Imitation is often regarded as the sincerest form of flattery. For as long as mankind has pursued creative endeavors, we’ve built upon and paid tribute to those who have done things before us, via satire, reference, or homage.
However, there comes a point when using someone else’s idea stops being a respectful tribute and becomes a plain knock-off. In this instance, I’m talking about iOS developer Gameloft.
Now I normally don’t like to single out one company, and I know that there are plenty of knock-off games in the Wild West that is the iTunes App Store. But none are as blatant or as soulless as Gameloft’s, and nobody else is quite as notorious for doing it. Their Modern Combat, can be forgiven due to the fact that it’s merely trying to grab a slice of an already saturated genre. Likewise, their Gran Turismo clone isn’t a cause for concern, as there’s only so much you can do with a realistic racer.
These excuses don’t apply for some of their other titles. Gameloft has published a number of games that make no attempt at paying homage to their influences. Three notable ones are N.O.V.A., which is very similar to Blades of Fury, a fighter which bears a striking resemblance to Soul Calibur; and Gangstar: Miami Vindication, which looks about as close to
I should note that all of these games are about as stable as a drunk bear on a bike. They crash…a lot. They even crash on my iPad, which is about as up-to-date as Apple hardware gets right now.
They also aren’t very good. It’s like Gameloft cynically examined what appeared to be the defining features of the originals and then copied only their surface characteristics, losing their soul in the process.
Gangstar’s attempt at imitating Grand Theft Auto seems to be filling dialogue with expletives, which fails to evoke any positive memories of what makes Rockstar's games so great. N.O.V.A.’s obvious backronym title (Near Orbit Vanguard Alliance) and colorful art design make it look and feel like Halo on the surface, but it lacks the kind of care, quality, and respect for its fans that Bungie would put in.
Both games' controls feel clunky and inaccurate, meaning enemies have to become mindless targets to accommodate them. That is unfortunately the best Gameloft can do, considering they weren't designed for iOS devices.
Blades of Fury, perhaps the worst of the bunch, can’t decide if it prefers awful swipe controls or equally bad icons, so it features both. Again, looking at it from afar, it appears to be Soul Calibur…but once you get under the hood, you can tell that they phoned this one in with bland arenas and characters. They seem like their Soul Calibur counterparts, but they lack the strategic depth that Namco’s supremely excellent fighter employs.
Lastly, they’re soon going to release Shadow Guardian. Watching the trailer, I learned two things:
1) They can’t spell "buried."
2) They have absolutely no shame. Look familiar?
I’m no copyright lawyer, but I very much doubt that what they’ve done is actionable. That still doesn’t make it right.
These games aren’t satires of what they seek to ape (as Super Tofu Boy is), and they aren’t respectful homages either. They're shameless copies designed to cash in on the style, tone, aesthetic, gameplay, and general creativity that went into the games they’ve pilfered. They don’t improve on what they’ve taken in any way, and the people behind them seem to have been allowed as little creative input as possible.
As a result, these games contribute nothing to gaming as a medium. They only harm the image of iOS devices as legitimate gaming platforms.
Just like the knock-off consoles we regularly laugh at, these games are generally of a poor quality and reflect the price Gameloft is asking for them. They're about as risky and fun as drinking tap water at a bar.
But what bothers me most about these games is that many people simply don’t care. They don’t mind that Halo has been ripped off with dreadful voice acting and poor gameplay — they openly acknowledge in the App Store reviews that they’re happy to buy a knock off for under a fiver, despite the diminished quality that comes with it.
If I were one of the people who worked on Uncharted, Halo, or Grand Theft Auto, I wouldn’t be flattered by this shameless copying. I’d be upset that all the work I’d done — the years of development, the design, new gameplay ideas, narrative, atmosphere, and everything else that goes into a game — is effectively plaigarized without so much as a slight nod.
All Gameloft is doing is poorly imitating what made the originals great. That kind of imitation isn’t sincere flattery. It's creative death on a platform that deserves better.
Chris wrote this when he had the flu, looked at it the next day and thought it wasn't that good, so he pulled it. Others disagreed, so it's back! He's been away from Bitmob for a while, filling in a JET application and taking part in NaNoWriMo, but he's back writing about games. You can find reviews from his gaming backlog on Been There, Played That or tell him how wrong he is on Twitter.