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

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

  • garnsr - August 24, 2012 12:45 p.m.

    I can't think of any examples right now of games that are bad rip-offs. Maybe the investment is so high now that the games that come out are still decent, even if they pull from other games. Maybe you'd have to go back a couple of generations to find games that just copy another game, without adding anything new, and usually miss the style that makes a classic.
  • Corsair89 - August 24, 2012 12:47 p.m.

    I agree. Games don't need to re-invent the wheel to be good. They just need to do it well. While I personally don't care for CoD, I won't fault Activision for not fixing what isn't broken.
  • IceBlueKirby - August 24, 2012 12:58 p.m.

    I agree that some "rip-offs" can sometimes outshine the game they're cribbing from. I personally find the Saints Row games to be far more entertaining than any GTA game, I enjoy Torchlight more than I do the Diablo games, and I had just as much fun playing Jolly Rover as I did Monkey Island, so sometimes cheating off the guy next to you CAN lead to success.
  • db1331 - August 24, 2012 1:10 p.m.

    The whole time I was playing Okami, I couldn't believe that it did Zelda BETTER than Zelda. And with it's subtle nods to Zelda all over the place, from the town with a giant windmill at the base of a mountain, to the "Kokari" boy with bunny ears, it certainly felt more like a loving homage than a ripoff. I feel the same way about Darksiders as well. I will say though, I am now in the final (I think) temple, the one that gives you a portal gun, and THAT part of the game feels like a ripoff to me. I think it's because they kept the portals orange and blue, which doesn't really fit the aesthetic of the game. I'm sure they did so to say, "Hey, we are huge portal fans and want to pay the game tribute." I just think it would have fit better if they kept the portal mechanics, but changed them to black and white or red.
  • vent - August 24, 2012 1:13 p.m.

    I don't know, I think the combat in Sleeping Dogs is pretty awful compared to Arkham City, although the environmental kills are pretty cool, and sometimes shockingly brutal...
  • christian-shaffer - August 24, 2012 1:20 p.m.

    I have no problem with rip-offs. Many turn out to actually be great games. However, pointing out the upcoming PlayStation All-Stars featured in the article, I don't have a problem with them ripping off Super Smash Bros. In fact, I wish they had gone the extra mile and completely cloned the damn thing. To me, the game isn't worthwhile. Yes, it hasn't come out yet, but I've had enough years of gaming experience to know when I won't like a game. The fact that it's a rip-off doesn't bother me in the slightest. The fact that they created an unrewarding point system that didn't need to be implemented in the first place is what I have a problem with. The point system is one of the best features of SSB and they replaced it with a lackluster system that I'm positive I would grow tired of after a few games. This is all just my opinion, but having looked at the feedback from the gaming community for the past several months, I'm not the only one that feels this way.
  • spankyj25 - August 24, 2012 1:24 p.m.

    Thanks for the article, Henry. I couldn't possibly agree more. I've had this same argument with a few people, lately. Yes, PS All-Star BR (wow, that's a goofy one to try to abbreviate!) is clearly drawing from the SSB series' formula. I say, "GREAT!" I love the SSB series of games! If I were gonna make a super crossover fight game, I'd TOTALLY copy the SSB formula. So far, it seems that they've made enough changes in the actual game play that sound really intriguing. I like the idea of charging up your super move(or whatever they call it) in order to get a bunch of kills. The transforming stages look truly inspired to me, and lest we forget, It's got GREAT characters that SSB doesn't. I am looking forward to this game in a huge way. Not in spite of the "rip-off" allegations...BECAUSE of them! Love of the source material is what's key, here. Now I have no way of knowing, but I'd bet dollars to doughnuts that the developers working on this game are just as much fans of Smash Bros. as young H-E-N-E-R-E-Y-G himself! And that, suits me just fine.
  • ObliqueZombie - August 24, 2012 1:37 p.m.

    I couldn't agree more with this, Henry. I prefer a well-executed homage/rip-off than I do an original and crappy game. I bought Sleeping Dogs from Steam just yesterday, and man, I love it way more than GTA. Probably because I like playing an undercover, Asian-American officer in the beautifully lit Hong Kong rather than a gangster in the crummy New York. Also: love these editorials. More please!
  • RonnyLive19881 - August 24, 2012 1:37 p.m.

    Seriously? This isn't Sony's only offence... It has TWO ripoffs of Mario Kart in the form of Mod Nation Racers and Little Big Kart, they ripped off Zelda almost pixel for pixel in 3D Dot Heroes, heck you could even copy Link if you had the time. Wii Sports was ripped off by Move Sports and well the Move... yeah, that doesn't look like a Wii Remote at all /sarcasm THIS game is just a step further in Sony's sorry tradition for blind rip offs.
  • RonnyLive19881 - August 24, 2012 1:39 p.m.

    And GR, I'm sorry but I think you are confusing "inspiration" for "ripoff" in some of those examples you gave...
  • RonnyLive19881 - August 24, 2012 1:45 p.m.

    I'd never walk in on someone playing Okami or Darksiders and say "oh are you playing the new Zelda?" or if someone was playing Sleeping Dogs and not going to say," oh cool is this the new Batman or GTA" Lol But if I walked in on some people playing Sony Smash Bros with out knowing it was a Sony made game I'd assume it was a modded version of Brawl or like with 3D Dot heroes or Move Sports... I'd think "Hey! Your playing Zelda" or "Hey isn't that Wii Sports?" Lol
  • C.King - August 24, 2012 2:10 p.m.

    i agree with ya man smash bros is one of my all time favorite games, screw it 1st rank on my personal list but i had to pay quite a bit of attention to tell them apart from the comparison video
  • Divine Paladin - August 24, 2012 2:35 p.m.

    Look up more video of PSASBR if it was hard for you to tell them apart. The game handles completely differently from SSB, according to quite literally 99% of those who've played it, although it looks similar to the novice eye. GiantBomb was the first to say this, and pretty much every other major review site has followed suit; whether they do so professionally or not is a different story. Many sites are handling PSASBR as if it's a SSB clone, and then complaining when it's not exactly the same (ironic because they called it a clone). This game's not getting a fair shot just like many "copied" games. IGN, surprisingly, has handled the game very well, so far judging it as its own game, and NOT making comparisons to SSB when judging the game's quality. Reviewers shouldn't be the ones comparing two games; that's the fans' jobs. The reviewers should be judging the game by its own successes and failures. TL;DR Reviewer bias could screw this game even if it turns out to be very good.
  • bob202021 - August 26, 2012 3:54 a.m.

    Why shouldn't it be compared to SSBB? Isn't one of the best ways to judge a game's quality comparing it against the competition? The fact is, rip-off or not; the games look very similar and have similar gameplay mechanics in many ways. Of course PSASBR should be judged against and compared to the competition benchmarks. Perhaps not as a "clone", but certainly if it wants to be considered among the best, it should be compared to and judged against the best.
  • Divine Paladin - August 26, 2012 3:26 p.m.

    I agree, but NOT by reviewers. Reviewers judge games by themselves. Fans judge them by comparison.
  • AuthorityFigure - August 24, 2012 11:01 p.m.

    The test isn't if you walk into a room and mistake the game for another - it's the intention of the programming and development and the overall resulting product that matters. The visual measures are only surface deep.
  • Net_Bastard - August 24, 2012 2:11 p.m.

    MNR was inspired by Mario Kart. It wasn't a ripoff. The mechanics are a lot different. MNR is more like Diddy Kong Racing than it is like Mario Kart.
  • Angelone - August 24, 2012 2:51 p.m.

    Please, remind me when in any Mario Kart game you could create your own kart from scratch or your own level from scratch, then share them with the world. oh you cant do that in Mario kart? Then its not a rip off. And remind me again how the rounded, LED lit PS Move remote resembles the polygonal Wii remote... PS move is technologically better by the way. FACT. Sports champions is a rip off too? What about kinect sports? I cant remember Wii Sports being HD, including disc golf, ping pong, or archery... And 3D Dot Game Heroes was SUPPOSED to be like that. It was supposed to be reminiscent of the games that started it all. If you wanna be like this, then Nintendo ripped off Sony by using discs for Gamecube and Wii. Wii U is HD? I guess that means it's a rip off of PS3 and XBOX... Look up the Wii U pro controller, it is a blatant rip off of a 360 controller. If you played PS All stars (Which you clearly have not), then you would realize how different they are. PS All stars is far more complex, as it has many more moves. And as far as I know, Super Smash was never HD, it never had good online support, and never had DLC support. Stop being a fanboy and realize that without inspiration, gaming would never evolve. I guess all shooters should have pretty much stopped after Half Life came out (I'm aware its not the first shooter, but its widely considered the most innovative.). Look up the game "Space Panic" Its the first ever platform game, and Nintendo ripped it off with Donkey kong. They look Identical. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aYf-NkRDSrw Games need inspiration, without it, we'd all still be playing the Magnavox Odyssey. Get over the fact that Nintendo doesnt own gaming, and they arent as original as you think.
  • Angelone - August 24, 2012 3:14 p.m.

    How come nobody gave a shit about these smash rip offs: DreamMix TV: World Fighters, Battle Stadium D.O.N, Digimon Rumble Arena 1 & 2, Digimon Battle Spirit 1 & 2, and Cartoon Network Punch Time Explosion XL, Viewtiful Joe Red Hot Rumble, Jump Superstars and Jump Ultimate Stars. So you guys are saying its okay to be a rip off, unless sony does it?

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