The Worst RIP-OFFs In Gaming

Dan Scog returns with a detailed knock out of video gaming's biggest knock-offs.
June 27, 2006
Some people say that imitation is the highest form of flattery. But those people probably haven't had their million-dollar ideas stolen, repackaged, and sold by some idiot from Timbuktu. And that's why there's a fine line between using that famous phrase to console yourself and hauling asses into court for copyright infringement. I realize the list format makes a lot of people wary, but I've done my best to pull no punches. Gory detailed analysis will follow each entry. Yep, it's time to open the floodgates...or is it the sewage drain? Listed in order of their offenses...

GTA, it's nothin' personal, but you gettin' jacked!

5 - The Simpson's Hit & Run (AKA Grand Theft Auto III)

The Simpsons franchise has always been a notorious example of why quality in one medium simply doesn't translate to quality in another. The repeated attempts and failures to produce a quality Simpsons video game go back to 1991. The Simpson's Arcade game was very popular, but was never available commercially. Instead came the release of Bart vs. The Space Mutants. The game itself wasn't wholly unplayable and has since amassed a sort of cult-following (possibly because it's the Simpson's game that most gamers remember playing). The same argument could be made for the next year's Bart's Nightmare on SNES. But during that same time (Bart vs. The World), after (Bart and the Beanstalk), and ever since (The Simpsons Wrestling) it's been one dismal failure after another. In 2003 there was a big ad campaign for the Simpson's Hit & Run which essentially pitched the game as this: Look, we know we've screwed Simpsons' fans a thousand times in the past, but for the landmark first time we're offering you quality. I actually borrowed the game from a friend and started playing. I was really enjoying the game play and found it quite addicting. Then about 1/4th of the way in it hit me. This FEELS like a different game. A game that I've heard about. Without having ever played an entry in the Grand Theft Auto series my gamer senses were tingling: telling me something wasn't right. The very next day I borrowed Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and I never went back to The Simpson's Hit & Run. I've been a huge Grand Theft Auto fan ever since. And it all made sense. The people who produce Simpson's games had gotten tired of failing and just decided to cheat. Of course they could offer quality - they made a game that was built on a stolen premise. A modern premise with ongoing popularity. To me, there's no way you can mention Hit & Run without having Grand Theft Auto in the same sentence. They simply took the game "Virtual Springfield" which appeals to Simpson's nerds and nobody else and merged it with "Grand Theft Auto III" which appeals to almost all gamers.

Look...I'll be honest, there's no way to prepare the uninitiated for this...

4 - Super Mario World - Chinese Version (AKA Rescue Rangers, Super Street Fighter II, Super Mario World, Super Mario All-Stars, ???)

I can see the argument that I shouldn't include this game because it never had a commercial release, but then again, does anything in China? Among other things, the Chinese government would have its people believe that the Tiananmen Square incident was an entrapment plot to sniff out traitors and that smoking cigarettes is actually good for your health. No doubt they would have everyone believe that this "Hong Kong" edition of Super Mario World is actually...well...Super Mario World. At first glance, it's unclear whether the makers were actually trying to reproduce the feel of a Mario game. From beginning to end the game shows a fundamental lack of understanding in terms of what constitutes a Super Mario game. That said, this game qualifies for the list simply because it rips-off so many things on so many different levels. The title screen looks like Super Mario World, the backgrounds look stolen from Super Mario All Stars, the fireball attack seems like a special move from Ken or Ryu, Bowser looks like Concept art for the Super NES, and the throwing box/crate concept in this game is stolen from Disney's Rescue Ranges for NES! I really was almost amazed at their CREATIVITY in plagiarism. I've never expected to see that aspect of Rescue Rangers ever reproduced anywhere - certainly not in a Super Mario game! The only thing consistent about this game is the poor quality and shoddy execution. I realize many of you may be thankfully unfamiliar with this game, but should you be brave/foolhardy enough to go looking for it, be aware that this is also referred to as "the Hong Kong Version" or "Hong Kong Hack". Regardless of its public visibility, it's through sheer shamelessness that the finished product makes the list. It's truly emblematic of the absolute worst that hacked and homebrew games have to offer.

SOMEONE was going through the dumpsters over at Capcom...

3 - The Krion Quest (AKA Megaman)

This is one of the few rip-offs that is actually laugh-out-loud funny. Not only was every nook and cranny blatantly stolen from another game, but each one was dressed up with some half-assed disguise. Not enough to fool anyone, but just enough to make it obvious to all involved that they tried to at least "do something". Literally every aspect of this game is either one step away from Megaman or totally copied. I know it sounds like I'm repeating myself, but I'll try to explain the insanity of this combination. The story takes place in the mind-bogglingly distant future of 1999 (I wonder what channel Smash T.V. is on?), where the Krion have unleashed killer robots upon the earth. There's one person capable of defeating them: not a male robot with a helmet, but a female witch with a hat. Everything from her attacks to the way she explodes when killed immediately brings Megaman to mind. To say that Megaman "influenced" The Krion Quest is beyond understatement. It's a lie. And so is this game.


2 - Snood (AKA Bust-a-Move)

Who knows what would have happened if Bust a Move had been released in the USA under the same logical name as in Japan? Puzzle Bobble. You'd think that would have made it easier to cash in on the crossover appeal from Bubble Bobble fans. Alas, we shall never know. There's two ways to find irony here and the way you find it will most likely depend on your view of puzzle games in general. One way of looking at this is that it's ironic for one of the first puzzle games to alter the dynamics of Tetris and come up with original game play of its own wound up being copied note for note. Another way to look at it is that it's ironic for Snood to be accused of plagiarism when Bust a Move itself is essentially a Tetris clone with some minor changes. It may be a peerless situation, save for the legal controversy behind the songs "Ghost Busters", "I Want A New Drug", and "Pop Musik". And while we're grouping things, I feel there are two very good reasons for Snood being included on this list. First off, from Dr. Mario to Yoshi to Pac-Attack to Super Puzzle Fighter 2 to Kirby's Avalanche...hell, this list could go on forever...and that's my point. 90% of the puzzle market rips off the original Tetris. I can't say it any better than All Media Guide: "All 'falling item' puzzle games owe a tremendous debt to Tetris, which was originally created for the PC in the late 1980s by a Russian named Alexey Pajitnov." Second, doing direct comparisons, there is no way that you can find Bust a Move to have stolen as much from Tetris as Snood stole from Bust a Move. Literally, a switch to public-domain caliber graphics is the only immediate difference between Snood and Bust a Move. Inexplicably, Snood shot to baffling levels of popularity in the late 1990's when it hooked kids, teens, college kids, and adults who had obviously never heard of or played Bust a Move. One person who certainly did hear of it was college professor David M. Dobson who churned out his shareware version of Bust a Move around 1998. As of 2002 he was still employed as Assistant Professor of Geology at Guilford College in North Carolina. However, looking at the spin-offs, sequels, and merchandising that Snood has inspired, I have a feeling that early retirement is in Dobson's future...if not a description of his present whereabouts. I suppose that's the one silver lining on this carbon-copied cloud.

Behold the unholy trinity.

1 - Super Mario Bros. 2 - (AKA Doki Doki Panic)

Simply put: the day you learn the phrase Doki Doki Panic is the day a little bit of your childhood dies. For those who have never heard of Doki Doki Panic, it might not be too late to turn back now - and forget this gibberish. For those of you who have heard rumors or know the truth, there's no denying that Super Mario Bros. 2 is the biggest rip off in gaming history. More so than any of these other games - Super Mario 2 IS Doki Doki Panic. Even Snood, while basically a skin for Bust a Move, is a complete skin. Super Mario Bros. 2 isn't even a complete skin. A handful of changes were made in terms of graphics and sound effects, but as a whole these changes would barely qualify Super Mario Bros. 2 as a hack of Doki Doki Panic. Mama Nintendo didn't raise no fool. In Japan, Doki Doki Panic was easily outselling the real Super Mario Bros. 2 (which was basically a glorified level-expansion pack for Super Mario Bros. to begin with) so instead of following up their classic with something that was doing lukewarm business, they upped the ante. They just made some minor changes to Doki Doki Panic and it was ready to ship in the USA as Super Mario Bros. 2. Gamers have noted for years that SMB2, was always the black sheep of Mario franchise and now you know why: it's not even Mario. SMB2 is truly the Milli Vanilli of the gaming world. Not only because of the shady intentions behind passing off the game as something it wasn't, but also for the sheer size of the deception. SMB2 is considered a classic and almost everything from Doki Doki Panic is associated with the Mario universe. So successful was this marketing scheme (and it was a scheme) that many a gamer are still unaware of the origins of SMB2 to this very day. And so Super Mario Bros. 2 remains the biggest rip-off in all gaming history.

Dishonorable Mention - Swamp Thing (AKA The Simpsons: Bartman Meets Radioactive Man)

Yes, the Simpsons game is actually the victim here. Swamp Thing shares a ridiculously high percentage of graphics and audio FX with the Bartman entry in the Simpson's NES outings. It's dumbfounding that Swamp Thing would steal from a game with such different subject matter, but then again the Bartman game failed miserably (the same as most other Simpsons games) when it came to capturing the bright and humorous tone of the series. Definitely uninspired all around. However, you've got to factor in one big technicality that keeps this entry from making the official list: both games sucked shit.

So there you have it. By no means a complete list, but hopefully a thorough one. I'll be happy if I've managed to open a few eyes to some glaring moments of shame in video gaming history. Or at least added some insights for those of you already aware of this dirt under the industry's carpet. For those who want more, you needn't go further than Google to find more content on these games. The Krion Quest and Super Mario Bros. 2 have already been especially well-dissected by other authors at various pages, which I encourage everyone to check out. Remember, you saw it here first: if you think you've seen it before, you probably have.[/color]
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