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Top Ten Tuesdays | Video Game Rip-Offs

Matt Gardner
IP borrowing, Plagiarism, Rip-Offs, Top Ten, Top Ten Tuesdays, Top Ten Video Game Rip-Offs

Following on from Hideki Kamiya's strong words regarding Playstation All-Star Battle Royale, and our discussion of whether or not the upcoming Sony exclusive is a shameless rip-off of Super Smash Bros., we've decided this week to take a look at some of the worst cases of plagiarism in our industry's rather chequered history.

Honourable Mentions: Minecraft vs. Infiniminer, Quantum Theory vs. Gears of War, Syphon Filter vs. Metal Gear Solid, Wacky Races vs. Super Mario Kart.

10. Dante's Inferno (God of War)

If you half close your eyes while playing Dante's Inferno, or let them unfocus as if looking at a magic eye, you'll see that Visceral's game is in fact just EA God of War...with Kratos in a wig. Instead of using the subject matter in interesting ways, EA went for a shameless cash-in, backed up by some of the worst marketing in history. It played pretty well in small doses and, like Kratos' violent outbursts, was littered with pairs of gratuitous breasts.

9. Saints Row (GTA)

To be fair to Saints Row, this inclusion is one of the victory tales associated with borrowing ideas. Never as bad as fellow open-world, crime spree, GTA-ripoff State of Emergency, Saints Row ransacked GTA San Andreas for ideas. The irony was, as both franchises moved onto further games, that Volition were able to capitalise on Rockstar's abandonment of the carefree, anarchic, sandbox playpen in favour of a grittier tale in GTA IV. Saints Row 2 became the game that virtual joyriders were looking for, catapulting the series into the top leagues.

8. Golden Axe: Warrior (The Legend of Zelda)

Although one of the best games of my childhood, SEGA knew exactly what they were doing with Golden Axe Warrior, so strong was the resemblance to The Legend of Zelda. Embracing an "if it ain't broke..." mentality, SEGA decided to leave most of Nintendo's classic intact - graphics, mechanics, even the enemies looked alike - only really changing the Triforce to a bunch of crystals. Considering that the console war was a two-horse race at this point, playing spot the difference was pretty easy. You could count them on one hand.

Mind you, SEGA weren't the only ones who had a crack at the Zelda template... *cough* Square *cough*

7. Robopon (Pokemon)

I'm still not entirely sure just how on earth Robopon managed to land itself a sequel. Boasting three version - Sun, Star, and Moon - Robopon saw a little boy named Cody travel far across the land, searching far and wide for Robopon, to understand their power. Along the way Cody battles, captures, trains, and trades Robopon on his quest to defeat the Legend 7 - the top Robopon collectors in the world - and earn himself a place in the Hall of Fame.

Oh dear.

One cool plus point, though, was that Robopon cartridges were all banded with an infra-red strip at the top for trading, and pointing TV remotes at the game would unlock mini chests or boost stats.

6. Fighter's History (Street Fighter II)

One of the most infamous rip-offs in history, Fighter's History looked virtually identical to Street Fighter II, and so Capcom USA sued Data East. Capcom lost the legal battle due to the courts ruling that the design concepts in question were scènes à faire. Data East, for their part, pointed to Karate Champ as a fighting game of theirs that predated the original Street Fighter and Capcom left empty handed. We rather think they got the last laugh though. Data East went bankrupt in 1999.

5. Gameloft

Most mobile games have their roots elsewhere. Even Angry Birds is basically Crush The Castle (itself inspired by another game) in bright colours. But Gameloft have turned ripping off the big boys of console gaming into more than an art form: they've turned it into big business. Shadow Guardian is basically Uncharted. NOVA borrows entire games from the Halo franchise. Modern Combat, Asphalt, Gangstar, and Hero of Sparta can all be traced back to an all-too-familiar console-based starting point. As solid as these games are, it's for a reason: there's no innovation to be seen anywhere, just a touch joypad.

Still, Ubisoft have at least had the sense to hand Gameloft several of their franchises in the mobile space rather than watch another, cheaper knockoff divert their audience once more. If you can beat 'em...

4. Hangly Man (Pac-Man)

Supposedly a poor translation of "hungry man", Hangly Man was Nittoh's attempt to cash in on champion chomper Pac-Man's territory. Housed in a Pac-Man cabinet, eager arcade-goers would happily cough up a few coins to play, only to be greeted by the title "Hangly-Man", Nittoh's logo, and a highly illegal bootleg that saw maze walls disappear, numerous bugs and weird glitches, and many unsatisfied customers.

3. The Great Giana Sisters (Super Mario Bros.)

A rip-off so utterly bereft of new ideas that it was pulled from shelves swiftly after release under huge legal pressure from Nintendo, The Great Giana Sisters boasted near-identical level design to Mario's finest, it had Goombas, albeit now with little horns, and the promo campaign dared to run with the tagline "The Brothers Are History", even as the sisters ran around levels that looked suspiciously like the Mushroom Kingdom and broke blocks with their heads.

Then again, you couldn't play Mario on a C64.

2. The KenSingTon/JungleTac Sport Vii (Nintendo Wii)

Oh China. Not content with blithely copying games and franchises, occasionally one needs to churn out a few console knock-offs as well. Essentially a budget, plug-and-play Wii clone, with a bunch of built in games that bore strong resemblances to certain Wii Sports/Wii Play titles, the Vii was by no means the first console clone. The Dendy, the FC Twin, and the Polystation were all pretty bad. But the Vii actually managed to half-replicate the WiiMote's motion control...not that the feature stopped the console from dying a slow death as the craze faded.

1. Zynga (Take Your Pick)

Top Ten Tuesdays | Video Game Rip-Offs

Now for legal reasons we probably shouldn't call Zynga rip-off merchants. It's very important to stress that we're not explicitly calling them rip-off merchants, nor are we in any way insinuating that part of Zynga's corporate strategy is to look at a trend and either buy it as fast as they can or copy it and milk it dry. We're not saying that. All of those words just happened to end up in the same sentence.

But they've been sued more times than God.

Mafia Wars was hit with a lawsuit from the team behind Mob Wars. Cafe World and FarmVille have both come under fire for being uncannily similar to certain peers. Zynga was accused of blatant copyright infringement over Dream Heights, with Nimblebit arguing that it was a copy of their award-winning mobile title Tiny Tower. Even EA have sued them, alleging that Zynga's The Ville copies The Sims Social.

You know it's bad when you're being sued by EA for copyright theft.

Add a comment4 comments
JonLester  Aug. 7, 2012 at 18:22

Fun fact: you might be seeing more of the Giana Sisters in the near future... and you could make it happen. Or not. http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/project-giana/project-giana

Last edited by JonLester, Aug. 7, 2012 at 18:28
Crazy Jamie  Aug. 7, 2012 at 18:28

Hang on. Syphon Filter vs Metal Gear Solid in the honourable mentions? That's a bit of a stretch, isn't it?

Last edited by Crazy Jamie, Aug. 7, 2012 at 18:32
czaq  Aug. 8, 2012 at 07:59

About Gameloft...

Still, Ubisoft have at least had the sense to hand Gameloft several of their franchises in the mobile space rather than watch another, cheaper knockoff divert their audience once more.

Please note that Ubi CEO is Yves Guillemot, and Gameloft CEO is Michel Guillemot.

Last edited by czaq, Aug. 8, 2012 at 07:59
stevenjameshyde  Aug. 8, 2012 at 09:08

You couldn't move for rip-offs in the Amiga era, Football Glory vs. Sensible Soccer was about the most flagrant I can remember...

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