Who says you need to be original to be great? Not Nick D., who takes a look at some amazing games that are so derivative that they could be called clones.
The term clone is gets thrown around when gamers accuse games of being derivative of a particular, often very popular, game. This is usually an unfair assertion as most games draw elements from the past, and the line between standing on the shoulders of giants and plagiarizing is blurry in many cases. Being a clone most often refers to blatantly copying gameplay elements without adding enough original content.
However, even original elements are often not enough to shirk off the clone label. This leaves a certain amount of uncertainty when approaching the topic of clones. What’s usually true, however, is that a so-called clone is rarely able to stand on their own, being endlessly compared to the original. Today, I’d like to examine ten examples of clones rising out of the shadow of the original material. Because of the nebulous definition of clones in gaming, I only took games that I have personally heard the term clone being leveled at.
1. Dr. Mario
Tetris was one of gaming’s original rock starts. It was so popular at the time that it still ranks high on many Greatest Games of All Time lists. With such success came imitators and a slew of drop puzzle-type games flew to the market, but perhaps none were as successful as Dr. Mario. Nintendo isn’t known for straight out copying other games. Of the two early Nintendo games that I would consider clones, Dr. Mario and Balloon Fight, Dr. Mario has definitely had more impact.
Even though the idea that Mario, traditionally depicted as a plumber, being authorized to prescribe pills is scary, there’s something about this game that sets it apart from other Tetris derivatives. The design of Mario and the viruses are great, adding much needed flair to the dour-looking Tetris. Perhaps, perplexingly, Dr. Mario has a theme song as addictive as the original Tetris scores.
2. Diddy Kong Racing
When you think about it, kart racing shouldn’t be a genre. The only real thing that separates it from traditional racing games is the arcade style and goofy gimmicks, both of which don’t need an entire new genre to incorporate. However, kart racing does exist as a separate genre and it’s entirely because of Super Mario Kart.
Diddy Kong Racing is what happens when one of Nintendo’s star franchises, helmed by one of Nintendo’s formerly most creative studios, branches out. One of the key elements of kart racing is the use of series mascots. Rare capitalized on the successes of Super Mario Kart and Mario Kart 64 to create Diddy Kong Racing, using mascots from their own games in place of Mario, Bowser, and the rest. They combined the insanity that Rare was known for at the time, all the while using the skeletal frame of Mario Kart to create a game that still has rabid fans asking for more.
3. Fallout 3
The Elder Scrolls series is the gold standard for open world RPGs, and it’s hard not to see Bethesda’s influence in most examples of the genre. Surprisingly little has changed since Bethesda began developing games. Despite each engine looking better and better, the core of the Elder Scrolls experience has remained the same.
When Fallout 3 was released, the term “Oblivion with guns” was thrown around quite a bit. Despite this accusation, the idea of actually roaming the wastes in an Oblivion-sized map, armed with rapidly degenerating arms worked with the original concept. Exploration was always a major part of Fallout games, and the third installment was made even stronger by copying the proven gameplay of the Elder Scrolls remained pretty much the same over the years. So, when Bethesda acquired the Fallout property, they simply copied and pasted what worked when creating Fallout 3.
4. Final Fantasy
Dragon Warrior, or Dragon Quest, if you prefer, basically invented every major JRPG trope. That’s not to say that it wasn’t influenced by a plethora of outside material, but the substance of the JRPG was set down firmly by Enix’s early masterpiece. It was so successful that when near-broke Squaresoft gambled on their last game, they churned out Final Fantasy, a remarkably similar experience to Dragon Warrior.
Of course, Final Fantasy managed to make some severe waves of its own. By utilizing many of Dragon Warrior’s gameplay ideas, Squaresoft was able to make an adventure that stood entirely on its own. Sure, it was derivative, but, at the time, there wasn’t much else like it on the market, and fans of Dragon Warrior were chomping on the bit for more. The original Final Fantasy seems hopelessly dated now, but, at the time, it was a cutting edge adventure, full of charm and promise.
5. Parasite Eve II
Resident Evil coined the term survival horror, though it is possible to find examples of the genre before it. Nevertheless, Capcom’s zombie outbreak game made waves, especially how it handled third-person shooting on a platform that was overly reliant on pre-rendered backgrounds. While its restrictive tank controls were often derided, they were adopted by a large number of games during the PlayStation era because of how they handled space in a restricted 3D environment.
I like to imagine the sales pitch for the second Parasite Eve game included the words “like Resident Evil, but with fun combat”. While Dino Crisis is the obvious pick for a Resident Evil clone, Parasite Eve simply did it better. Squaresoft took the much maligned tank controls and tacked on a game that thrived, not on avoiding combat, but on actively hunting down and wiping out every enemy in sight. With a variety of guns, powers and infinite ways to play though the game, it still amazes me what the infusion of RPG elements can do to a game.
6. Dead Space
The original run of Resident Evil was influential in the early days of 3D gaming, but its fourth installment became the template for modern third-person shooter games. The strong, over-the-shoulder camera, tight, responsive gunplay, feedback shooting, all of these elements were perfected by Resident Evil 4. Of course, many fans thought that Resident Evil 4 was a betrayal and that it abandoned horror for action.
While the series eventually devolved into pure action, the original Dead Space was very much a survival horror game at a time when being a survival horror game wasn’t cool. Even if the gameplay was almost entirely co-opted from Resident Evil 4, the setting, lore and enemies were so inventive and unique that Dead Space really stood apart from its father-game. Just the simple reversal on the ‘aim for the head’ mentality was a welcome change, and I never got tired of severing limbs with perhaps a little too much glee. That’s where Dead Space came in.
7. Secret of Evermore
Secret of Mana was released at the height of Squaresoft’s JRPG dominance on the Super Nintendo. It featured action RPG gameplay that allowed multiple people to play at once. While every element of Secret of Mana was brilliant, its gameplay brought people in with its fun-to-use charge attacks, and easily navigable ring menus. With such a great combat system readily available, it’s hard to blame Square’s Washington office for copying what works in the development of Secret of Evermore.
Even stealing the Secret out of the title, Secret of Evermore is as much of a clone of Secret of Mana as can be. However, if you look past the similar, yet dulled art-style, and identical combat, there’s a lot to Secret of Evermore that sets it apart. The alchemy system, which sends you adventuring for spell components, is really engaging. Exploration was made fun due to all of the secrets hidden about the game, and the story, though often corny, was more down to Earth than standard JRPG fare. Of course, having a transforming dog companion doesn’t hurt either.
Along with God of War, it’s hard to imagine a game more influential to modern action games than Devil May Cry. The original placed an emphasis on style more than efficiency. Fighting no longer became about killing the enemy. Instead, combat was all about showing off how cool you can make your combos. This struck a cord with audiences as can be seen by the fact that half of YouTube is reserved for people achieving cool, yet nonsensical feats in video games. That spirit of style over all else was picked up by cult classic Bayonetta in a big way.
Yes, I know that the Hideki Kamiya, the creator of Devil May Cry, supervised the development of Bayonetta. Nevertheless, almost every major gameplay element is lifted from the demon-hunting classic, and I’m willing to call it a clone. Where Bayonetta differs, however, is in it’s off-the-wall craziness, and gameplay that blows completely past the original inspiration. There’s just something about being a witch, covered in a suit made from her own hair, fighting tentacle-angels, all the while making as many sexual puns as possible that simply has to put a smile on your face.
9. Final Fantasy Tactics
Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together is he second game in the Ogre franchise, though it bares little resemblance to the original Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen. Instead of the large-scale strategic warfare, Tactics Ogre operated on smaller-scale unit-based combat. This turn-based, unit centric game set up many of the elements that would forever be attached to the SRPG genre, whose most famous example is almost a carbon copy of Tactics Ogre. I speak, of course, about Final Fantasy Tactics.
Final Fantasy Tactics is a game that has completely eclipsed the original in terms of popularity. Tactics Ogre may have helped pioneer the SRPG genre, but Final Fantasy Tactics was the first game that people sat up and took notice of it. The massive story and world captivated, and the return of the often-ignored Final Fantasy class system worked excellently as overlays of Tactics Ogre’s own job system. While the Final Fantasy Tactics series technically continued through the unrelated, upbeat Final Fantasy Tactics Advance games, most fans would agree that the original hit the target best.
The Legend of Zelda series has a formula. 1 – Go to a dungeon; 2 – Obtain new item; 3 – Beat the dungeon using that item; 4 – Use that item to get to the next dungeon; 5 – repeat. It’s a simple formula, but it works, providing equal parts exhilaration for exploration and a constant and reliable progression through the game. Many games have taken this formula, but few have been as derivative of the Legend of Zelda series than Darksiders.
The original Darksiders is one of the most derivative game I’ve played. Blatantly taking elements from a number of series, particularly The Legend of Zelda, Darksiders managed to make something worth paying attention to. It goes to show that the Zelda formula is still one that works so well that even clones can shine brightly. I will admit – having Mark Hamil as one of the game’s voice actors does go a long way as well.
That is my list of top clones in gaming. In many cases, whether something is a clone or is simply inspired by another game is all about perspective. What is certain is that even highly derivative games can still be great. Feel free to dispute the fact that these games are, in fact, clones and let me know about any other great clones in the comments.