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Clones on iOS are killing small developers who work for years to perfect a game.
But this time, I'm not talking about another small-time indie getting squashed by copycats stealing their game concept. Nintendo is a big, powerful company, and Picross 3D has been out for years on the Nintendo DS.
Nintendo is adamant about not developing games for platforms it doesn't own. The only way I can get a Picross-style experience on an iPad or iPhone/iPod Touch is by buying a clone.
Enter Oh! Cube, a game that made me think of the aforementioned block-tapping title at first glance.
Puzzles made up of cubes that need to be chiseled away from a slab in order to create an object? Check. Numbers telling you how many blocks that need to be in each row and column? Check. Ability to hide rows or columns as you drill into the center? Check.
Oh! Cube takes more than just the basic mechanics from Nintendo's puzzle series. It also apes the look and feel of Picross 3D. The color palette is nearly identical. The music is original and catchy but clearly derivative. Completed puzzles fit inside collections that are shown in rooms. And you get a silly animation of the object just before it's slotted into a collection. Moreover, the stitched-square patterns of the background art is reminiscent of earlier Picross games.
But in the same way that early versions of Windows missed the finer details of the Macintosh interface, Oh! Cube lacks attention to detail. Hiding rows and columns takes an awkward and unreliable tap of a button — whereas in Picross 3D you can just grab and drag a floating arrow to drill through the layers.
You cannot tap and hold to chip away an empty row or tap and drag to mark multiple adjacent cubes. Nor do you get visual feedback when a row is complete. I also experienced inconsistent responsiveness. Every action in Picross 3D feels great and easy, but the same actions in Oh! Cube tend to be frustrating — because it's not well designed.
Picross 3D set my expectations high. Oh! Cube would be forgiven for not matching Nintendo's quality if it did something innovative, as it claims to do.
But I've seen everything in the game before. Unless, of course, it's now considered innovative to force people to play puzzles in sequential order or to make simple tasks needlessly difficult.
The thing is, I actually like Oh! Cube a lot. It's charming, fun, reasonably challenging, and well presented. Which brings me full circle — is it OK to support a game that so overtly rips off the mechanics and style of another?
I believe that clones are acceptable and ethical if they bring something new to the table — like how Arkanoid added power-ups and a story to Breakout. And I'm OK with copycat titles appearing on other platforms. Gameloft makes "original" mobile games that, um, heavily borrow from console offerings like Call of Duty and Uncharted, for example.
But Oh! Cube straddles that line a little too closely with nothing to differentiate it from Picross 3D other than its name, platform, and the specific puzzles and audio it provides.
At what point does a clone become its own entity, another contender for your hard-earned cash, distinct from the game that inspired it?