It’s been stated here that Pokemon is the most successful franchise of all time. Many people have different metrics to determine how successful it is, even on this forum. There’s the Lucard Standard, which states that Pokemon’s sold W amount of games over X period of time compared to other franchises which have sold Y over Z; it’s kinda head-spinning after awhile, and just talking about it is probably going to get him started on a rant that’s going to make my AIM programme explode. Then there’s the Coe Report, which states that Pokemon is successful because, and I quote, “they’re so CYUUUUTE! SQUIRTTLE-WUIRTTLE~”. In news related to the Coe Report, I’ll be sleeping on the couch for awhile after that.
While I agree that Pokemon is the most commercially successful video game franchise of all time, I have a different view as to why. I prefer to go by the document I’ve authored – the Bowen Commission – which states the answer in the form of a cliché: imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. And while I was never too much into Pokemon – I was more or less done with the main series after Gold and Silver, though I generally love the spin-offs – the main thing that comes into my mind when I think of the Pokemon franchise is the plethora of outright Pokemon clones and ripoffs that spawned from it. Almost from the moment Pokemon blew up in the 90s, it seemed like half the games that were made were made with some sort of “Catch ’em All” mechanic thrown in.
I’ve decided to chronicle some of those games into this, to see just how many games have ripped off Pokemon and the whole Pocket Monsters formula in some form or another, either subtly or in a way that would make the lawyers of any other company take flight. What’s sad is that while I’m going to be talking about plenty of franchise, some of which have a lot of games to their credit, this is in no way going to be a comprehensive list; I know I’m going to miss a few.
INSPIRED BY POKEMON
Spectrobes – The developers for the Spectrobes series actually have some experience with the Pokemon franchise, having developed both of the Pokemon Pinball games. Beyond that, they’ve got a nice development CV, with games including Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories for the GBA (as well as Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories, but that’s a cheap cash-in, so bollocks to that), Mario’s Picross for the original Game Boy, and Diehard GameFAN’s DS Game of the Year, The World Ends With You. Therefore, it should be no surprise that the Disney distributed Spectrobes titles are quality affairs.
The only true similarity to Pokemon to be found in this game is that you collect monsters who can do your battling for you. Once you get past that, there’s a lot of different, yet good ideas to be found. The main way to get just about anything in this game is a drilling mechanic that uses the stylus that’s easily the third best use of drilling in a video game (Dig Dug is 1st, Mr. Driller is 2nd, and the Knuckles sections of Sonic Adventure 2 are 954th); you have to use the stylus to drill, which can net you anything from the Spectrobes themselves to experience and items. It’s a nice mechanic that mixes in with entertaining – if easy – battles, and a fun story that Disney is trying to sell as hard as they can, having created “input cards”, which act like bezels to put on the screen; punch the holes that are exposed, and you can unlock exclusive Spectrobes. It’s a nice idea, and made much nicer by the fact that the Collector’s Edition of the game has all forty of them.
There are two Spectrobes games, with the sequel – Beyond the Portals – being a far more polished product. It helps to have played the first one first, but it’s not a necessity. Best of all, Beyond the Portals is a more affordable title than just about any Pokemon game I can think of, with the Gamestop site currently listing a used copy at $17.99. Amazon.com has both games in a combo deal for $34.74, which is what you’d pay for Pokemon Platinum. If you’re looking for Pokemon-like gameplay with a different environment and a better price range, Spectrobes is a great choice.
Mega Man Battle Network/Star Force – Here we have a series from a company – Capcom – that could teach Nintendo a thing or two about milking blood from stones. What’s interesting about this series – itself a spin-off of the parent Mega Man franchise – is that there are six games in the main series – each one after the third having multiple versions, of course – over the lifespan of the GBA, but unlike Pokemon, who focused more on adding monsters and gameplay elements, MMBN has instead kept pretty much the same gameplay throughout each version; instead, each game’s had it’s own, secular story, almost like an anime miniseries. What I find enjoyable about MMBN is that after six games, they gave gamers a definitive ending to the series, something I feel is an appropriate pay-off for what is really $180 of the same game.
It can be argued that the gameplay – an action-shooter hybrid on a gridded map – and the fact that you’re collecting chips instead of monsters (giving it more of a TCG feel) make MMBN less like Pokemon than other games. However, the fact that certain chips can only be obtained on certain games, not to mention the whole different version thing, tends to balance that out. Thankfully, the gameplay is pretty solid once you learn it, and there’s a bit of comfort in the fact that as you play different versions, you’re basically getting the same game you had last time. After all, fans are always complaining when things get changed, right?
As mentioned, there were six MMBN games, with the six definitively being the last in that series. Never one to turn down cheap money, however, Capcom has started Mega Man Star Force on the DS, with not two, but THREE different versions, and nearly similar gameplay and storytelling to the GBA games. In addition to that, this spin-off series actually has spin-off games of it’s own; the Gamecube platformer Network Transmission lead right into MMBN2, whereas the Japan-only Rockman EXE WS (the WS standing for Wonderswan) retells the first two seasons of the Rockman.EXE anime, which was (and could possibly still be) on Kids WB as Mega Man NT Warrior. Other Japan-exclusive titles include 4.5 Real Warrior, and a couple of cell phone games. Thankfully, for anyone interested in MMBN, the games are relatively cheap at Gamestop, ranging from $5 – $25.
SIMILAR TO POKEMON
Dragon Quest: Monsters – On the surface, Dragon Quest: Monsters (DQM from this point forward) is a pretty obvious Pokemon clone. Catch monsters? Check. Level them up? Check. Breed monsters? You can do that in Pokemon, too. Hell, the second version of this series even had different versions for the purpose of explo– er, trading. But a deeper look is warranted.
One area of contention is that Pokemon wasn’t the first video game to do the monster taming aspect. In truth, it was a part of Dragon Quest V, which was initially released in 1992 (and recently released). The second is that while DQM was made fashionable with the success of Pokemon, they were able to put that type of gameplay into an existing world with existing archetypes, giving players the chance to finally play as the famous monsters that they’d been killing for years.
Furthermore, DQM did have some innovations. DQM was the first game that had monster breeding, where you could have monsters of opposite sexes mate and create a monster with the traits of the parents. Furthermore, you had monster breeding levels, that determined how strong your breeded monsters were. In terms of design choices, DQM actually has a cognisant story mode – the first game was a prequel to Dragon Quest VI, and they all have more than Pokemon’s tired “you’re a prepubescent boy who’s allowed to leave home to cock-fight with caged, wild animals” – and DQM: Joker took the effective skill system from Dragon Quest VIII and put it into a game where it felt more at home.
There were four different DQM games, with DQM2 having Cobi’s Journey and Tara’s Adventure. The latest is Joker, which is a great game, and goes for about $20 nowadays. Just be cognisant that there’s a bit more level grinding necessary in the DQM games than there is in Pokemon.
Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Children – Described as “Pokemon in Hell”, Devil Children is the lighter part of the usually morbid Shin Megami Tensei franchise, mostly known nowadays for the last two Persona games. Devil Children is more or less the spiritual successor to the Last Bible games, only with a more kid-friendly veneer. Instead of capturing your nearly-defeated rivals, you have to recruit them to your team through diplomacy, which is an interesting take on the mechanic. Furthermore, while the two generations of games in this series have different versions, each with their own monsters, there’s a twist; for the Red, Black and White books, all three games have vastly different stories, and for Light and Dark, each game has different difficulties; Light is meant for easier gameplay, whereas Dark is a bit harder, and more difficult to play (though nowhere near as complex as a standard Megaten game)
The only games to see a release in America are Light and Dark, which were released as DemiKids. DemiKids, just judging by the third market, is fairly rare, but affordable; there’s a copy of each on eBay for about $10 each.
“HELLO, I AM HERE TO SERVE YOU PAPERS FOR COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT”
Robopon – This game is so similar to Pokemon that I half expect it to looking and dressing like it; I have half a mind to grab a screwdriver, just in case.
Everything about Robopon screams that it was stolen. You play the part of a boy named
Ash Cody, who has taken over his grandfather’s Robopon business and now travels around Kanto Porombo Island collecting Pokemon Robopon, with the goal of defeating the Elite Four Legend 7 and being the greatest Pokemon Master Robopon Collector ever! How did Hudson Soft get their story template, a game of Mad Libs? Battling is the same, the general direction of the story is the same, the interface is similar, there’s 150 of the buggers to collect, all spread out over two (eventually three, though America only got one) versions, all of which have different monsters to trade back and forth.
Robopon did have one innovative idea: the carts had an infared port that you reacted to different inputs to change the stats of the Robopons, send SMS-like messages to cell phones, and trade Robopons back and forth. Of course, when America got the game, the only thing left was the robot trading feature, negating the one thing the game had going for it.
There was a sequel for the Game Boy Advance called Robopon 2 – Cross and Ring versions, probably because Gold and Silver were already bloody taken – which did innovate a bit with four on four battles and a way to create Robopons by using batteries to “spark” them, but it was too little, too late; the series was more or less dead in the eyes of gamers, and they didn’t sell well, though at least this time, they at least gave us both copies of the game. Should anyone want a copy on the second-hand market, they’re available and affordable, generally going from $10 – $15 for all versions, though I wasn’t able to find the Japanese games.