Copycats in the entertainment industry are nothing new. If something gains even a modicum of success, you can be sure a legion of wannabes will rise up for a bit of that sweet, sweet spotlight. That’s how we get "mockbuster" films like Android Cop and Transmorphers trying to steal the thunder from smash hits like RoboCop and Transformers (no, really).
The same is true for video games. When something is beloved enough to sell well and gain critical praise, it’s only a matter of time before the imitators come along. Sometimes these are pretty low quality, quickly churned out as a way of cashing in on a new craze. Sometimes, however, these games appear to be well-meaning tributes that go a little too far. These aren’t always bootlegs, either. Occasionally, copycats can come in the form of major releases. Let’s take a look at some of the video game clones that came out recently or are on their way and figure out what all the fuss is about.
Genshin Impact is basically an anime clone of Breath of the Wild
Announced in June 2019, Genshin Impact is an upcoming open world RPG from developers MiHoYo. The game has drawn criticism for its obvious similarities to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, both in art style and gameplay.
When the first gameplay trailer for Genshin Impact debuted at ChinaJoy, a Chinese gaming conference, the backlash began almost immediately. Most famously, one disgruntled fan protested the game by publicly smashing his PlayStation 4 following the announcement of Genshin Impact‘s release for that console. Though it remains to be seen how Genshin Impact may set itself apart from the game that has clearly inspired it, Plagiarism Today cut to the meat of the matter when they succinctly pointed out that the main issue seems to be more than just the similarities. Gamers seem to mainly take issue with the apparent "attempt to recreate Breath of the Wild rather than take the best elements of the game and create something new with them."
Left Alive was Metal Gear Flaccid
Upon first glance, you’d be forgiven for mistaking Left Alive as another spinoff of the Metal Gear Solid series. However, Left Alive was in fact an offshoot of the popular Front Mission series of sci-fi strategy games. Left Alive traded in the franchise’s usual gameplay for a more stealth-oriented approach. Continuing to take cues from Solid Snake and company, Left Alive‘s developers hired Yoji Shinkawa — an artist most commonly linked with the design aesthetics of the Metal Gear franchise — to design the characters for the game. The result is a game that looks and feels like a Metal Gear Solid wannabe. In fact, when Left Alive‘s first trailer dropped, VG24/7 commented that it looked "a lot like a Metal Gear sequel with mechs."
Sadly, the game didn’t live up to even those expectations, with Tech Raptor‘s review stating, "Don’t let the Yoji Shinkawa artwork trick you. Left Alive isn’t the Metal Gear Solid revival you’ve been hoping for. Nor is it a quality entry in the Front Mission series. It’s a clumsy trainwreck of a stealth-action game that does neither franchise justice."
Let’s Hunt Monsters is a poor man’s clone of Pokémon
Let’s Hunt Monsters is a Pokémon Go clone from Tencent that immediately attracted attention for just how closely it copies everything from the game that inspired it, while also introducing some out-of-place extra elements. One of these new features is the ability to traverse the map in "spirit form," rather than having to walk everywhere as in Pokémon Go (which nearly defeats the purpose of the original game). As Abacus put it, Let’s Hunt Monsters isn’t exactly terrible, but "there’s no substitute for the real thing."
Perhaps the most interesting aspects of the game are the circumstances that led to its creation. Unlike many other knockoff games that coexist with their inspiration, the main factor that necessitated making Let’s Hunt Monsters is the fact that Pokémon Go is unplayable in China, which has banned Google Maps, making the real-world navigation in Pokémon Go impossible. That’s where Tencent came in, creating a game that not only encourages players to catch ’em all, but allows them to trade their hard-earned monsters with other players. This effort actually paid off for Tencent, and Let’s Hunt Monsters has been a massive financial success.
Enhanced Portals looks a little too much like Cuphead
In development from Xixo Games Studio, Enchanted Portals is a cutely animated action-adventure title that has kicked up quite a bit of controversy. Fans of Cuphead were quick to point out the similarities between that game and Enchanted Portals. Though games imitating the art style and whimsy of classic cartoons is nothing new, the run-and-gun gameplay also closely resembles that of Cuphead.
The composer and artist for Enchanted Portals responded to the criticism in a surprising and upfront way, admitting that Cuphead was a major influence on the property. This artist, who gave her name as Gemma to Polygon, said, "We wanted to make something similar [to Cuphead], but always from a place of respect and admiration for the original … We were prepared for some backlash."
Though Xixo originally planned to raise funds for the project through Kickstarter, the developers have revealed that they are in talks with a publisher to finance and release the game. Whether this means the project’s aesthetics will change remain to be seen.
RAW is a seemingly unattainable GTA clone
RAW is an attempt at an immersive answer to Grand Theft Auto Online. While GTA-likes are nothing new, the issue here was that backers and Kickstarter alike began to worry about whether or not the developers could deliver on their extremely lofty goals. In addition, Kickstarter found the developers to be in violation of their agreement with the fundraising site. As a Kickstarter representative explained to PCGamesN, "Our rules and guidelines ask that creators seek to raise the amount of money needed to bring a project to completion and fulfill all rewards. This creator stated in an update that they would need to raise additional funds outside of Kickstarter to complete the game. We require projects to be honest and clearly presented, and this project failed to meet that standard."
In other words, the developers at Raw more or less admitted that they couldn’t make the game purely on the money raised through the Kickstarter, which led to concerns that the people who pledged their money wouldn’t get to see exactly what they paid for. We may still find out, as RAW‘s developers have said they plan on starting an IndieGoGo campaign next.
Glorious Saga earned an inglorious lawsuit
Glorious Saga from Chinese company Sina Games found itself the subject of a major lawsuit from Blizzard Entertainment, who felt that the game had stolen multiple assets and designs from Blizzard’s Warcraft franchise. Included among Blizzard’s complaints against Glorious Saga were the game’s mobile icon, which looked remarkably similar to the cover art of Warcraft‘s Battle for Azeroth expansion. In addition, Blizzard claimed, "Every monster, creature, animal, and vehicle in the Infringing Game was copied from the Warcraft games … Audio cues and sound effects from the Warcraft games were reproduced for the Infringing Game." The lawsuit is seeking "$150,000 per infringed work."
Shortly following the lawsuit being filed, Glorious Saga was no longer available for download, and its servers were taken offline. Not only was it no longer available for download, but it was also removed from in-browser play on the website Instant Funs. As noted by Kotaku, "There are a lot of mobile games out there ripping off Blizzard’s characters and series, but Glorious Saga is pretty bad even by those low standards." In other words, it seems that Blizzard definitely has a strong case in this regard.
Let’s Go Pokémon Mobile is a surprisingly beautiful bootleg
Pokémon Sword and Shield, the latest installments of the Pokémon series, have received significant flak for the quality of the games’ animations, which appear to reuse assets from the franchise’s 3DS incarnations. This comes on the heels of Pokémon developers Game Freak announcing that the game’s number of catchable monsters will be smaller and that players will not be able to trade their Pokémon from other games, supposedly so that Game Freak could focus on the quality of character animations in Sword and Shield.
This brings us to the bootleg game Let’s Go Pokémon Mobile. Unlike other entries on this list, Let’s Go Pokémon Mobile didn’t just cause a stir for blatantly ripping off the official Pokémon series and attempting to pass itself off as the genuine article. What really got fans up in arms is just how good the game actually looked from a visual standpoint. Attacks are fully animated and the game seems to have a stronger roster of classic monsters than Sword and Shield. This may be the only bootleg on this list that has gained notoriety for being kind of rad.
Devolver Bootleg is a hilarious self-ripoff
Devolver Bootleg may be the strangest game on this entire list, because this one isn’t a case of a developer attempting to ape someone else’s style. No, Devolver Bootleg is a compilation of games that are presented as knockoffs of titles from Devolver Digital — the folks who released Hotline Miami and Ape Out — that are actually released by Devolver Digital. That’s right; Devolver put out a parody collection of their own games.
In this collection, Hotline Miami becomes Hotel Milwaukee, and Enter the Gungeon becomes the awkwardly titled Enter the Gun Dungeon. These parodies evoke a classic 8-bit style, complete with a fun retro soundtrack that Rock Paper Shotgun cited as the highlight of the collection. While the games are short and simplistic, perfectly fitting the old-school arcade aesthetic, Gaming Trend‘s review concluded that "fans of Devolver Digital will get a kick out of this, if only for a short moment." If nothing else, it’s nice to see that some companies can still poke fun at themselves, and that not every "bootleg" is malicious.
Disc Creatures is love letter to Pokémon
Disc Creatures is an indie RPG that definitely wears its inspirations on its sleeve, with PC Gamer saying that it feels like "a lost Game Boy game, devoted to a very particular look and type of design." The game follows a young protagonist on a quest to collect and train numerous creatures. These creatures can be used in battles and stored in computer databases, where they will rest until they are again chosen by their trainer. As they battle, they level up and learn new skills. Sound familiar?
This one is an interesting case in that it doesn’t feel like a malicious ripoff, but rather a loving tribute to a game series that the developers clearly hold near and dear. However, its future may be a little rocky. As Bleeding Cool put it, "It’s all an obvious homage. It’ll be a miracle, we’d say, if it doesn’t get hit with some sort of lawsuit with just how incredibly similar it is to Pokémon."
Gleamlight looks like a stained glass Hollow Knight
The first trailer for Gleamlight, the upcoming 2D action game from DICO and D3Publisher, was met with derision from fans of Hollow Knight who noted Gleamlight‘s many visual and gameplay similarities. "The color palettes seem similar, the hand-drawn style is similar, and the main character has a similar design … The attacks and movements also seem familiar," pointed out Game Save Point. Even if unintentional, it’s hard to avoid questions of whether or not this game is a rip-off.
"Gleamlight is still in development and it’s not final at this moment … The dev team is aware of Hollow Knight but the game has nothing to do with that title," D3Publisher told Polygon. It seems the studio is taking the comments seriously at some level, which may lead to tweaked art direction for Gleamlight down the line. Still, you have to wonder how much they could realistically change before the game’s expected 2020 release.