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Derivative games that were actually kind of great

Torchlight, for all intents and purposes, IS Diablo. Aside from a considerably different visual style, Torchlight's loot-grabbing, dungeon-crawling gameplay is almost indistinguishable from Blizzard's classic hack n' slash RPG.

That really doesn't matter though, because Diablo is excellent, and thus it stands to reason that Torchlight is excellent, too. By taking the established gameplay of Diablo but adding its own art direction and sense of character, Runic Games has really succeeded in making Torchlight not just a commercial success, but a bit of a critical darling as well.

The thing that has really helped Torchlight is the hole in the market. Very few games have truly stepped up to take Diablo's place while Blizzard has been busy with World of Warcraft. During the long wait for Diablo III, we've only had a handful of games, such as the Sacred series, attempt to catch fan attention. There was a gap for a game like Torchlight, and Runic took the opportunity with both hands. Now it's become the perfect dungeon crawler to scratch our looting itch while we wait for Blizzard to get its thumb out of its arse.

Yet another game that has suffered critically, you can't move for people who call Dante's Inferno a lame God of War rip-off. However, Visceral Games' Hellbound action game is actually far better than people give it credit for, and I'll admit this right now... I liked it much more than I liked God of War III, a series that has descended into self-plagiarism so much that calling Dante's Inferno a rip-off barely holds much weight as an argument.

Sure, Dante's Inferno doesn't really do anything we haven't seen in an action game before. Simple button-bashing combos, an obligatory XP system, quick-time-events, and even an incredibly stripped down "moral choice" system all make their expected appearances. And yes, even the dodge command uses the right analog stick, just like God of War.

Nevertheless, Dante's Inferno is a solid action game full of violence and satisfying slaughter. It makes absolute no sense that people say it's bad, since it does follow the God of War structure so intimately. Aside from a few bosses that feel somewhat cheap due to their unblockable, barely telegraphed attacks, there's very little wrong with Dante's Inferno at all. It's an action games that does what it set out to do. Nothing wrong with that.

Perhaps the king of derivative gameplay, Vigil's Darksiders is one of the most unoriginal, sticky-fingered games around. However, all of its borrowing and outright theft has led to one of 2010's finest action games, so all can be forgiven.

Darksiders proves that this industry is unique, in that one really can get away with having a dearth of original ideas provided that the culmination of quasi-plagiarism is a fun experience. That's what Darksiders is - it's fun. That's also the only thing that matters in the world of videogames.

Structurally, Darksiders is like a darker, more brooding Legend of Zelda. The Horseman War goes from dungeon to dungeon, earning familiar items such as boomerangs and hookshots, opening up new paths and taking on bosses with distinctive weak points. He gets his own version of heart pieces, his own Epona, even his own version of the Water Temple.

And as if that wasn't enough, Vigil saw fit to throw an entire Portal Gun into the bloody game!

Darksiders is one of the most shamelessly imitative videogames created this generation, yet it has also been crafted with such competence and confidence that it has still earned the respect of many gamers. Well deserved respect, as well, since it's incredibly fun despite its overly familiar trappings. Vigil truly understood that being great meant more than simply being unique, and it paid off in spades.

So, the next time you trash a game for not being innovative enough, just remember that some of us care more about enjoying ourselves than patting ourselves on the back for liking something that is so incredibly different.

Sep 30, 2010

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