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A look at the unfortunate history of Star Trek video games

3:37 PM, Jun 14, 2012   |    comments
Images from four 'Star Trek' video games from 1992 to 2013.
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While the trend seems to be reversing in recent years, the overall feeling about tie-in video games is that they tend to be underwhelming, un-appealing, and poorly made.  Historically, this has been quite the case with those developed around Gene Roddenberry's 'Star Trek' mythos.

The year 1971 saw the first commercially-available 'Star Trek' video game with the text-only computer adventure Star Trek.  Right away, the game set 'Star Trek' towards success by becoming what magazine The Dragon referred to as "one of the most popular (if not the most popular) computer games around."  A handful of licensed and not-so-licensed "Trek" games later, and SEGA releases Star Trek as a coin-op arcade cabinet.  This game was not only well-received in the video arcades, it also spawned a number of ports which could be played on home computers such as the Apple II and Tandy Color Computer.  After this hot start by 'Star Trek' as a video game franchise, however, things began to go sour and Star Trek as a desirable video game franchise would be no better regarded as was 'Star Trek V: The Final Frontier'.

A warning sign of Star Trek's eventual video game failures could probably have been taken from Milton Bradly's 1979 Microvision game Star Trek: Phaser Strike in which the player must destroy Klingon battleships.  Shortly after this game's release, the publisher removed the 'Star Trek' branding from the title, but it shall forever be known as the first of many underwhelming home console 'Star Trek' video games.

1982 saw the release of the Vectrex's (a vector-based home gaming console) space shooter Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which really had nothing to do with the film at all.  That game would have been followed-up by the NES title Star Trek: The Final Frontier, but the game never saw the light of day.  Instead, the Interplay-published multi-platform Star Trek: 25th Anniversary game came out in 1992 with different results, depending on the platform.  The computer version was praised for its good graphics and authenticity, whereas the NES and Game Boy versions, however, paled in comparison and is considered far inferior to their DOS/Mac brother.

A year later saw the SNES release of Star Trek: The Next Generation: Future's Past as well as the very similar SEGA Genesis title Star Trek: The Next Generation: Echoes from the Past.  While these games took steps forward in graphics and gameplay compared to the console versions of 25th Anniversary, they once again failed to garnish mainstream acceptance.  Other console-based 'Star Trek' games continued this theme, including: Star Trek Generations: Beyond the Nexus (Game Boy/Game Gear - 1994), Star Trek: Invasion (PlayStation - 2000), and Star Trek: Legacy (Xbox 360/PC - 2006).  The computer game side of 'Star Trek' was faring slightly better, thanks to titles like Star Trek: Starfleet Academy (1997) and the surprise hit Star Trek: Armada (2000), but saw its fair share of underwhelming titles as well with no fewer than 32 'Star Trek' affiliated computer games between 1992's 25th Anniversary and 2006's Legacy.

The winds of change started to blow just after the release of Star Trek: Legacy, which some reviewers had given credit as being a step in the right direction for 'Star Trek' video and computer games.  Three years later, the top-down team-based tactical game Star Trek D•A•C saw its release onto PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC/Mac from Paramount Digital Entertainment.  The game received mostly mixed reviews, but its overall reception was more positive than negative and was able to build its own fan base thanks in part to the J.J. Abram's movie that was released in the summer of 2009.

Building off a renewed interest in 'Star Trek' games, a massively multiplayer online game was released for PC.  Like D•A•C, Star Trek Online received an overall assortment of mixed reviews, but was named "Best New MMO" by Massive Online Gamer.  Now working on its third year in existence, Star Trek Online has proven to be good enough to stick around.

Perhaps helping fuel 'Star Trek' fever to the mainstream are the growing number of events for the games, movies, and television episodes nationwide.  In celebration of the 25th anniversary of the debut of the 'Star Trek: The Next Generation' television show, for example, a number of cinemas around the nation are showing digitally remastered episodes on the silver screen.  These events are even getting mainstream billing in some markets, such as this contest in Sacramento, California, in which people can win two tickets to the July 23rd event.

And if the 25th anniversary events for 'The Next Generation', the 2009 motion picture, D•A•C, and Star Trek Online aren't enough, a new core stand-alone video game is expected for release in early 2013 from Namco Bandai.  In fact, the game actually picks up the rebooted 'Star Trek' storyline where the movie left off.  It will put players in the shoes of Captain James T. Kirk and Mr. Spock, inviting them to work together to take on the ferocious Gorn in an epic action adventure.  There seems to be quite a bit of buzz surrounding this game -- more than any Star Trek video game in recent (or even past) memory.

Could 2013's Star Trek finally quell more than three decades of mostly forgettable video games based upon Gene Roddenberry's sci-fi creation?  One could only hope; for should it not hold up to expectations, that would truly be unfortunate.

News10/KXTV

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