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It's ok to be a rip off (as long as you're good at it)

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Recently Hideki Kamiya, exec at critical darling Platinum Games and director of Okami, made news when talking about Sony’s PlayStation All-Star Battle Royale. To quote Kamiya, “It’s just a rip-off.” And as someone who has given over roughly 200 hours to the multiple games in the Super Smash Bros franchise, I feel safe in saying Battle Royale is clearly the result of someone within Sony wanting a Smash Bros of their very own. But Kamiya and others would be better served embracing an attitude I recently adopted. So many great games have “ripped off” other hits, why can’t we all give Battle Royale a chance to prove how well it can learn from another game’s success?

Now, when I use the term "rip off," don't mistake it for games that share a genre. If that were the case, every 2D platformer rips off Super Mario Bros, every other puzzle game is a counterfeit of Tetris, and any 3D fighting game ripped off Virtua Fighter (which, in turn, stole its fighting style from Street Fighter). No, what I mean is games that have such clear, specific inspirations that you can be sure it wouldn't exist in its current form if it didn't lift gameplay techniques wholesale from the games that pioneered them. And in many cases that's completely forgivable.

Just look at last week's release of Sleeping Dogs, a game that wears its influences on its sleeve. Beyond the sandbox trappings firmly established by Grand Theft Auto III, the hand-to-hand combat is straight from the Batman: Arkham games and fans of Wheelman will recognize the source of hijacking cars. But listing influences ultimately doesn't matter, because Sleeping Dogs executes so well on what it rips off, something many of the reviews, including GamesRadar's, agree on.

You need only look back to 2010 for another perfect example of execution outpacing obvious inspirations. When the original Darksiders came out, more than a few knocked it for being a Legend of Zelda clone, something I’ll agree with despite loving the game. The dungeon structure was the same, they share sword-based combat, and exploration incorporates tools identical to boomerangs and hookshots. For extra uninspired credit, Darksiders also contains a weapon that shoots orange and blue portals.  Seriously.

Once I got over my reflexively negative reaction to the seeming lack of any originality in Darksiders, I settled into the game and found myself continually impressed by it. The developers had learned well from Zelda. Over and over again Darksiders proved it didn’t merely copy and paste from Link’s adventures, it had studied them closely. Developer Vigil Games skillfully implemented those lessons to give tribute to the games of their youth. And then Vigil went on to iterate further on these inspirations, delivering the even better (and more original) game in Darksiders II.

The same pride in unoriginality was on display in Shadow Complex. Developer Chair was open about its inspirations, copping to lifting design strategies of Super Metroid. Like Darksiders, you can tell it comes from a place of love and admiration, out to fill a niche Nintendo created and few outside of Castlevania had tried to fill. Chair, like Vigil, then took the gameplay and added aesthetics and story content that the originators didn't approach, making for a game that people accepted with open arms. Shadow Complex continually shows up on best XBLA games lists and many are clamoring for a sequel.

There are so many examples of games I hold dear that may not blaze a new trail, but were outstanding all the same. Would Rhythm Thief exist without Professor Layton? Saints Row without GTA? Dante's Inferno without God of War? League of Legends without Dota? Or Torchlight without Diablo? All of those are worth your time no matter how you feel about what they took from their sources.

The added irony of Kamiya’s statement is that he doesn't need to look far to see the power of a brilliant rip off. Platinum's Bayonetta is clearly inspired by Devil May Cry, though most would forgive that since many former DMC devs worked on the title. But few could argue that Okami would exist without Zelda's 3D titles. Just like Darksiders, Okami closely shadowed the Zelda template, but used it tell a story all its own. It's an unforgettable game thanks to all the ways it learned from and expanded on another franchise's strengths. Instead of calling out those games as deceptive, gamers lauded Okami as a work of art and Platinum has quickly become one of the most respected companies in its field.

Believe me, artless re-creations and flagrant stealing can, and definitely should, be called out and given the lack of respect they deserve. Look at the negativity that met Limbo of the Lost, a game that mirrored Oblivion in all the wrong ways. Then there’s Facebook heavyweight Zynga, which has been rightly accused multiple times for blatant theft of titles like Tiny Tower and The Sims Social. However, give a game a chance to prove itself a sham. Just because Battle Royale’s inspiration is clear from the outset doesn’t mean it’s fate has been decided. Gamers should first take a deep breath and remember all the great times they had with “rip offs.” It worked for me.

You know that kid at parties who talks too much? Drink in hand, way too enthusiastic, ponderously well-educated in topics no one in their right mind should know about? Loud? Well, that kid’s occasionally us. GR Editorials is a semi-regular feature where we share our informed insights on the news at hand. Sharp, funny, and finger-on-the-pulse, it’s the information you need to know even when you don’t know you need it.

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65 comments

  • aberkromby - August 27, 2012 7:02 p.m.

    This article sucks donkey balls. DISCLAIMER: I did not read the article.
  • Rowdie - August 27, 2012 2:18 p.m.

    That would be tekken that ripped off Street Fighter.
  • tehtimeisnow - August 27, 2012 12:06 a.m.

    i hate ripofs espeshially call of duty ripofs like battlefeld and spec ops and uncharted cuz u should make a orignal idea insted of copying the king and it just seem like they want to steel money from the hard working call duty game makers but those ganes fale so hard anyways cuz there just cheap nock offs and everone would rather play the real thing anyways so thats y call of dut sells billions
  • Thedigitalg - August 27, 2012 6:40 a.m.

    I really hope no one falls for this.
  • YoruAzeniaSIC - August 28, 2012 9:56 a.m.

    You MUST be a troll lol
  • FierceVoltage - August 29, 2012 9:50 p.m.

    OMG either best troll ever or most misinformed new gamer ever!
  • ParagonT - August 26, 2012 2:51 p.m.

    All ideas are based off of already existing ideas. Nothing new, and nothing for people to really get up in arms about. =/
  • Groocifer - August 26, 2012 2:31 p.m.

    I hate rip-offs. Now I'm off to play Great Giana Sisters... ;-)
  • dispatcher_83 - August 26, 2012 4:57 a.m.

    Good points, it's nice to see an editorial from you guys and I welcome more of them. Even back to the games of the Atari there have been "rip-offs", clones, etc. Imitation is the best form of flattery and without people making similair games, genres, etc. we wouldn't have the innovation that we have today. So many games started off as a rip of something else and became so much more, it happens. That's any industry.
  • Errrrbo - August 25, 2012 7:22 p.m.

    While I agree with this article's overall point, I think attributing Sleeping Dogs' action hijack system to inspiration from "Wheelman" is a bit dumb. Wheelman was middlingly-recieved action game from 2009 with Vin Diesel in it that was forgotten almost immediately. It doesn't take a lot of inspiration to realize jumping from one moving car to another is cool.
  • CrashmanX - August 25, 2012 12:06 p.m.

    All of these rage comments. All of these "RIP OFF ARTISTS" comments directed at Sony or other companies, WOW. You guys sure do know how to enjoy video games and have fun with them. I mean jesus. Next thing you know someone is gonna call 3D Dot Game Heroes bad cause it "ripped off the original legend of Zelda" or someone's gonna say that 4 Player Co-Op games ripped off Gauntlet. I mean Christ guys, there are a few things that are obvious rip offs (I.E. All-Stars to Brawl) but they're not always a bad thing. Rip offs usually add new ideas and twists that can sometimes be better than the originals. It also adds competition between the two series, you don't have stagnation anymore. Now they're fighting with each other for the fans and sales trying to get you to buy their game because it has features X and Y instead of Z and Q. TL;DR Not all Rip offs are bad, just like an article I read once said.

Showing 1-20 of 65 comments

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