Retro Gaming Rip Offs (Arcade, Zelda)

26Jan10

One of the bi-products of our technology-driven, consumer based society is the so-called rip off, a service or product that owes its ideas and presentation to something that came before it, whether unintentionally, or much more likely, intentionally with plans to distribute. This is common place today, especially in places like China that have such loose intellectual property right legislation that any company can totally imitate the goods, service, and even logos of their (usually western) counter-parts.

The phenomena of copying the look and feel of other games has been present in videogames for most of the medium’s existence. This was especially true in the arcade days where many of the games we look upon so fondly now, Pac Man, Space Invaders, and Robotron 2084, have a long list of imitators. Pak Pak Man? Puck Monster? The things we do for money…

OK, I know this is a japanese pac man game licensed by Namco. You don't know how hard it is to find "Puck Monster" box art!

That isn’t to say that all rip offs are bad, quite the contrary, and in this article I intend to highlight some quirky clones of classic games that can stand up reasonably well to criticism (once you look past their obvious plagiarism), as well as others where it could be argued that the accused are simply paying homage to a game or franchise they truly admire. Beyond the arcades, as we entered the new generation of sprites, bleeps, and blowing, we we’re introduced to a plethora of Mario-style platformers with increasingly ridiculous mascots. This was especially present during the 16-bit era where for every Rocket Knight Adventures we got a Bubsy, the conventional wisdom being that you needed a cute and/or badass mascot with tude to make it in the industry.  Whew, i’m getting ahead of myself. Let us start with a game we’ve all heard of, and most dyed in the wool hardcore gamers consider to be one of the better franchises in existence, The Legend of Zelda.

I can just smell the tude and mt. dew radiating from the computer screen

Legend of Zelda clones, or “Welcome to Ryhule!

Just thinking about the first time I popped in A Link to the Past gives me the fuzzy feelings of gaming nostalgia, that yearning for simpler times when 3D and virtual reality were the waves of the future. It symbolizes the best of the Super Nintendo and the 16-bit era in my humble opinion, and certainly my favorite game in the franchise (with Link’s Awakening coming in a close second). This is why the games I will be discussing in this segment were meant with disgust when I first laid eyes upon them, whether or it be last night or years ago, however i’ve grown fond of  a few them for various reasons. This is not the case with Golden Axe Warrior for the Sega Master System.

The legend of who?

Three hearts? Magic bar? Floppy hat? On a quest to retrieve mysterious and/or ancient artifacts to rid of the world of an evil guy? This game screams Zelda, just look at the box art description:

World peace is at stake! Death Adder, a wicked giant, has stolen the nine crystals from the kingdom of Firewood and has hidden them in nine labyinths that he has created. These nine magic crystals protected the people from evil — especially from Death Adder’s grasp. But now that the crystals are lost, the world is defenseless!

*Yawn* another world in need of saving by a young hero, whatever will he do? This game rips off the zelda format without discretion, you must traverse an open world and find the nine labyrinths, each containing a special item to help you on your quest and ensure you reach the next dungeon. The sprites also look incredibly similar to those found in Zelda, everything from the bushes to the pig monsters is essentially ripped off, the game even featured the skeleton warriors and annoying bats the Zelda series is famous for!  This game was decried as an imitator when it was released, although this was also at the beginning of the Nintendo/Sega rivalry, and fan boys quickly came to defend the title.

While some people still look back upon this title fondly, I cannot recommend it. The story is boring, the way the game advances is almost esoteric (you have to talk to random villagers to get ANY magic), and frankly it just doesn’t stand up as an enjoyable retro game today. This cannot be said of the next title I want to discuss however, as this title at least tries to build upon the foundation of zelda plagiarism, adding a hint of Earthbound-style aesthetics. Of course i’m referring to Gunple: Gunman’s Proof

The main village in Gunple. Can combining Zelda and Earthbound really be a bad thing?

I stumbled across this game randomly a few years ago while reading about Japanese games that never made it to our shores. Gunple: Gunman’s Proof was released in 1997 for the Super Famicom in Japan and was unfortunately never translated. However, thanks to the fine folks at Aeon Genesis, you can download a surprisingly good fan translation for free. You’re going to want to play this in English too, because the story is surprisingly quirky and bizzare (again, references to Earthbound could be made).

In the year 1880, two meteors crash down on Strange Island just off the American west coast. A short time later, strange incidents start occurring, monsters start attacking people in the village and leaving behind an odd crest that reads “demiseed”. One day, a curious teenage boy living in Bronco Village decides to sneak out of his house and venture out to investigate. During his expedition, a flying saucer crashes right in front of him. Two aliens come out of the craft and identify themselves as members of an intergalactic law enforcement agency. Space Sheriffs Zero and Garo explain that all of the problems occurring on Strange Island are due to Demi, an interstellar criminal that escaped from justice and is hiding out on Earth.

So the story goes, a little American boy in his typical small town sets out on a quest involving space sheriffs, still sounds oddly familiar. The gameplay is somewhat of a departure from Zelda and this is the area where the game really shines, you use guns instead of swords, a lot of guns. Pistols, Bazookas, Flame Throwers, and Shotguns, and you’ll of course get essential items from the eight dungeons along the way. Gameplay-mechanics wise, Gunple is somewhat similar to Commando or SMASH TV, with some action RPG elements and decently challenging puzzles .

The game is fairly short, especially considering that this came it in 1997 during the twilight years of the SNES. I completed the main quest in just under 5 hours, and the side quests are almost non-existent. If you are a Zelda or Earthbound fan however, I would definitely give this game a shot (no pun intended). The story is interesting and often funny, the twist and turns in gameplay will keep you playing, and despite looking much like A Link to the Past, this game can still carry its own.

The next game we will be discussing also looks and feels very similar to link to the past, however this one isn’t an action RPG on a console, but rather an MMORPG for PC. Now I know what you’re thinking, a “four swords” style online rpg? how could it possibly go wrong? Believe me, it can, and I know because I started playing Graal Online when I was a young lad near its inception. At its base, Graal Online is a MMO that looks and play exactly like Zelda, the only real difference being it is community driven and very customizable. You could tailor nearly everything to your specifications, from your character’s sprite to the way his weapon looks by simply designing a .PNG file, the game even came with a level editor when I first downloaded it. Keep in mind this was before the days of World of Warcraft where the standard for a good online RPG was still open to interpretation and people got creative.

look at those trees!

When this game was still new, free, and only had about 300 players, I loved it, wasting valuable hours of homework time everyday in it’s virtual world. I was also about 13 at the time, and was blind to it’s apparent flaws due to the overall coolness of the concept. Then, the creators decide to start charging $20 a month to play, twenty dollars to play a walking, talking copyright infringement lawsuit. I’ll never forget the in-game protest where everyone picked up a road sign and blocked hyrule–*cough–um, excuse me, Graal bridge. It sounds juvenile and lame in retrospect, but as a kid I was truly saddened this game I had enjoyed for the last 9 months was no longer free (after all, how was I supposed to get $20 a month?). Many subscribers left Graal for greener pastures, and the game’s originality dwindled at the behest of the vacant community that once supported it.

You can still find Graal Online and download a free trial, but the game is such a bastardization of it’s former glory that there’s really no point, and yes it still costs money.

For more information regarding retro plagarism, check out Episode 2 of Pixel Dreams for expanded rip-offerings.

filed by Drew.

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