While the gaming influence on Hollywood has become impossible to miss — this month, beloved but outmoded franchise “Sonic the Hedgehog” comes to theaters while Apple TV+ will unveil the exaggerated behind-the-scenes look at the game industry in “Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet” — understanding the power and the impact of interactive media is still something that’s in its infancy stages.
Streaming provider Netflix, however, has been more openly ambitious in its game-inspired initiatives than some of its competitors, bringing user-driven narratives to shows such as “Black Mirror” and even once citing “Fortnite” as a primary competitor. The company is currently at work on a series inspired by punishingly difficult game “Cuphead,” which impressed for its ability to capture the look of 1930s cartoons, and has collaborated with developer BonusXP in creating game companions to “Stranger Things.”
Netflix’s “The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance,” the prequel series to the 1982 Jim Henson film “The Dark Crystal,” gets the game treatment this week with the release of “The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics,” also from BonusXP. A competent, stylized effort — although not nearly as striking as the Jim Henson Company’s creations — “Age of Resistance Tactics” nevertheless feels reminiscent of another era, one in which entertainment conglomerates viewed the video game industry more tentatively, a time, for instance, when games were subservient to their more cinematic, narrative-first peers.
For fans of “The Dark Crystal,” and specifically Netflix’s 10-episode series set on the planet of Thra, “Age of Resistance Tactics” will feel like something of a souvenir. It’s less a stand-alone game and more of an accessory, taking scenes and moments from the series and adding turn-based strategy warfare to them. Throughout, the player controls the largely good-natured Gelflings and their allies in battles set amid a universe controlled by the conniving, manipulative, over-sized lizard-like creatures known as Skeksis.
It’s a proven, old-fashioned style of gameplay — we place our troops and set their actions and then await our computer-controlled rival to do the same. And it’s befitting of a relatively old-fashioned approach to licensed products.
While “Age of Resistance Tactics,” at times, shows us struggles or emphasizes locales that the first season of the series did not, it largely reflects the plot of the show rather than expanding upon it. In other words, in this entertainment era in which “immersive” has become the new buzz word, “Age of Resistance Tactics” doesn’t necessarily provide opportunities to dig deeper into the universe so much as it aims to pad it.
While it’s easy enough to spend a few hours with the game — and developers at BonusXP loaded the game with numerous skill trees, magical abilities and combat proficiencies to offer opportunities for multiple strategic approaches — playing it left me with a nagging question: Did this add any richness to “The Dark Crystal” mythos?
No. This might not have been needed and, overall, OK for some light strategy in a Henson-imagined word, but navigating the game’s crowded option screens and finicky combat wheel further tempered my enjoyment.
Ultimately, the interstitial scenes between battles are little more than a few moments of text narration, and while the miniature characters are finely drawn, I was left feeling Netflix isn’t quite yet all in on its game initiatives. In 2020, a licensed tie-in game feels relatively antiquated, the sort of product left for match-focused mobile games rather than those released on home consoles.
That isn’t to say every game must be Insomniac’s take on “Marvel’s Spider-Man,” an expansive, expensively produced title that stands on its own, apart from the comics and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and ultimately a multi-year endeavor to build and finesse.
There are plenty of stories left to tell in the “The Dark Crystal” setting, some large and some small, and “Age of Resistance Tactics” doesn’t give us a new one. Thus, the real issue with “Age of Resistance Tactics,” and Netflix’s early approach to games as a whole, is that they’re currently viewed as playthings rather than extensions of the narrative. It’s one thing to recognize that today’s audiences grew up with games; it’s yet another to enable developers to treat games as seriously as Netflix does its series and films.
Publisher: En Masse Entertainme
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One and PC/Mac