While the history of video games is full of dubious TV and film adaptations, less is usually said about the medium's strange takes on classic literature over the decades. But anytime somebody comes along and puts a Don Quixote sequel into the arcades or turns Les Misérables into a fighting game, it's worth talking about. Here are 11 video games based on classic books.
1. Super Don Quix-ote (1984)
The novel Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes follows the journey of a delusional, wannabe knight-errant as he attempts to bring chivalry back to the land. Super Don Quix-ote takes those delusions and runs with them. Released in 1984, this arcade game follows "Don" in his quest to save his beloved Princess Isabella as he faces off against a roster of foes, from windmills (from the book) to skeletons (not so much). Throughout the game—which plays out like an interactive animated film à la 1983's Dragon's Lair—he is accompanied by Rocinante and Sancho.
2. Fahrenheit 451 (1984)
The Fahrenheit 451 video game is a dutiful semi-sequel to the novel of the same name, mainly because author Ray Bradbury contributed to its creation and even wrote a prologue for the story that was included in the packaging. In this text adventure, users play as "Ray," a computer that helps protagonist Guy Montag avoid authorities. The computer game was released in 1984, a little more than 30 years after the book was published, and combines old and new dialogue from Bradbury.
3. Romance of the Three Kingdoms (1988)
Romance of the Three Kingdoms takes place toward the end of the Han Dynasty (around 169 to 280 CE) and is based on the 14th-century novel of the same name by Luo Guanzhong. The original 800,000-word book blends legend and history together in its take on the reunification of China. Being one of the country's most beloved works, it's no surprise that it was eventually turned into a map-based war strategy game, not unlike Risk, with an objective to conquer the opposing kingdoms. This game went on to inspire the popular hack-and-slash Dynasty Warriors spin-offs that continue to this day.
4. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1989)
This 1988 side-scrolling Nintendo adaptation takes place on the day of Dr. Jekyll’s wedding to Miss Millicent. Players start as Dr. Jekyll and attempt to avoid obstacles that might aggravate his stress meter. Once he maxes his meter, he turns into Mr. Hyde and has to fight off enemies until he turns back into the good doctor. The goal is to arrive at the church as Dr. Jekyll so that the wedding can go on. It's also regularly cited as one of the worst games on the original NES.
5. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1989)
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, another side-scroller from Nintendo, follows the titular scamp as he fights creatures (and blimps!) with rocks and treks through dangerous forests on his way to save Becky, his crush from the original novel by Mark Twain. The story drops players onto a pirate ship, into a haunted house, and along the mighty Mississippi River with gameplay similar to Adventure Island. The two-player mode allows for people to play as Huckleberry Finn, which is a great option for your next book club meetup.
6. Frankenstein: The Monster Returns (1991)
It’s not Frankenstein; it’s Frankenstein’s video game. This 1991 release pits the player (a village swordsman) against Frankenstein’s Monster, newly re-risen from the dead. The goal is to fight the Monster’s army, which includes other villagers, and rescue a maiden who the Monster intends to make his bride. As the game goes on, the swordsman gains better weapons and power-ups to help him defeat this lumbering affront to God (think Castlevania with swords instead of whips).
7. Dune (1992)
The point-and-click adventure game adaptation of Dune is no match for its lengthy literary counterpart, but it’s surprisingly complex for 1992. Users play as protagonist Paul Atreides, who is tasked with mining spice and ridding his home planet of Harkonnen. Like the novel, this PC title is rich in character and a considerable amount of gameplay is spent conversing with others.
8. Arm Joe (1998)
For fans of Street Fighter II and French literature, there’s always Arm Joe. This fanmade fighting game takes characters from Les Misérables and has them square off against each other in an ultimate battle on the streets of Paris. From Jean Valjean to Cosette, each fighter has special moves inspired by their respective storylines (one of Valjean's special attacks is called "Silver Cutlery.") Players also go up against PonPon, who the game's creator calls "a cheeky bunny from a parallel world."
9. Dante’s Inferno (2010)
Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy may date back to the 14th century, but that didn't stop Electronic Arts from turning the epic poem into an ultra-violent jaunt through hell for action-hungry gamers in 2010. The game, available on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, follows a Templar knight named Dante as he fights his way through the nine circles of the underworld, each populated by horrific beasts modeled off of different aspects of the original source material. Every gore-soaked level also serves as a personal battle for Dante, as he seeks to rescue his lover Beatrice, who is being held captive by Lucifer.
10. The Great Gatsby (2011)
The origins of The Great Gatsby game are nearly as mysterious as Mr. Gatsby himself. A website uploaded the game in 2011 claiming to be a long-forgotten Nintendo venture discovered at a yard sale. But it was later discovered to have been created by modern developers in a tribute to the old style of 8-bit games. In this one, you play as Nick Carraway, who has to battle clumsy waiters, rowdy party-goers, and not-so-book-accurate alligators in the search for Gatsby.
11. Nantucket (2018)
While the exact motive of Ahab’s hunt for the whale in Moby-Dick is the topic of many literary and philosophical debates, 2018's Nantucket is quite simple. This game picks up where the novel left off and finds narrator Ishmael attempting to make his way in the world of commercial whaling after the destruction of the Pequod and the death of Captain Ahab. It’s a strategy game at its heart and cares less about the why of Ishmael’s journey and more about the how. Players are tasked with building their stats and managing their new ship's crew in anticipation of a rematch with the famed white whale.
Do you love reading? Are you eager to know incredibly interesting facts about novelists and their works? Then pick up our new book, The Curious Reader: A Literary Miscellany of Novels and Novelists, out now!