Pablo Picasso once (apparently) said that:
“Good artists copy, great artists steal.”
To pay homage, be influenced by, respectfully reference… or just blatant stealing and plagiarism. Call it what you will. I’m here to look at some very obvious instances of games that outright ripped-off other games. Now, I’m not talking about games that are very similar and in the same genre per se. I mean I read an article recently that claimed Streets of Rage was a Final Fight rip-off. Errrr, no. They are just both scrolling beat ’em ups. If you are going to go that route, then Double Dragon came before Final Fight and Renegade (Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun) was before Double Dragon. Even then, Renegade wasn’t the first game of its kind either. But I digress.
I’m not going to nitpick a game because it has similar game mechanics or is part of the same genre. This article is going to look at games that are very clearly blatant rip-offs of other more ‘original’ titles. ‘Clones’ if you will, that certainly can’t be called original ideas, characters or even slight coincidences over the staggering similarities. These titles are just outright copying, legal or otherwise. In no particular order, just as they come to mind really, here’s my look at blatant video game rip-offs.
Simpsons: Road Rage
Probably the most famous rip-off on my list. Just looking at this game for 2 seconds will tell you that this is a blatant rip-off of Sega’s Crazy Taxi. It’s not even trying to be coy about it either, this is just Crazy Taxi wearing a Simpsons hat. The Simpsons has had a bit of a run ‘borrowing’ gameplay mechanics and ideas from other games to make their titles. But this instance was more than just ‘borrowing’ gameplay mechanics, this was just outright stealing.
It even got to a point where Sega sued Fox Entertainment, who owned The Simpsons IP, the game’s publisher, Electronic Arts, along with the developer of Simpsons: Road Rage, Radical Games. See, Sega had patented the concept of Crazy Taxi (Sega’s 138 patent) and long story short, Simpsons: Road Rage was infringing on that patent. Sega requested that all copies of the game be removed from shelves and they be compensated for the loss of sales.
The case, Sega of America, Inc. v. Fox Interactive, et al, was eventually settled out of court. Here’s a more in-depth look at the case and Sega’s 138 patent right here. I have to say, that article does end on a very interesting question though.
This smash-hit mobile game that became a worldwide phenomenon and a very bankable IP was actually
stolen borrowed. Seriously, Angry Birds (at one time) was gargantuan. I believe it is still the most downloaded mobile game IP and is a multi-billion dollar maker across all of its games. That is just the games too, not the movies and the endless merchandise. The whole IP is massive in terms of popularity and revenue. Just to think that the creators of Angry Birds, Rovio Entertainment, were actually on the verge of bankruptcy before they released the first game back in 2009.
Anyway, that very first game where you shoot little angry birds at a structure to knock it down, while taking out its inhabitants, was not exactly very original. See, Armor Games released a title before Angry Birds called Crush the Castle and well, Crush the Castle’s gameplay and mechanics were
stolen borrowed for Angry Birds. Aesthetically, they look different as Crush the Castle went for a more ‘realistic’ and medieval graphical style. Whereas Angry Birds is much more cartoony and comical.
However, in terms of gameplay and the mechanics used, they are identical. Everybody knows the objective in Angry Birds is to use a slingshot to fire a cute bird at a structure filled with bad guys (pigs) to knock it down. Well, in Crush the Castle, you use a trebuchet to fling rocks at a structure filled with bad guys to knock it down. Everything in terms of gameplay in Angry Birds was very clearly
stolen borrowed from Crush the Castle… even the physics used in the game is exactly the same. With Angry Birds’ cuter and more universal appeal, it became the one that is most remembered and turned into a multi-billion dollar franchise. While Crush the Castle is mostly forgotten about. There have been a few other games in the Crush the Castle series over the years (2018’s Crush the Castle: Siege Master being the most recent) but it certainly never got as massively popular as the game that stole borrowed from the original title.
The Great Giana Sisters
As far as I can remember, this was the first gaming rip-off that I became aware of at the time. Sure, I had played games before it that were ‘inspired’ by others. But they didn’t really hit me as rip-offs (even if they were) when I was younger. This game, however, this one caused such a massive shitstorm that you couldn’t really miss it. A little background info first though. Growing up in the eighties (after having an Atari 2600) we had a Commodore 64. At the time, the big gaming consoles were beginning to emerge. The likes of Sega’s Master System and the Nintendo Entertainment System were gaining popularity. Here in the UK, the NES never really caught on as much as the Master System did. However, that little Italian plumber with a moustache that was Mario was still pretty damn famous, even if the NES wasn’t. Everybody and his dog wanted to play Super Mario Bros. and you could only play it if you had a NES.
So yeah, there was a bit of an issue in the UK and Europe as a whole really where you really couldn’t play one of the biggest games at the time as the NES just wasn’t very popular. So what can you do? You just outright rip Super Mario Bros. off of course. The Great Giana Sisters was developed by Time Warp Productions and published by Rainbow Arts and well… it is Super Mario Bros. just with a different graphic set. Instead of brothers, the heroes are sisters, even the box are proudly proclaimed that: ‘the brothers are history’.
I mean, they didn’t even try to hide the blatant ripping-off at all, in fact, the devs were proud of it. The first level of The Great Giana Sisters is almost an exact replica of the first level in Super Mario Bros. Plus many of the staples in Mario’s game made it into the rip-off. Interesting enough, Nintendo didn’t sue. There has been a bit of an urban myth for years that Nintendo went after the developers and publisher for copyright infringement but they actually didn’t. I know, Nintendo NOT suing someone, what a shock. However, Nintendo did step in and request that The Great Giana Sisters be removed from sale due to the very obvious copyright infringement. Of course, the publisher very quickly responded and the game’s production was ceased while it soon disappeared from shop shelves. Today, a good, undamaged box version of The Great Giana Sisters has become a bit of a collector’s item and can sell for some decent coin if genuine as they are so incredibly rare.
Even more so, the developer, Time Warp Productions, had some serious nards as they even began to develop a sequel to their rip-off called Giana 2: Arthur and Martha in Future World. Even after Nintendo had already put the pressure on them to stop making the first game. In the end, it was deemed ‘too risky’ (no shit!) to try and piss Nintendo off for a second time. The game was given an overhaul, the characters were changed from the sisters to robots and the title was changed to Hard’n’Heavy. Oh yeah, they still released it… just not with the copyright infringing Giana Sisters.
A little twist in the tale though is that, later down the line, the rip-off became a somewhat popular franchise thanks to the Nintendo DS with Giana Sisters DS. There have been several other Giana Sisters titles released over the years too. Just to finish, The Great Giana Sisters was actually a pretty damn great game too. It gained high critical praise when it was released (before disappearing from shop shelves) and is one of the best platform games of the time. Still very playable today too, partially the Amiga version, it’s awesome.
Frank Bruno’s Boxing
I remember playing the crap out of this on my Commodore 64 back in the eighties. For me then, it was just a fun boxing game with the likeness of a true British sporting icon. Seeing as I played this so much and before I even knew the game it stole from existed, I thought Frank Bruno’s Boxing was the original and the original was the rip-off. I remember going round a friend’s house who had a NES (oh yeah, this is another Nintendo rip-off) and playing the ‘real’ game at his house, I said then that it was a rip-off of Frank Bruno’s Boxing, when in reality, it was the other way around. I know I’ve not mentioned what the original game was yet and that is because I wanted to just post a screen from Frank Bruno’s Boxing so you can see for yourself just how much theft was going on with this game. So, here we go…
Yup, it’s not even a slight copy of Super Punch-Out!! (Arcade), it is Super Punch-Out!! just with Frank Bruno in it… and very chunky C64 graphics. Other rip-offs can be quite subtle with just how they steal from other games. Some, at the very least, change the graphics… even The Great Giana Sisters had the self-respect to do that. But here, aside from the main character being Frank Bruno instead of Little Mac from the Nintendo game(s), the characters are just directly ripped from the Nintendo original. Okay, so the developers, Elite Systems, had the common sense to change their names, but they are still the exact same characters for the most part. Oh, and Frank Bruno’s Boxing’s characters were borderline racial stereotypes too. Such as the kung-fu boxer, Dragon Chan, being renamed Fling Long Chop or an African boxer called Tribal Trouble with a bone through his nose and let’s not forget the very questionable Antipodean Andy character.
Aside from the lazy racism in the game, Frank Bruno’s Boxing plays exactly like the arcade version of Super Punch-Out!! right down to the attacks and patterns of the boxers and the same animations. There’s the KO meter too This was why when I played the NES version years later that I thought it ripped-off this game when it was the other way around. Oh and before I forget, Frank Bruno’s Boxing even stole the Rocky theme, Gonna Fly Now by Bill Conti and no, Elite didn’t get the rights to use that either.
Super Noah’s Ark 3D
This one is, admittedly, a bit of an oddity as it is officially an unofficial rip-off… so to speak. But before I get to that, let me just cover what this game is all about. You play as Noah and use a slingshot to shoot food at animals so you can take them onto your ark. Oh yeah, we’re in religious territory here and it is glorious as it originally started out as a game based on the horror flick Hellraiser. So just how do you go from hell to heaven? Well via a Nazi based FPS game of course. This is just getting weirder and weirder isn’t it? Look, I could go into all the details now, but I already covered all of that right here.
So I can just get to the meat of this one, cutting a long story short, this is a rip-off of id Software’s classic, Wolfenstein 3D… if rip-off is the right word to use. There has been a long-standing story attached to this game that id Software were very unhappy with the censorship applied to the SNES version of Wolfenstein 3D. So much so that id ‘leaked’ the source code for Wolfenstein to the developers of Super Noah’s Ark 3D (that being Wisdom Tree) so they could make this game. See, Super Noah’s Ark 3D is the only SNES game not officially licensed by Nintendo and id allowed Wisdom Tree to make this game just to piss Nintendo off. However, that’s not true at all. First, Wisdom Tree paid to use the source code and second, id Software never had any issues with Nintendo over the SNES version of Wolfenstein 3D. John Romero himself has even talked about this openly when asked if id Software had a problem with Nintendo:
“No, we just thought it would be funny to use the Wolf3D SNES engine in a religious game.”
Yeah, Super Noah’s Ark 3D is basically a more kid-friendly and religious take on Wolfenstein 3D. While it was never officially licensed by Nintendo, it was still an official game with 100% backing from id Software too. So Super Noah’s Ark 3D is officially an unofficial rip-off… officially.
Golden Axe Warrior
Golden Axe was Sega’s answer to the side-scrolling beat ’em up trend that was gaining a lot of traction in the eighties. Golden Axe Warrior was Sega’s answer to Nintendo’s massively popular Zelda franchise. Seriously, watch 5 minutes of this long play and tell me it’s not ripping-off Zelda.
Golden Axe Warrior was released in 1991 for the Master System… following Nintendo’s success with The Legend of Zelda and Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. It is not just Golden Axe Warrior’s top-down viewpoint, nor its action-adventure style gameplay. It’s more a case of that when you watch gameplay footage of Golden Axe Warrior… it is a very blatant Zelda rip-off. Map/dungeon design, game structure, characters, in-game music and even direct assets look pretty much stolen from Nintendo’s Zelda franchise. Graphically the Master System looked ‘better’ thanks to a richer colour palette over the NES, but don’t let that fool you into thinking this looks any less Zelda-like. Just try to imagine Golden Axe Warrior on the NES and you would have another Zelda title.
Being British and a fan of British gaming history, I really feel that I should end this with a very British rip-off. The arcade classic BurgerTime had a simple and very enjoyable gameplay style. An early platform game where you play as a chef who has to walk over the various ingredients of a burger to make them. Highly unsanitary yes, but still really good fun to play. Ocean Software decided to just outright steal BurgerTime and make their own version as to not have to pay for the licence. The result of which was Mr. Wimpy.
Mr. Wimpy wasn’t just a stolen game, it was also a licensed game… just not licensed from Data East, the developers behind BurgerTime. Nope, Mr. Wimpy was a tie in with a then very popular burger chain restaurant here in the UK in the eighties, Wimpy. Originating in the US, Wimpy came to the UK in the 1950s, but the restaurant chain became massively popular throughout the late seventies and eighties… before becoming less and less popular in the nineties.
Anyway, Mr. Wimpy was a full-on tie-in with the burger chain and featured the then restaurant’s mascot and branding. Gameplay-wise, Mr. Wimpy is a direct clone of BurgerTime, you could put the two games next to each other and think that Mr. Wimpy was an official home port… it wasn’t. The only main difference was (outside of the visuals) that Mr. Wimpy had a little bonus stage where you had to collect food ingredients that BurgerTime didn’t. But in regards to gameplay and concept, Mr. Wimpy is an outright clone.
Well, that’s my pick of blatant video game rip-offs. I purposely avoided some of the more obvious ones. The endless Pac-Man clones, Doom rip-offs, GTA-a-likes, etc. I wanted to go for games that were either lesser known or ones with interesting backstories/resolves. Honestly, I could’ve crammed this article with so many more video game clones that you all already know about. But as I say, I wanted to go a lesser-known, more interesting route.
By the way, I ripped off the ending to this article from another site (I didn’t really, it’s just a crap joke).