To the surprise of many Jim Henson fans, during the Nintendo Direct at E3 2019, a trailer for a game made in collaboration with Netflix’s The Dark Crystal prequel series dropped, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics. While it’s not uncommon to expect this sort of cross-promotion nowadays, it’s actually not the first time a video game was based on Jim Henson’s auteur film.
In 1983, an eponymously titled computer game, The Dark Crystal, was published for Apple II and Atari 8-bit by SierraVenture. Unlike Tactics, which is a beautiful top-down turn-based strategy game, The Dark Crystal game of yore is a total eyesore by today’s standards but was fairly good for its time and cost just about the same as Tactics will on Switch now.
The game’s designer, Roberta Williams, even went so far as to say this about her pixelated monstrosity in an issue of Softline: “In a way, it’s better than the movie. Although beautifully produced, the Muppet-related movie left some audiences wondering, ‘So what?’” She also goes on to describe the game’s art style as “delightful.” I watched some gameplay from The Dark Crystal and it looks as painstaking as it is to look at, the player typing one of two commands over and over again to progress through each of its off-putting, poorly pixelated frames. Here’s a re-creation of the game that looks far better than the original if you want to get a better idea of how The Dark Crystal plays.
While it may have been a laughable overstatement on Williams’ behalf to say her game even holds a candle to Henson’s most artistic movie, I can honestly say that Trials does look pretty delightful. As a huge fan of The Dark Crystal, I was surprised when I saw the trailer for Netflix’s series based on the film, but I was completely blown away when a new Dark Crystal game was announced in the middle of the Nintendo Direct. It was something completely out of left field and honestly one of my favorite surprises from everything Nintendo showed off.
From the looks of the footage released at E3, Tactics seems like just about everything you could want in a tactical turn-based Dark Crystal game. The gameplay appears solid and all of the unforgettable characters from the movie — Jen, Kira, Aughra, and even cute, little Fizzgig — enter the fray. In short, it likely will hold up to the expectations of Henson fans and appeal to newcomers as well, but the question still stands: will Age of Resistance and Tactics leave mainstream audiences wondering, as Williams and many other critics said of The Dark Crystal, “so what?”
I’m hopeful but do have a few reservations, the most outstanding being that I fear that the game and web series will just be cash-grab spinoffs and not do justice to Henson’s movie. Yes, I have high hopes for the Netflix series and the game, but if they fall short, I’m afraid it will leave a bad taste in the mouths other Dark Crystal fans out there, especially the ones who own a Switch. And all just to make a quick buck off of a film that’s been beloved for decades. One really bad game based on it was already made a long time ago. Here’s to the new one being good, though nothing will ever outdo the original in my book.