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
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.
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.
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