Video game companies all-too-often resort to sponging off of successful video games in an attempt to replicate their success. Many games take heavy influence from popular games and that’s fine — products from any form of media often take influence from something. In many cases, a game simply follows genre conventions and cliches, but then you’ll also find outright rip-offs and clones pop up on the shelves. Although the majority of those games are bad, somehow a small portion of these stinking knock-offs actually turn out to be… well, good. Heck, often more than good, with some managing to critically match or surpass the game they’re copycatting.
So, without further ado, here’s a list of the very best video game copycats. Remember, all of the following aren’t simply games that are similar to others, they’re all games where the developers have clearly looked at a successful game and decided ‘yeah, let’s just do that.’
Let’s kick it off with the Granddaddy of all video games — Pong. This game surpasses being an example of a decent rip-off and instead is probably one of the world’s most successful acts of utter plagiarism. Being based on the game Table Tennis on the very first home console, the Magnavox Odyssey, the game was more-or-less the exact same thing as the game it had thieved its idea from.
Though Magnavox sued Atari over this infringement and settled out of court with the company, the damage had already been done: Magnavox’s console sales were weak due to poor marketting and Atari’s Pong had already become the world’s first commercially successful video game. Purely on that basis, the game deserves a place amongst the best video game rip-offs of all time; the game is good and considered incredibly innovative, revolutionary and culturally impactive, so it’s just a shame that it stole that success from the much more deserving Magnavox.
A modern equivalent of the Pong story would be Angry Birds: a humongously successful video game that pretty much everyone’s played in some form or another. It’s a wonderfully simple and addictive game and as far as rip-off games go, it’s certainly got charm — heck, it’s almost certainly better than the browser-based game Crush the Castle that it clearly totally copied.
I can’t imagine that Crush the Castle’s mobile version earned anything close to even 1% of the profits that its copycat earned and that’s a darned shame, but Angry Birds is clearly the more superior game. Some may hate on the game simply for its popularity, but it’s definitely a fun game to pass the time.
Crash Team Racing (CTR)
Before Naughty Dog were busy ripping off Tomb Raider and Beyond Good and Evil with Uncharted (I’m joking, I think), they were busy with the fantastic Crash Bandicoot series — itself PlayStation’s answer for a mascot that could match Sonic and Mario. The very first game I ever owned for the PlayStation 1, and thusly, on any home console was Crash Team Racing, an absolutely fantastic kart racing game with both an exceptional single player campaign mode and multiplayer modes. With many that played it claiming it as one of their all-time favourite racing games, the game is often considered a Mario Kart rip-off.
Well, it wasn’t a Mario Kart rip-off per-se, but it was a total rip-off. Although similar to Mario Kart, the game is identical to the Nintendo 64 game Diddy Kong Racing from Rare. Except it’s better. Like, it’s a lot better — Crash Team Racing is one of those very few games that shamelessly knocked off a good game and improved it. With fantastic tracks, characters, bosses, music and generally an incredibly fun game, I return to this game every couple of years for an instant shot of nostalgia and the game still holds up incredibly well as both a single player game and a multiplayer one. Ooga-booga, dun-dun-dun!
The Simpsons: Road Rage
The Simpsons: Road Rage is quite famously a totally rip of SEGA’s popular Dreamcast game Crazy Taxi (as SEGA sued Radical Entertainment/EA over the game), with the aim in both being to drive paying customers to their desired destination as quickly as possible. If you’ve played either game you’ll know it’s a fun concept, and if you’ve played both you’ll know that each game compliment each other rather well.
It’s a good game with humorous dialogue and it’s fun to drive around Springfield with all of its characters and various vehicles, but it’s slightly more buggy than Crazy Taxi and nowhere near as charming. Still, that doesn’t detract from the fact that for a game that’s just an utter knock-off, it really isn’t too bad. I suppose you could also say that the classic Simpsons: Hit and Run game is a rip-off of Grand Theft Auto, but it’s different enough to not be seriously considered as a complete knock-off.
Star Wars: Dark Forces
The now defunct LucasArts were once taking and nailing genres like point-and-click adventures back in the day, but after DOOM took the world by storm I suppose they figured they’d try their hand at competing with it. It hurts to call Star Wars: Dark Forces a rip-off of DOOM, but I suppose that is quite literally what it is — taking DOOM and their Star Wars brand and melding the two together is more beautiful than you could imagine.
The game was gorgeous and it even managed to improve upon the DOOM formula in some areas and helped play its part in forming what modern first-person shooters are like today. It’s still enjoyable today and in the army of DOOM clones out there, Star Wars: Dark Forces leads the pack.
(I almost included the DOOM clone Heretic in this list as it’s simply fantastic, but seeing as id Software had involvement with it, I suppose it feels like less of a rip-off — plus if I’m permitting myself to include companies copying themselves, I’d include Capcom’s Dino Crisis for copying Resident Evil. But Heretic is basically DOOM with fantasy creatures/weapons instead.)
Jazz JackRabbit 2
Consuming my childhood was Jazz JackRabbit, a charming platformer/shooter game similar to the likes of Contra and developed by Epic Games – the guys now behind the Gears of War franchise. Although the company are now teeming with original gameplay ideas (uhh…), they once dominated the PC shareware market with games like this. And what was this charming little DOS game ripping off, you ask?
Earthworm Jim. Everything from its style to its gameplay to its concept of a quirky humanoid creature with a laser pistol to its attempt at humour was shamelessly ripped from the popular game. As a child, my only knowledge of Earthworm Jim was the animated TV show and not the game it was based off of, so I had no clue that the game I knew and loved was a knock-off of the highest sort. Fortunately, despite being as big of a rip-off as they come, this game was — and remains to be — actually pretty good. So, there.
‘So, Donkey Kong Country‘s pretty good’, says a Disney Interactive executive ‘and that game was set in a jungle like Tarzan, so maybe we should just do that game.’
Okay, so I may have made that up, but I doubt the discussion deciding to develop a Tarzan movie tie-in game like this went vastly differently than that. The second game ripping off a Rare on the list already, it’s doubly surprising that Tarzan was actually a thoroughly enjoyable game despite ripping the big ape’s game in every way possible seeing as it’s a movie tie-in. Heck, you can even pound your fists on the ground making ape noises. I recall really enjoying this game as a kid and honestly, watching footage of it back now I think I still would.
I’ve never been able to engage myself in MMOs — or, frankly, online multiplayer games in general — for whatever reason. I’m unsure if I just hate the communities or find them overly complex, but with the exception of my boyfriend recently forcing me to fall in love with World of Warcraft, MMOs have been one genre of games that I totally ignored. Except from Sherwood Dungeon.
Frankly, the game was originally a rip-off of Runescape and has since stolen elements of World of Warcraft to enhance the game, but this game had me hooked on-and-off for years. If I picked it back up and learned all of the new additions, I’m sure I’d again become addicted to this. A brilliant rip-off, this game suceeds with its simplicity over MMOs: that’s not to say there’s nothing to the game or that it’s boring — although it’s obviously nowhere near as extensive as World of Warcraft (which ripped off Ultima Online itself, ahem) — but I always found the game massively more accessible than its fellow MMO titles. Being a completely free browser-based title, I think I also found joy in that the game has no level cap, leaving my brain to experience the wonderful fake sense of accomplishment of grinding in the dungeons in order to get a ridiculously high level. Probably too high.
Developed by Rare and renowned as one of the most difficult games of all time (ughhhh the Wind Tunnel level), Battletoads‘ entry here turns the tables on Rare’s games being ripped off by itself being a game that heavily ripped off a popular video game. Made with the intention to rival the success of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles‘ games — likely in the hope of it also becoming a multimedia cash-cow — Battletoads turned out to actually be a very decent game and perhaps in some ways better than the game it intended to emulate.
It never managed to reach anywhere near TMNT’s global success though, but survives today as a classic example of both a great platformer and one of the most difficult games in existence. Plus it really pushed the boundaries of the NES’ capabilities at the end of its life and certainly gave us a few laughs, so y’know… more rip-offs like this, please.
Osu! is much like Stepmania in that it’s a rhythm games for the PC – Osu! is more-or-less the gameplay of Nintendo DS game Elite Beats Agents for the PC, whereas Stepmania is Dance Dance Revolution for the PC. Both free downloadable titles, they totally take the exact gameplay of the game that they’re based off of and allow users to download tracks that users have created online — meaning that you can technically have thousands of tracks for the game so long as a user has made it. It’s a brilliant plan, meaning that you can play all your favourite music of all genres and types and handing you both a general single player mode as well as an online (and offline) multiplayer mode.
It really makes Stepmania the ultimate rendition of Dance Dance Revolution, seeing as you can totally handpick which songs you want for it and specify and organise it to your precise musical tracks. Of course, with both games there’s going to be poorly created tracks that have off-sync beats to hit, but that’s the price you pay of having a free game that has user-created tracks. If you love either Dance Dance Revolution or Elite Beat Agents or just rhythm games in general, I cannot stress enough how necessary these two games are.
PlayStation All-Stars: Battle Royale
Well, of course this is here. Regardless of what rampant fanboys wish to believe, it’s clear that Sony took a good, hard look at Nintendo’s less serious fighter, mascot-brawler Smash Bros. and thought ‘hmm, we could do that with Sony characters’. I’d been wanting Sony to do something along these lines beforehand anyway so copying this concept really isn’t a bad idea whatsoever — there’s nothing quite like piling together all of PlayStation’s most beloved characters and environments in one game and the game naturally gives off a Smash Bros. vibe immediately.
These two games play very differently from ‘more serious’ fighting games like Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Tekken, Dead or Alive etc. but fighting fans lamenting these games have totally missed the point — these are not primarily intended for highly competitive play but rather to be purely fun, party-like games. Both series succeed at this and any fighting fan that can’t let go and enjoy these need to loosen up a little. Battle Royale is a great rip-off and hopefully other companies will follow the bandwagon — though hopefully they won’t try coming across as original like Battle Royale by changing Smash Bros.‘ formula for the worse, as I’m not overly fond of the battle system format decision.
Saints Row clearly originated as a group of developers playing Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and deciding to basically just do that game. Unlike many Grand Theft Auto clone attempts though, Saints Row has experience moderate success, with fans often arguing that the series is actually better than the more popular Grand Theft Auto series. I’m not sure I’d go that far, but Saint Row: The Third was wonderfully over-the-top and I appreciate that the game threw aside GTA’s apparent rule of realism over gameplay and went all-out on just giving us a fun open-world game.
Though Grand Theft Auto has clearly been ripped off here, that is basically how genres are created and Saints Row is one of the few examples to create its own feel and personality, not being arrogant enough to assume they can compete with Grand Theft Auto. Saints Row: The Third perfectly compliments Grand Theft Auto IV — you don’t need to pick which one you think is better, you can just buy both, guys.
Red Faction‘s a childhood favourite of mine (though more-so because I played its multiplayer mode with my brother constantly) and one of my personal favourite first-person shooters. The second Volition developed game on the list (following Saints Row), Red Faction implemented revolutionary gameplay aspects with the Geo-Mod technology, allowing for highly destructible environments unlike any game previously seen. Don’t fancy using the door to the next room? That’s fine, you can totally just blow a hole through the wall and walk through it instead. It’s the sort of thing any rational person would die to see in an open-world game like GTA, but is strangely not something particularly implemented in any games still.
With that said, the game was certainly trying to follow in Half Life‘s footsteps. Other than the destructible environments, the gameplay is more-or-less the same — most first-person-shooters are indistinguishable I suppose, but Red Faction follows many specific traits that Half Life held — and features a very similar feeling plot. Unfortunately, the franchise derailed a great deal from attempting to be a high-brow FPS series after the first two games, ultimately leading THQ to announce the series’ demise.