Welcome, Dungeoneers, to this inaugural post for a new features series on Zelda clones! As many of you likely do not know, I am not new to this topic; I have a video series wherein I cover the same sort of topic on my YouTube channel. This text-based series will be a bit different in that rather than just rambling in a stream-of-conscious manner for seven minutes, it will be a bit more detailed and to-the-point with visual aids to compare and contrast.
But first let’s talk about the term “clone” and why I feel many Zelda fans interpret both that term and many of the games applied with it falsely.
When used in normal non-gaming context, “clone” is understood to be a replica of sorts of another being or object, without a negative (or positive, for that matter) sentiment. It just simply is a copy. When used in the gaming industry, it often carries a similarly neutral note. Yet I’ve found that when used by fans of specific series, it overwhelmingly carries a negative connotation. They seem to feel that the only thing clones are doing is ripping off Nintendo’s intellectual property, but only just close enough to avoid a lawsuit. This can certainly be the case in some instances, but sometimes that isn’t the case at all; sometimes it seems like the people who develop these clones are just as in love with the Zelda franchise as we are and want to create something similar out of love for the beloved series.
This in and of itself can turn some people off; some people feel that the only reason to create any work of art or entertainment is to forge something brand new that borrows nothing from anything else. As someone who writes music and whose circle of friends is overwhelmingly songwriters, I can say with certainty that at least in the music business that just doesn’t reflect reality. Every songwriter is influenced by at least one previous songwriter and will often admit to writing this or that song “in the style of” another songwriter they admire. When these new songwriters bring nothing new to the table is when it becomes problematic. I feel certain that it must be the same in the video game industry. For instance, we might feel that Zelda “invented” top down action adventure games, but there were such games even before The Legend of Zelda that Nintendo was clearly inspired by. The Atari game Adventure, which came out half a decade before The Legend of Zelda, can be looked at as a bit of a Zelda prototype. Similarly, I feel we shouldn’t take umbrage with games who are either borrowing from Zelda or who are simply paying homage to Zelda.
Now, again, sometimes these games are not made out of love for Zelda; sometimes they are simply trying to cash in on what makes Zelda so loved. It seems clear to me that games such as Neutopia and Golden Axe Warrior fit that bill. Similarly, there have been Mario clones whose sole purpose is to steal that style of gameplay down to the specifics and make it playable on non-Nintendo-sanctioned platforms (Great Giana Sisters comes to mind). But then there are games whose developers clearly wish they were on the Zelda team and are not for whatever reason, so they create a game paying tribute to their favorite franchise. The oft-mentioned Okami is one, the indie games Binding of Issac and also Guardian of Paradise are others. These games are not trying to rip off Nintendo, but are trying merely to show Nintendo how much they love Zelda. And it helps that they are not 1-to-1 clones, but in each instance bring something brand new to the table that Zelda does not.
We will examine all types of Zelda clones, from the ripoffs to the homages in a roughly chronological order. So stay tuned next week at this date and time when we look at one of the very first (though not actually the first) Neutopia, which falls a bit more into the “ripoff” category. But it sure is a lot of fun, regardless!