The Last Starfighter Reboot

11 Fake Video Games We Wish Were Real

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In Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One, The OASIS is a Virtual Reality theme park in which anything is possible. It also looks like the coolest video game of all time, an all-encompassing digital universe in which players can play any game in any genre. It’s the kind of place you’d want to hang out even without the prospect of Easter Eggs and endless riches.

Sadly, The OASIS isn’t real (not yet, anyway). But it is the latest in a long line of fictional video games that look like they’d be a lot more fun than the mediocre releases currently available for download. With that in mind, we thought we’d highlight some of the best. Here are eleven fictional video games that we wish we had the opportunity to play, presented in honour of the OASIS:

Starfighter (The Last Starfighter)

Might as well get this one out of the way. Along with Tron, The Last Starfighter was one of the first Hollywood movies that took games (and game culture) seriously. The movie tells the story of Alex Rogan (Lance Guest), a teenager who spends his free time at the arcade playing Starfighter. He soon learns that the space battle simulator is in fact a recruitment tool, and is whisked across the galaxy to pilot a real Starfighter in a heated interplanetary conflict.

The Last Starfighter has gone on to have an outsized influence that belies its meager box office. Alex’s trailer park residence is a direct precursor to Wade’s home in Ready Player One, while numerous films and TV shows (including the next entry on this list) have borrowed various aspects of the plot over the years. It’s easy to see the appeal. Instead of perpetrating the usual basement-dwelling stereotypes, The Last Starfighter suggested that the quick reflexes needed to succeed at the arcade would translate directly to the cockpit of an actual spaceship, attributing positive social values to what was (and is) viewed as an anti-social pastime.

Atari was working on a tie-in Starfighter arcade cabinet while the film was in production, but it was scrapped when executives decided that the movie wouldn’t be a hit (a home console adaptation was similarly abandoned). The Last Starfighter has since become a relic, a movie more frequently discussed than seen. That’s why Starfighter would find more traction now if some intrepid studio ever manages to get it done. Space battles have always been entertaining, and the pull is even stronger when that video game will save the galaxy.

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Heaven vs. Hell (South Park)

In South Park’s “Best Friends Forever,” Heaven vs. Hell is a hotly anticipated real-time strategy game for the PSP in which players must defend heaven from a seemingly endless demon horde from hell. The twist is that the game is genuinely divine, created by God to find a general with the skills needed to save the real heaven from the actual armies of Satan.

From there, “Best Friends Forever” takes a typical South Park turn for the ridiculous. Kenny ends up in a vegetative state after getting hit by an ice cream truck, but God wants Kenny to die so he can come lead the armies of heaven. The result is an extended riff on the Terry Schiavo media frenzy and the right-to-die debate more generally.

Thankfully, a full version of Heaven vs. Hell wouldn’t need to be quite so topical. Demonic and angelic iconography offers plenty of fodder for the different types of units that populate an RTS, while the setting makes it feel like the fate of the universe is (literally) hanging in the balance. Heaven vs. Hell is what you would get if Brutal Legend was a little less self-aware, and the sense of grandeur should more than make up for the lack of heavy metal comedy.

The World (.hack//Sign)

The World gets a nod for predicting many aspects of The OASIS. The primary setting in the 2002 anime .hack//Sign (and the rest of the .hack Project), The World is essentially a tricked-out version of World of Warcraft, a Virtual Reality MMORPG that leans heavily on fantasy tropes and aesthetics. Players are able to log on to go on adventures and interact with other players, building a massive social network that has more currency than reality.

Like the OASIS, The World reflects the particular cultural obsessions of its creator. It also hides a deeper secret. Designed by Harald Hoerwick in the wake of a widespread Internet disaster, the cast of .hack//Sign spends most of the series trying to discover the true purpose of The World. The narrative arc would foreshadow Wade’s trip through James Halliday’s biography in Ready Player One, and while The World has a more specific genre bent than the all-encompassing OASIS, the similarities are striking in hindsight.

Players have been able to explore The World in various .hack video games, but the series has always been set in the same overarching dystopia, which often overshadows The World itself. A standalone version sounds a lot more palatable, especially since .hack//Sign often prioritized conversation over combat. The World was an early attempt to explore the social dynamics of online gaming, and that would be a welcome addition to the gaming landscape.

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Fix-It Felix, Jr. (Wreck-It Ralph)

Wreck-It Ralph may have headlined his own movie, but he was never the lead character in his own game. That distinction belongs to Fix-it Felix, Jr., the titular handyman who spends his days cleaning up Ralph’s messes as the protagonist in Fix-it Felix, Jr.

In the movie, Fix-It Felix, Jr. plays like a distant descendent of the Game and Watch series, which includes classic disaster relief efforts like Manhole, Fire, and Oil Panic. That simplicity is also what makes Fix-It Felix so appealing. The Game and Watch games were high-wire juggling acts in which you needed quick reflexes to keep everything from falling apart, and that kind of addictive gameplay has never gone out of style. Ralph is a Donkey Kong figure trying to destroy a high rise apartment. Felix is the handyman who patches up the cracks in the wall, and the result is Rampage in reverse.

Thanks to a Disney-released promotional tie-in for iOS and a fan-made port for the Sega Genesis, Fix-It Felix, Jr. is technically more playable than most of the games on this list (you can swap Fix-It Felix for Sugar Rush if you’re a stickler for rules). We’d argue that neither is a substitute for the pure experience of an arcade cabinet, which would have been a hit with record chasers had it been around in the 1980s.

Stay Alive (Stay Alive)

In Stay Alive, your goal is simple. You need to stay alive. The catch is that the fictional horror game operates a bit like the Matrix. If you die in Stay Alive, you die in real life, often in a manner similar to your in-game avatar. That makes it the perfect choice for the kind of reckless, thrill-seeking teenagers who populate low-budget horror films, which is convenient because Stay Alive also happens to be the title and subject of a low-budget horror film starring Frankie Muniz.

Of course, Stay Alive would probably not be all that popular if it actively murdered its player base. For the purposes of this list, we’ll assume that it’s just a standard horror game with no supernatural carryover, and in that regard it looks like a damn good one. With an excellent meta hook, tense gameplay, and jump scares galore, Stay Alive would be a great addition to the survival horror renaissance ushered in with titles like Outlast, Resident Evil 7, and P.T.

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Starship Alcatraz (Reboot)

Starship Alcatraz provides the narrative framework for the 1994 Reboot episode “The TIFF,” in which Dot and Bob must overcome their differences and work together in order to catch The User, who is attempting to break out of a 32-bit futuristic space prison (the titular Starship Alcatraz) while sabotaging the efforts of the team trying to catch him. The User is able to release other prisoners, trigger the self-destruct, and generally cause mayhem, giving Starship Alcatraz far more depth, balance, and gameplay complexity than most fictional retail products.

While episodes like “The TIFF” certainly helped contribute to Reboot’s beloved status (especially here in Canada, where the show was produced), Starship Alcatraz makes the list purely on its own merits. The Prisoners vs. Guards asymmetrical multiplayer concept is a phenomenal premise that was at least a decade ahead of its time (online multiplayer wasn’t really a thing in 1994). Starship Alcatraz would be a cat-and-mouse thriller in which each team tries to stay one step ahead of the opponent, generating plenty of tension once players realize that every small decision could mean the difference between life and death.

The killer sci-fi setting is just the icing on the proverbial cake. Modern developers have the technology to pull of a Starship Alcatraz. We’d love to see an ambitious studio make it a reality.

Wrestle Jam ‘88 (The Wrestler)

Professional wrestling is awesome. Mickey Rourke’s performance in The Wrestler is equally outstanding. Watching Mickey Rourke playing as his fictional avatar in the fictional Wrestle Jam ’88 is the stuff of wrestle legend. The game is little more than a royalty-free version of actual licensed video games from the same era, but those games were so much fun that the fake version still provides a healthy dose of grappling and NES nostalgia. If nothing else, Wrestle Jam ’88 proves that Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson and The Ayatollah should be secret characters in the WWE’s next installment of its annual video game franchise.

It’s worth nothing that Director Darren Aronofsky went the extra mile for Wrestle Jam ’88. He wanted the gameplay to be authentic, so he asked Kristyn Hume (art) and Randall Furino (programming) to create a playable demo – complete with era appropriate graphics and AI – for use during the film. Sure, it’s only a two-character demo, but a working copy of Wrestle Jam ’88 exists, and that gives us hope that this one will eventually see the light of day.

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Demonik (Grandma’s Boy)

From programmers to artists, making a video game usually requires a large team of people with wildly different skillsets. With that in mind, there is no way that a single developer would be able to make a full triple-A video game in his spare time. But if you can make it over that logical gap, there’s no denying that Demonik looks like it would be a hell of a lot of fun.

So what is Demonik? In Grandma’s Boy, Demonik is a long-gestating passion project for Alex (Allen Covert), a veteran man-child and video game tester who moves in with his grandmother at the beginning of the film. The genre is a bit muddled – Demonik has the competitive elements of a fighting game, yet looks more like a standard third person brawler – but the game does let players take control of powerful demons and run amok in an urban 3D landscape. That formula worked in Infamous and Prototype, so Demonik seems like a ready-made hit assuming the hybrid works.

Demonik gets bonus points for being accessible, a hardcore video game with all ages appeal. Alex’s grandmother is able to save her son’s career when she demonstrates her knowledge of the game, proving that you don’t need to be a lifelong gamer in order to enjoy the latest gaming trends.

Bonestorm (The Simpsons)

In truth, we could have filled this entire list with fake video games from The Simpsons. The show has consistently and enthusiastically mined video games for comedy over the course of its three-decade run, generating a B-reel that includes surefire hits like Hockey Dad, Lee Carvallo’s Putting Challenge, Nuke Canada, Yard Work Simulator, and Assassin’s Creed: Summer of Love. (Billy Graham’s Bible Blaster, on the other hand, sounds like it would be pretty terrible.)

However, one (fake) video game stands above all others in the storied history of The Simpsons. Bonestorm was an ultraviolent Mortal Kombat knockoff that first appeared in the 1995 episode “Marge Be Not Proud.” Bart would eventually find that it wasn’t quite as good as the heavy metal ad campaign that motivated his brief shoplifting spree, but its over-the-top violence and limited character count still made a lasting impression. Like Mortal Kombat, Bonestorm was a deeply silly game that did not warrant the level of genuine moral panic that followed. Now it would be primed for a killer, back-to-basics 2D reboot if it existed in the first place.

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Riddle of the Minotaur (Batman: The Animated Series)

Riddle of the Minotaur is a proto God of War that borrows heavily from Greek myth, dropping players into a massive labyrinth and forcing them to battle mechanical griffons and solve puzzles before challenging the Minotaur at its center. It also doubles as the origin story for The Riddler in the iconic Batman: The Animated Series. The fictional game was featured in the episode “If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich,” which details the struggles of software developer Edward Nygma after his business partner cheated him out of royalties for the game he created (a lucrative sum considering the game inspired an entire theme park).

Nygma would resurface two years later, seeking his revenge as The Riddler. His methods are questionable – he turns the theme park into a real life death trap – but Batman is on hand to foil the plot and it’s not too difficult to see why the game would have been a hit. Years later, God of War reshaped the gaming zeitgeist with its blend of puzzles, combat, and mythology, which included one memorable boss battle against a giant minotaur. That fervor is yet to wane with another God of War sequel on the horizon.

That’s why Riddle of the Minotaur seems like such a good idea. Mythology has always been fertile source material for epic video game quests. Unlike the new God of War, at least Riddle of the Minotaur would be an original IP.

Scrooge McDuck’s Money Mania (DuckTales)

Scrooge McDuck’s Money Mania is an arcade game that appears in “Dough Ray Me,” the DuckTales episode in which Huey, Dewey, and Louie cause trouble when they use a duplication machine to flood their local economy with counterfeit silver coins. The game itself is a throwaway gag, a cabinet that allows players to step into the shoes of the Beagle Boys as they attempt to rob Scrooge’s famous money bin without getting caught.

That role reversal is why Scrooge McDuck’s Money Mania makes the list. The Beagle Boys were regular villains on DuckTales, but there’s a case to be made that they should have been the heroes, as they are in Money Mania. Scrooge McDuck is a greedy, capitalist hoarder who takes his money out of circulation and puts it in a giant swimming pool literally called the money bin. An arcade heist game about stealing his money is the type of thing that seems like it should exist. The result would be a cross between Win Ben Stein’s Money the Heist mini-game from Conker’s Bad Fur Day and, that’s a game we definitely want to play.

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