Originality be Damned
At some point in our lives, whether it’s as minor as peering at a classmate’s work during that big test or copy-and-pasting large portions of an assignment from the internet and changing a couple of words, we’ve all taken a bit of a shortcut. Developers are no exception to this rule: sometimes, a game is so great that a studio is compelled to copy the formula and release their own take on it.
These games may have had the answers written on their thighs the whole time, but they all passed the test just the same – here are some of the best knockoffs in video game history.
Saints Row (Copied Grand Theft Auto)
The Grand Theft Auto series is one of the absolute heavyweights of the modern video game industry. Ever since it made the jump to 3D graphics in 2001, each entry has been bigger, badder and generally better than the last. Even with the improvements Rockstar has managed to make to the games’ stories and gameplay, however, the studio has made sure to stick to its winning formula: take a scummy, seedy city sandbox and drop the player-character straight into the middle of its criminal underworld. Each game’s structure has you choose from a handful of different missions throughout the open world, advancing multiple plot lines at your own pace, or just play around in the huge open worlds it has on offer. Tie it all together with some witty writing and silly-yet-seething commentary, and you’ve got the blueprint for one of the biggest franchises ever to exist.
Although Volition isn’t the first studio to copy Rockstar’s notes, there really isn’t a better second option than Saints Row – especially the first two entries into that series. Set in the city of Stilwater, the original entry has your created character join the 3rd Street Saints, a purple-clad street gang looking to expand its influence within the city’s organised crime scene. Anyone who had played any the three games that later became Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy (that is, Grand Theft Auto III, Vice City and San Andreas) in the five years prior to Saints Row’s release would have felt perfectly at home in Stilwater: a haven for guns, cars and crime that all takes place in a third-person perspective.
Its mission statement is almost identical to all three of the titles in the vaunted trilogy, it’s most similar to San Andreas in that both games saw you taking down different colour-coded gangs, literally wiping their colours off the map. All you’d need to do is switch out the player-created Saint with Carl “CJ” Johnson and switch your purple duds to green and you’d essentially have the same game. To Volition and High Voltage Software’s credit, though, the series has moved away from the “Grand Theft Auto clone” label in its more recent releases, which see you wrestling luchadores, taking political office and fighting off alien invaders with superpowers. It’s wackier and weirder than Grand Theft Auto could ever hope to be, and it’s given the Saints their own identity. Still, no matter how far Saints Row ends up going, it still owes its success to Rockstar and Grand Theft Auto.
Immortals Fenyx Rising (Copied The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild)
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is undeniably one of the greatest games ever made. With amazing visuals, tight gameplay, unparalleled world design and an intriguing story, the entry innovated upon not only the Zelda franchise but the gaming industry as a whole. Considering its critical and commercial success, it’s amazing other companies haven’t tried to ape the game’s best bits. In the four years since the game’s release, no developer has even tried to take on Nintendo’s instant classic.
All except one.
Ubisoft answered the call earlier this year with Immortals Fenyx Rising. Shitty name aside, it’s actually a really fun game: set in an open world inspired by the myriad myths and monsters of Green legend, Immortals Fenyx Rising mixes the combat mechanics of Ubisoft’s own Assassin’s Creed series with… well, basically everything else from Breath of the Wild, with ever-so-slight modifications.
Breath of the Wild has eight unique regions that come together to form its massive, beautiful open world; Immortals Fenyx Rising has seven unique regions that come together to form its massive, beautiful open world. Breath of the Wild has small self-contained puzzles and battle arenas called Shrines that reward players upon completion; Immortals has small self-contained puzzles and battle arenas that reward players upon completion… but they’re called Vaults of Tartarus. It’s pretty shameless, and it doesn’t end there either: instead of climbing towers to remove fog and reveal the world like in Breath of the Wild, Immortals has you climbing statues; and instead of using the glider to float through the sky, you use Daedalus’ Wings. You’ve got the same stamina system that drains as you climb; the same physics-based puzzles based around archery and telekinesis; and the same ability to tame mounts and fight bosses in the open world.
Although it wears its inspiration on its sleeve – and everywhere else – Immortals Fenyx Rising isn’t a one-to-one recreation of Nintendo’s classic. The writing is a whole lot wittier, with considerably more voice acting and a fun, light-hearted take on Greek mythology, and the unreliable narration between Zeus and Prometheus is a great touch that gives the game plenty to say, even when there’s nothing to talk about. Immortals Fenyx Rising is a fun video game because it’s basically a Breath of the Wild clone, but its heart truly lies in its world and the characters that inhabit it.
Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon (Copied Castlevania [but mostly Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse])
Let me ask you a question: is it really considered a knock-off if the same person created both games? If one series’ creator leaves a company, starts a new one and releases what is essentially a carbon copy of their own previous work… is that stealing? It’s pretty ambiguous, but for the purposes of this article, the answer to both of those questions is yes.
Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon is a Castlevania clone created by ArtPlay founder Koji Igarashi and developed by Inti Creates as a retro-styled prequel to the much larger Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. Before he founded ArtPlay and start work on Ritual of the Night, Igarashi had spent 24 years working at Konami… and twelve of those as the lead producer on the Castlevania series. Curse of the Moon is a very obvious homage to – or a very shameless carbon copy of – the classic Castlevania titles that Igarashi helped to create, the most obvious evidence of this being in the art style; with an 8-bit art style featuring a limited colour palette and still animation to complement its old-school structure, Curse of the Moon looks like it was developed for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).
The influence is more than just skin deep, though. Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon’s gameplay is vintage Castlevania; players traverse linear levels with branching paths, facing a variety of enemies as you make your way to the level’s final boss, all of whom cause that classic Castlevania knockback when they hit you. It’s most similar to Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, though, in that it also allows you to switch between characters on the fly. These three characters have unique abilities and movement styles that make them suitable for different situations, and they all bear considerable resemblance to characters from Castlevania itself: Gebel throws fireballs and transforms into a bat just like Alucard, while Arthur uses an itty-bitty staff to fire strong magic like Sypha, and Miriam wields a whip, like… so many Castlevania characters.
Although the mechanic itself is very similar, there’s a key difference between Curse of the Moon’s character switching and Dracula’s Curse’s. In Dracula’s Curse, main character Trevor can switch places with one other person mid-game after recruiting them, but he can only have one companion at any point: recruiting another one will see the first one leave the party. Curse of the Moon is a little more liberal, with four characters – the aforementioned trio and the game’s main character, the swordsman Zangetsu – who players can switch between at any time, provided they keep them alive.
Despite that very minor difference, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon is still incredibly similar to the classic Castlevania titles of yesteryear. With its 8-bit visuals and old-school gameplay and level design, you could absolutely be forgiven for thinking that Curse of the Moon is another Castlevania title… which isn’t too hard to imagine given that they’re made by the same guy.
The Simpsons: Road Rage (Copied Crazy Taxi)
Last but definitely not least, you simply can’t make a list of video game knock-offs without including the most obvious one of them all: The Simpsons: Road Rage. I mean, in a court of law, Fox and The Simpsons are dirty, stinking thieves… but first, some context.
In The Simpsons: Road Rage, the forever-evil Monty Burns purchases all of Springfield’s public transportation. Now with complete control over all transit, he creates radioactive buses that threaten the whole town and all of its inhabitants. In response, the Simpsons and their friends create a civilian taxi service in the hopes of protecting one another and taking enough money out of Burns’ pocket to bring the town back to… well, what passes for normal in Springfield. Essentially, the Simpsons and their friends created Uber before Uber. It’s a fun, original premise, but more importantly it gives us another chance to hang out with our favourite animated family. The gameplay is pretty fun, too, but there’s just one issue: it’s from another game.
In SEGA’s Crazy Taxi, players are cast in the role of a taxi driver whose goal is to make money by picking up and dropping off passengers as quickly as possible while also racing against the clock. In order to do this, you don’t necessarily have to stay on the road; you can drive wherever you want, getting rewarded for performing sick jumps, slides and other stunts on your way. It’s a good franchise, with mechanics that are easy to learn and hard to master, and high scores galore for those willing to put in the effort.
It’s such a good formula, in fact, that Fox decided to do the same thing. The Simpsons: Road Rage might have the Simpsons’ setting and silliness, but in terms of gameplay it’s almost exactly Crazy Taxi. Just ask SEGA, which sued Fox, publisher EA and developer Radical Entertainment for patent infringement (namely, on that big old arrow that shows you where to go). That case ended up being settled out of court with the settlement undisclosed, but given that we haven’t seen a big old arrow that shows you where to go since, it’s safe to assume that it was big. One thing’s for sure, though: The Simpsons: Road Rage is basically a remake of Crazy Taxi, but with buggier gameplay and better, funnier characters.
There you have it — concrete proof that, sometimes, cheaters do prosper. So go ahead, write on your arms, hide your phones, and keep those earphones tucked in your sleeve; you never know when inspiration might strike, especially when it’s not coming from you!
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