphics for something made in 1984. Anyway, even writing this little bit made me remember that Disney once made a movie loosely based off Treasure Island called Treasure Planet which leaves me angry and confused.

  4. Where's Waldo? (1991, NES)

    Where's Waldo? counts as a classic, right? Anyway, it made a pretty organic transition from book to video game. Sift through this pile of crap, primarily barber poles and candy canes, to find Waldo. I also have a Where's Waldo? game on my iPad that's pretty much the same thing, just with better graphics. MUCH better graphics, if the reviews are to be believed -- Where's Waldo? for NES is in the running for the worst graphics of any game ever made for that system.

  5. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1989, NES)

    This is one of those that has totally badass box art that doesn't come anywhere close to matching what you see in the game. Even though, conceptually, it's a pretty good idea -- you play as Dr. Jekyll, as you sustain damage from enemies you get angrier, and when you hit a certain anger level you transform into Mr. Hyde. You wouldn't like him when he's angry.

  6. The Hobbit (1982, ZX/C64/Apple II)

    They also made a Hobbit game in 2003, but this one seems so much cooler. It was the first game where you could type complex instructions for your character to follow (like "Pick up that chair, throw it at the goblin, eat some mutton.") They've made a ton of Lord of the Rings games since then, none of which sounds more appealing than that. Also, why is it that seeing the box for this game makes me want it 10,000 times more?

  7. Nancy Drew (1998 - present, PC/Game Boy Advance/Nintendo DS)

    Apparently there are a few dozen Nancy Drew computer games (and a few for Game Boys as well). They're all made by a company called Her Interactive which, from what I can tell, has done virtually nothing besides make games about Nancy Drew. Which seems fairly mysterious, actually. Why is there an entire company set up that only makes Nancy Drew video games? Isn't that TOO niche of a business? I think that calls for an investigation -- let's call it the Secret of the Mysterious Shell Corporation That's Probably Laundering Money.

  8. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1989, NES)

    In this game, Injun Joe kidnaps Becky Thatcher and Tom Sawyer has to get her back. (Or Huck Finn, if you play two players. Huck is the Luigi to Tom's Mario. As if Tom would've had it any other way.) As far as I can tell, "Injun Joe" was still OK to put in a video game in 1989 -- but N* Jim never stood a chance. I think I'd avoid this one -- the graphics look laughably bad and they didn't even secure rights to use 8-bit audio adaptation of Rush on the game's soundtrack.

  9. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1984, Atari)

    Like you'd expect, the game was irreverent and random. It was also completely text based. Reports are that it was really, really difficult and had some puzzles that were arguably unsolvable -- which also feels very true to the spirit of the book.

  10. Walden (2013?, platform pending)

    It's the only one on this list that hasn't come out yet -- but it was way too good to pass up. They're making a video game to allow you to immerse yourself in nature like Henry David Thoreau. Even though, ya know, he went to Walden to completely extract himself from modern technology. And apparently no one sees the paradox here. The National Endowment of the Arts gave a $40,000 grant to the people at the University of Southern California making the game.

  11. Dante's Inferno (2010, XBox 360/PS3)

    This is (finally) a modern video game digging into badass classics for inspiration. Next stop: Someone needs to make a MMORPG featuring everyone from Canterbury Tales.

This post was originally published on Friday, December 14, 2012 at 11:00:00 AM under the category Games.

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