Its ok to be a rip off (as long as youre good at it)

Recently Hideki Kamiya, exec at critical darling Platinum Games and director of Okami (opens in new tab), made news when talking about Sony’s PlayStation All-Star Battle Royale (opens in new tab). To quote Kamiya (opens in new tab), “It’s just a rip-off.” And as someone who has given over roughly 200 hours to the multiple games in the Super Smash Bros (opens in new tab) franchise, I feel safe in saying Battle Royale is clearly the result of someone within Sony wanting a Smash Bros of their very own. But Kamiya and others would be better served embracing an attitude I recently adopted. So many great games have “ripped off” other hits, why can’t we all give Battle Royale a chance to prove how well it can learn from another game’s success?

Now, when I use the term “rip off,” don’t mistake it for games that share a genre. If that were the case, every 2D platformer rips off Super Mario Bros (opens in new tab), every other puzzle game is a counterfeit of Tetris (opens in new tab), and any 3D fighting game ripped off Virtua Fighter (opens in new tab) (which, in turn, stole its fighting style from Street Fighter (opens in new tab)). No, what I mean is games that have such clear, specific inspirations that you can be sure it wouldn’t exist in its current form if it didn’t lift gameplay techniques wholesale from the games that pioneered them. And in many cases that’s completely forgivable.

Just look at last week’s release of Sleeping Dogs (opens in new tab), a game that wears its influences on its sleeve. Beyond the sandbox trappings firmly established by Grand Theft Auto III, the hand-to-hand combat is straight from the Batman: Arkham games (opens in new tab) and fans of Wheelman (opens in new tab) will recognize the source of hijacking cars. But listing influences ultimately doesn’t matter, because Sleeping Dogs executes so well on what it rips off, something many of the reviews (opens in new tab), including GamesRadar’s (opens in new tab), agree on.

You need only look back to 2010 for another perfect example of execution outpacing obvious inspirations. When the original Darksiders (opens in new tab) came out, more than a few knocked it for being a Legend of Zelda clone, something I’ll agree with despite loving the game. The dungeon structure was the same, they share sword-based combat, and exploration incorporates tools identical to boomerangs and hookshots. For extra uninspired credit, Darksiders also contains a weapon that shoots orange and blue portals. Seriously (opens in new tab).

Once I got over my reflexively negative reaction to the seeming lack of any originality in Darksiders, I settled into the game and found myself continually impressed by it. The developers had learned well from Zelda. Over and over again Darksiders proved it didn’t merely copy and paste from Link’s adventures, it had studied them closely. Developer Vigil Games skillfully implemented those lessons to give tribute to the games of their youth. And then Vigil went on to iterate further on these inspirations, delivering the even better (and more original) game in Darksiders II (opens in new tab).

The same pride in unoriginality was on display in Shadow Complex (opens in new tab). Developer Chair was open about its inspirations (opens in new tab), copping to lifting design strategies of Super Metroid (opens in new tab). Like Darksiders, you can tell it comes from a place of love and admiration, out to fill a niche Nintendo created and few outside of Castlevania (opens in new tab) had tried to fill. Chair, like Vigil, then took the gameplay and added aesthetics and story content that the originators didn’t approach, making for a game that people accepted with open arms. Shadow Complex continually shows up on best XBLA games (opens in new tab) lists and many are clamoring for a sequel.

There are so many examples of games I hold dear that may not blaze a new trail, but were outstanding all the same. Would Rhythm Thief exist without Professor Layton? Saints Row without GTA? Dante’s Inferno without God of War? League of Legends without Dota? Or Torchlight without Diablo? All of those are worth your time no matter how you feel about what they took from their sources.

The added irony of Kamiya’s statement is that he doesn’t need to look far to see the power of a brilliant rip off. Platinum’s Bayonetta (opens in new tab) is clearly inspired by Devil May Cry, though most would forgive that since many former DMC devs worked on the title. But few could argue that Okami would exist without Zelda’s 3D titles. Just like Darksiders, Okami closely shadowed the Zelda template, but used it tell a story all its own. It’s an unforgettable game thanks to all the ways it learned from and expanded on another franchise’s strengths. Instead of calling out those games as deceptive, gamers lauded Okami as a work of art and Platinum has quickly become one of the most respected companies in its field.

Believe me, artless re-creations and flagrant stealing can, and definitely should, be called out and given the lack of respect they deserve. Look at the negativity that met Limbo of the Lost (opens in new tab), a game that mirrored Oblivion in all the wrong ways. Then there’s Facebook heavyweight Zynga, which has been rightly accused multiple times for blatant theft of titles like Tiny Tower (opens in new tab) and The Sims Social (opens in new tab). However, give a game a chance to prove itself a sham. Just because Battle Royale’s inspiration is clear from the outset doesn’t mean it’s fate has been decided. Gamers should first take a deep breath and remember all the great times they had with “rip offs.” It worked for me.

You know that kid at parties who talks too much? Drink in hand, way too enthusiastic, ponderously well-educated in topics no one in their right mind should know about? Loud? Well, that kid’s occasionally us. GR Editorials is a semi-regular feature where we share our informed insights on the news at hand. Sharp, funny, and finger-on-the-pulse, it’s the information you need to know even when you don’t know you need it.

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