Licensed Games: Are They Any Good?

So the other day we discovered that licensed games aren’t all rubbish, but are they actually any good? We’re not looking at games that simply avoided being turkeys, today only the best will do.


licensed games

Batman, it appears, is a license incapable of being messed up


Once again, I’ve opted to go for a single platform and a single review outlet, mainly because I’m lazy, and this is relatively simple thing to do. The Platform this time is the good old ZX Spectrum, and the critic is contemporary magazine Your Sinclair.

The reason for this was partly due to personal preference (sorry Crash/SU folks, but YS was just better. Even if Crash did manage to score Dizzy 3 and a half) but also because YS had a prestigious Mega Game award that was given to every game that scored at least 9/10. By focussing on these mega games, we should automatically be focusing on the best that the immense Spectrum game library has to offer. Hurray!


Licensed games

A Thomas the Teank Engine-Themed puzzle game! This wasn’t amegagame, sadly.


Over the course of its run, Your Sinclair made 347 titles Mega Games. Of this, just 46 were licensed games. 13% in total. That doesn’t sound very impressive does it? but hang on a second! to understand the true context of this we have to know how much of the Speccy library licensed titles made up.

A quick look at World of Spectrums rather marvellous archive reveals that there were 10,724 games on the Spectrum, with just 443 licensed titles falling under our remit. This means that despite making up less than 5% of the Spectrum’s library, they accounted for more than 10% of the computer’s best titles. Pretty impressive, I’d say!


licensed games

Thunderbirds are go!


So how do the licenses breakdown? Interestingly, there’s an entire category found on the Spectrum that wasn’t found on the NES: Books.  From “How To Be a Complete Bastard” through to “The Lord of The Rings,” there were a number of Spectrum titles based on both popular and classic literature. They seem to have been pretty good to, as they accounted for 10% of all the licensed Mega games, a similar amount to both comics and cartoons (both on 11%)

There  were also a number of simulation games that were released on the computers but (perhaps unsurprisingly) never made their way to the NES. Aside from obvious choices such as F-16 Combat Pilot and Toyota Celica GT Rally, there were even train simulators like Southern Belle (which didn’t achieve mega games status) and the infamous Lawn Mower simulator (which was a YS in joke.) Interestingly, around a quarter of these types of games achieved mega games status, making them a clear star of the show.


licensed games

Text adventure it may have been, but Lord of the Rings sold a million


Film based games were also another star on the Spectrum, contributing 15% of all licensed mega games. It’s noteworthy that the types of film represented here can be of a very different nature to those that we looked at on the NES. There was a game based on classic horror Nosferatu, for example.

Indeed, even the comics category has a very different feel to it on the Spectrum, with the line-up dominated by iconic British characters like Judge Dredd, Dan Dare and Slaine. This difference in licenses probably explains why the Spectrum comic line up appears to have fared better than the NES, supplying 11% of all Mega Games. It’s worth pointing out there were some shared characters though: Speccy owners enjoyed three very different but all equally excellent Batman games.


Not sure why the Turles were fighting eye balls in this

Not sure why the Turles were fighting eye balls in this


So overall then, licensed games put in a better show then we would probably would have expected, contributing a higher number of amazing games than their relatively small number would suggest. I suppose there are some special caveats which apply to the spectrum: Your Sinclair would not have reviewed every game available on the system, plus the money required to buy the rights to a license presumably put licensed titles out of the reach of the amateur programmers found in the unlicensed list, but I think we’ve looked at a broad enough range of titles now to say that licensed games were pretty good. In the 8-bit era, at least. Would an examination of 16 and 32-licenses fare as well? That is definitely a question for another day.

Special thanks to the World of Spectrum for existing and continuing to exist, and to the tireless and ever informative The Your Sinclair Rock N Roll Years, from where i cribbed the complete list of megagames.


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