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Sony, let’s face it, has not always been the most original company in console gaming. You might well mock Microsoft for its lazy, simultaneously cheap and expensive “buy the hits” approach to its first party output, and you’d be right to. It’s a situation that has only become grossly exacerbated over recent years, as real games have given way to Kinect fluff and the misconception that third-party DLC exclusivity periods are as exciting as Uncharted 3. But for all of MS first-party faults, it has rarely been known as a flagrant rip-off merchant.
Sony however, has notorious pedigree in this area, going back as far as the day it stuck a couple of extra buttons on a SNES pad and called it the PlayStation Controller.
Don’t get me wrong. SCE is responsible for some of the freshest, most exciting IP seen in this (or any other) generation. And it still has amazing-looking stuff to come on its current-gen console, even at this latter stage of the PS3’s life. But when Sony does decide to 'take inspiration from' someone else's idea, it does so with an utterly shameless blatancy that from a cynical mindset borders on applause-worthy.
Yes, this industry thrives on iteration rather than revolution, and if you think otherwise then either you haven’t been paying attention for the last 20 years or you’re Nintendo. Evolutions of other people’s ideas are fine. Healthy, even. But every so often Sony seems deliriously happy to throw pride out of the window and simply reskin someone else’s idea wholesale. And that makes me sad. It’s almost as if SCE has an ongoing tally board on the wall detailing the company’s shifting balance of originality-karma.
“We’ve made a brand-new, bespoke, beast-powered processor and we’re sticking a Blu-ray drive in our console? Yeah, that clears us to staple motion control onto a Dual Shock now that Nintendo has surprised us with the Wii. Just pretend we were going to do it all along and forgot to mention it at first”
“Uncharted is pushing cinematic narrative into hithero unimagined places in games, LittleBigPlanet is a revelation of user-generated content and community, and Flower is like nothing else in the world? Yeah, we’re good to knock out Move and Sports Champions now”
“We have Journey coming out this year? Sweet Christ, green-light that Smash Bros. clone now!”
Above: And green-light it they did
But this stuff doesn’t just make me sad because of Sony’s intermittent wilful wallowing in unoriginality. It makes me sad because it’s utterly pointless. As I said above, gradual evolution is a good thing in video games. Iterating upon rival ideas is how game genres and concepts go from being cool and fun to being polished to perfection. And beyond that stage it leads to industry-changing evolutions. Doom begat Quake. Quake begat Half-Life. Half-Life begat Half-Life 2 and the Gravity Gun. Half-Life 2 and the Gravity Gun brought a quantum leap in interaction with 3D worlds.
But flat-out cloning without bringing anything new to the execution of the idea? That gets no-one anywhere. Yes, Sony has another box checked on its rival first-party line-up comparison chart (though at this stage the tactical importance on that list of “Our version of a 13-year-old Nintendo 64 game” is debateable), but by definition there’s no evolution, no development of ideas, and absolutely no value added to the health of gaming as a whole. It’s a total creative cul-de-sac. Aside from the rare few who may have spent years rampantly coveting Super Smash Bros. but have never bought a Nintendo console, no-one genuinely benefits from this. And gaming certainly doesn’t.