Why do video-game publishers bother with movie tie-ins?
The cost of licensing an anticipated blockbuster (like, say, this summer's "Transformers") is expensive.
Designers have to work within creative constraints imposed by the Hollywood studio, and then have to rush to crank out something playable by the time the movie's released.
And usually no one — neither gamers nor moviegoers — is satisfied with the results.
And yet, the combination of an appealing license and decent gameplay can lead to a blockbuster game.
THQ sold more than 2.6 million copies of its engaging "Cars" title, making it the second best-selling game of the year (after "Madden NFL 07").
On the other hand, you have disasters like Electronic Arts' "Superman Returns," which was delayed nearly five months after the movie's release and flatlined at retail.
The three franchises spun off here have all been made into games before.
Earlier "Spider-Man" games have done well, but critics have been unimpressed by previous "Pirates" and "Shrek" efforts. Let's see where they stand in 2007.
—"Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" (Disney, for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, $59.99; Wii, $49.99; PlayStation 2, $39.99): The latest "Pirates" game is kind of a mash-up of the last two films in the trilogy, following Capt. Jack Sparrow's quest to retrieve Davy Jones' heart.
Actually, it's difficult to make out that plot if you haven't seen the films; then again, many "Pirates" viewers have left theaters confused.
Most of the game consists of swordplay against redcoats, monsters or other pirates, but there's not much skill involved and the fights get monotonous.
There are a few decent boss battles that are a bit more challenging, as well as some simple platform sequences and a diverting game of liar's dice.
Jack is usually front and center, but sometimes you get to play as Elizabeth Swann or Will Turner.
Alas, none of the film's stars showed up for voiceover work, but their digital likenesses are pretty good, especially on the Xbox 360.
Two stars out of four.
—"Shrek the Third" (Activision, for the Xbox 360, Wii, $49.99; PlayStation 2, $39.99): You won't hear the voices of Mike Myers or Eddie Murphy here, either, but the video-game versions of Shrek and Donkey are otherwise indistinguishable from their computer-generated big-screen counterparts.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about this game is the way it tells the story of "Shrek the Third" through oddly amusing two-dimensional puppet shows.
The actual gameplay is woefully slapdash, consisting mostly of Shrek running around and beating up various fairy-tale villains.
At times you'll switch to a supporting character, like Fiona or Puss in Boots, but the action still involves plowing through waves of enemies.
Occasional sequences where you need to jump around obstacles are marred by sloppy controls and bad camera angles.
"Shrek the Third" also offers a handful of lackluster minigames, like frog-herding and shuffleboard. (Really.) Overall, it seems like a wasted opportunity — although its flaws probably won't stop it from becoming a best-seller.
—"Spider-Man 3" (Activision, for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, $59.99; Wii, $49.99; PlayStation 2, $39.99): "Spider-Man 3" looks likely to be the box-office winner among this year's "part 3s," and it squeaks out a victory in the game department, too.
Then again, developer Treyarch has created three previous Spidey games, so it's disappointing that this game isn't better.
It's still a rush to swing around Manhattan's skyscrapers, and it's nice to have the freedom to choose which missions you want to take on.
But there's almost too much going on; you'll spend way too much time fighting gangs that have nothing to do with the movie's story.
Unfortunately, the fights are tedious — until you take on a boss like New Goblin or Kingpin, when the fights become long and tedious.
While we're glad to have voiceovers from Tobey Maguire and Bruce Campbell, the graphics on the 360 and PS3 aren't as slick as we'd expected. And the PS2 and Wii versions (not developed by Treyarch) are even uglier.