It’s often said that imitation is the greatest form of flattery. If we encounter something or someone that we respect, we want to emulate that greatness into the things that we do: do the writings of Stephen King chill you to the bone? Then it’s likely your own writings reflect that appreciation. Did you grow up in awe of Michael Jordan’s basketball skills? Then I can bet that when you’re on the court, you want to be “just like Mike.”
Video games are no stranger to imitation. Developers since the birth of the industry have been inspired by the games that came before, and want to build upon those foundations. However, games that appear too similar to another are often deemed “clones,” and these copied features are met with much broader negative reactions from the gaming community than in most other forms of media. This leads me to ask, is imitation really flattery when it comes to making video games, or is it more-or-less laziness on the side of the developer?
It’s no surprise that the most acclaimed and popular games are the ones that spawn “imposters.” These are the games that have made the greatest impact, of course, the ones that have molded a generation, and their unique and ambitious ideas are the ones that developers want to carry over to their own titles. Pac-Man, Wolfenstein 3-D, Tetris, and countless others have presented revolutionary gameplay and ideas that every developer wants to capture with their own projects.
These games, while incredible, aren’t perfect however, and there can always be improvements made. For example, Banjo-Kazooie contains nearly all of the elements that made Super Mario 64 such a success (collectibles, a large hub world leading to even larger stages, transformative powerups, etc), yet the former title pushes all of the established features set by the latter to even greater heights. The Saints Row games, especially those early in the franchise, don’t shy away from their GTA inspirations, but their slew of side missions and its embrace of the absurd has arguably influenced its Grand Theft Auto just as much in recent years.
There’s no question though that there are some games that are blatant, lazy copies: the Great Giana Sisters cannot hide the fact that it’s a rip-off of Super Mario Bros., and the atrocious PlayStation 1 horror game Countdown Vampires is just Resident Evil but with, well, blood sucking vampires. In recent years, video game clones are even more rampant; all you must do is log onto any digital storefront and you’ll be bombarded with hoards of match three puzzle or city building games, all nearly identical to one-another save for a fresh coat of paint.
Despite this, I am of the opinion that imitation is largely a positive force in the gaming realm. All ideas must come from a seed. No game is perfect, and often it takes someone else coming along to best fix these issues. The best game of today is only the best until another one comes along and does it better, after all.
I’m currently playing Immortals: Fenyx Rising, which is in so many ways a direct copy of the critically acclaimed The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I hate to use the word copy, but it does lift so much from its inspiration, from the gameplay to the types of things you’ll uncover in the open world, and even some of the menus appear far too similar. To say Immortals is inspired by Breath of the Wild is a bit of a stretch, as the Zelda game serves much more of a template to form a game around.
But the more I’ve played, Immortals is proving to rectify many of the issues I had while playing the latest Zelda title. Because of this, I have greater confidence that the Breath of the Wild sequel will exceed some of the highest expectations, and that future games will progress even further than that.
What do you think? Should new games seek to be original and unique, or should they further improve upon great concepts that have already been brought forth? Are there are other examples of a “clone” that has surpassed its predecessor? What has been the most blatant video game copy that you have played? I’m interested in hearing your thoughts in the comments below, as well as on our Discord!