15 Awesome (And Often Bizarre) Pop Culture-Inspired Video Games You Can Play for Free

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The last couple of weeks have seen the emergence of a couple of endearingly strange pop culture-based video games — there’s been news of a futuristic RPG involving Kanye West and a strangely depressing game based on Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” of all things. But they’re just the latest in a long line of weird and wonderful games based on pop culture. Ever since the 1980s, game developers have been making deals to cash in on the popularity of celebrities by featuring them in games, some successfully, some less so. We’ve scoured the web for the best (or at least the strangest) of these games, so click through to check them out — most are available to play online, and if not, you can download them for free.

Kanye Quest 3030

Perhaps it’s just that your correspondent has a soft spot for JRPGs and retro gaming in general, but this actually looks pretty cool (on the strength of the trailer above, anyway). If you feel similarly, there’s an alpha version you can play around here — it’s Windows-only, sadly, although you could probably get it running in Wine if you were feeling particularly adventurous.

Will Love Tear Us Apart?

Probably, yes. This game requires a weird plugin to play online, and apparently it’s not very good, but still, we can all marvel at the fact that we live in a world where a Joy Division-inspired video game is a thing that exists.

Frankie: The Computer Game

Anyway, onto some weird retro stuff. And yes, it’s true, Frankie Goes to Hollywood really did star in one of the most idiosyncratic and difficult games of the 1980s — it’s so obtuse, in fact, that it still has quite the devoted following and commands serious analysis like this. The game won a bunch of awards in the 1980s, and once you get past the dated graphics and general strangeness — basically, you have to become a “full person” by completing quests to accumulate love, faith, sex and war points, and in doing so reach the Pleasuredome (where, presumably, you get to relax) — it’s a heap of fun. You can play the ZX Spectrum version online here — just make sure you have Java enabled in your browser, which you’ll need for many of these games (and remember to disable it again afterwards).

The Thompson Twins Adventure

For whatever reason, obscure games based on ’80s British pop groups are a thing. This game was also released for the ZX Spectrum and follows the Thompson Twins as they romp around a beach resort in an attempt to locate a doctor because they’re tripping too hard. Seriously. You can play it online right here.

The Young Ones

Also from the golden age of thoroughly strange gaming, this is a ZX Spectrum/Commodore 64 game based on the adventures of The Young Ones characters Neil, Vyvyan, Ric, et al. Quite what you’re supposed to do isn’t entirely clear, and according to Wikipedia, “due to obscure bugs in the software, it was actually impossible to solve the game, although few users realized this at the time… [the software company] ceased trading before the problems could be remedied.” But shit, go on, play it anyway — you can do so right here.

Crue Ball

A pinball game featuring Mötley Crüe? Sure, why not? They probably kicked Lemmy off the machine at the Rainbow every so often, after all. Give it a try here.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The best! This mind-bending interactive fiction adaptation of the book was co-written by Douglas Adams himself, and it’s both fiendishly difficult and thoroughly involving. You can give it a go online here. One hint: give the cheese sandwich from the pub to the dog. It’ll save you a lot of trouble later.

Shaq Fu

Oh yes, if for some reason you wanted a substandard Street Fighter 2 knock-off starring Shaquille O’Neal, then 1994 was the year for you. Fighting games are generally notable for hilariously silly storylines, but Shaq Fu takes the biscuit — it featured the big man accidentally entering another dimension after stopping in at a kung fu dojo on the way to a charity basketball tournament. Of course. You can play it online right here. It’s silly but curiously entertaining.

Rap Jam: Volume 1

In a somewhat similar vein, this 1995 Super NES game featured a bunch of rappers playing basketball against one another. Perhaps feeling that this conceit alone would be enough to sell squillions of copies, the developers apparently neglected to devote any time to the actual gameplay, with the result that the game was hilariously bad. Still, if playing basketball as Warren G against Queen Latifah sounds like fun, you can do so online by clicking here.

The Dallas Quest

Yes, someone really made a computer game based on Dallas, which featured a mystery plot based on the TV series and graphics that were hideous even for the time. You can play it online here. Best of luck.

Dune II

Those of a certain age will remember this — it was based on Frank Herbert’s Dune, and basically invented the strategy genre later refined by the likes of Warcraft and Command and Conquer, and these days you can play it online. Wooooo! Click here to begin the time-wasting.

Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker

You betcha there was a Michael Jackson video game back in the 1980s, and it was pretty cool, especially the digitized music and the dance sequences. (We’ll ignore the fact that it involved saving children.) Play it online here.

Arcane

This is a pretty epic multi-part online Flash game based on H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulu Mythos. This link collates all the parts on one convenient page. (Also, if you like Lovecraft-inspired games, you owe it to yourself to check out Michael Gentry’s excellent Anchorhead, a killer piece of interactive fiction that’s also free online.)

The Simpsons: Night of the Living Treehouse of Horror

There have been various attempts to further monetize the Simpsons brand by plastering it on console games over the years — this 2001 Game Boy Color game is chiefly notable for the fact that you can play it online, and also for the hideous 8-bit rendition of the show’s theme song that blasts throughout. You can play it online here, but we recommend muting your speakers.

Escape from the Black Lodge

And finally, I’m sure I remember this suitably strange Twin Peaks-inspired game being playable online at some point, but now it’s a free download for OS X or Windows. If you ever work out what you’re actually supposed to do, feel free to let us know.