25 Stolen Images in Video Games
Prior to gaming’s prominence in the entertainment industry, development teams were extremely small and did not have access to the plethora of resources available today. Project leads had to come up with promotional artwork for their games by assigning them to illustrators and artists who may not have specialized in promotional material, such as in-game animation. With limited time on their hands, the creators of these 25 Stolen Images in Video Games had to use what was already around them in order to expedite the process of promoting their specific title. Many of these were created during a time when Google was nonexistent, and sci-fi and action movies were at the forefront of the entertainment industry. Now that gaming has panned out onto a much larger forum and copyright laws are now heavily enforced, instances of tracing and other forms of plagiarized artwork have been on the decline, but they still occur every once in a while. While it may not be the equivalent of stealing the Mona Lisa, here are some of the worst instances of 25 Stolen Images in Video Games!
The Real Ghostbusters / Mr. Do!
Our list of 25 Stolen Images in Video Games starts off with a tracing that was extremely easy to overlook. On the box art of the 1995 Super Famicon version of Mr. Do! (an upgraded port of the 1982 arcade classic), you can spot a certain creature that was previously featured on the side of the 1987 Real Ghostbusters arcade cabinet (see if you can spot the arcade cabinet during Robocop 2). On the bottom-right of the Ghostbusters' picture, in front of Winston Zeddemore, you can see an orange ghost running away from the flamethrower-esque beams of a Proton Pack. This same ghost must have magically broken out of the Ghostbusters' Ecto-Containment System and turned purple in the process, because it's haunting Mr. Do! Good one, Taito!
Phenomena / Clock Tower
Many people attribute the first Clock Tower title to being one of the progenitors to the survivor horror genre. But this 1995 Super Famicom title was heavily influenced by gialo-director David Argento's 1985 film, Phenomena (pictured on the left), which was also the acting debut of Academy Award winner, Jennifer Connelly. Phenomena had to do with a girl psychically communicating with hordes of insects in order to pursue a serial killer. While this serial killer flick did not have the giant scissors synonymous with the Clock Tower series, it did influence Human Entertainment into stenciling the look and experiences of Connelly's character around Clock Tower's protagonist.
Blade Runner / Mean Streets
It would make sense that one of the greatest science fiction films of all time would be widely copied in the video game realm. Mean Streets (pictured on the right), a PC and Commodore 64 game from 1989, borrows much of its plot from Ridley Scott's 1982 classic. Mean Streets revolves around a private investigator, who is down on his luck, trying to make sense of a futuristic, dystopian version of Los Angeles. While there aren't any organic robots trying to question their existence in Mean Streets' story, its artwork and premise does more than enough at trying to be a replicant.
Ghostbusters / Pulsoids
An array of pong-influnced titles were abundant throughout the '70s and '80s, such as Atari's Breakout and Taito's Arkanoid. 1988's Pulsoids was at the latter-end of this this formula of gaming, and all it really had to show for it was some interesting artwork which bore little-to-no semblance to its actual gameplay. You know what else hardly had anything to do with Arkanoid-like games? The movies Ghostbusters and Aliens.
Pulsoid's cover features a very familiar parapsychologist looking up towards a creature that looks like the Facehugger Xenomorph from the Alien movie series (just with some extra legs added in and a different color). What's there to complain about when you take two of the greatest movie franchises of the '80s and put them together? Oh yeah, plagiarism and the concept that Pulsoids played like Arkanoid. Want original artwork for a game that plays like Arkanoid? Draw a picture of a ball bouncing off of a moving bar.
Casshern / Metal Gear Rising
Casshern is an anime series created by the Tatsunoko anime company in the 1970s. Some of you may remember the Casshern character in the cult classic Tatsunoku vs. Capcom on the Nintendo Wii. Casshern's android-with-a-conscience story went on to influence Capcom to create Mega Man. But this piece of promotional artwork for Tatsunoko vs Capcom heavily influenced someone at Konami into using the same boy-robot/dog-robot combo and pose for Raiden and Bladewolf in this Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance promotional piece. We can't really say that Raiden's pose is trying to pay tribute since Casshern isn't really known for pointing like this with Friender next to him. And given the recency of Tatsunoku vs. Capcom, we're going to leave this one as a ripoff. Just as we were finally starting to warm up to Raiden, Konami went and rekindled our dislike of him.
The Big Brawl / Silent Dragon / Digest
The Big Brawl was Jackie's first attempt to gain success in the American movie market back in 1980, and Silent Dragon's developers must have been there for it. While Jackie Chan's Digest may sound like the name of a magazine all about Jackie's life or some Rush Hour workout plan, it is actually an album the actor himself wrote and sang from 1983. Put the covers of Digest and The Big Brawl together, and you have the title screen of Silent Dragon, an arcade-based, side-scrolling beat 'em up. In our list of the 25 Stolen Images in Video Games, this seems like it'd be the perfect case for Chief Inspector Lee and Detective James Carter.
The Howling 3: Echoes / S***
Seriously, the game was called S***. Look it up.
Code Name: Viper / Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror
Code Name: Viper is a side-scroller released by Capcom in 1990 for the NES/Famicom. But what does he have to do with Gabe Logan? Well, someone at Sony decided Gabe would look best by imitating Viper. Sure we may have seen the "side-view of a badass guy aiming a handgun at the screen" before (perhaps Terminator 2 was influenced by Viper?), but Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror's box art revs it up to the point of absurdity. Some of us might have holes in our hearts for Syphon Filter's fall from grace, but we guess that a now-uninspired shooter series deserves an uninspired cover.
The Replacement Killers / True Crime
John Woo's choreography may have redefined the action genre, but that doesn't help it from outrunning a trope like the pistol pose! 2003's True Crime: Streets of LA started off as a GTA 3 clone which focused on law enforcement instead of crime-breaking, so it's only right that its box art would be heavily inspired by another work as well. On the other hand, True Crime was one of the first American games to ever feature an Asian American protagonist. The Replacement Killers also happened to be Chow Yun-Fat's American debut (who was a well-established superstar overseas by this point in his career), so it would make sense that one of the first titles headlining an Asian American would refer back to it. Then again, The Replacement Killers wasn't really that good, promoting style-over-substance, much like True Crime's debut.
Mad Max 2 / Road Raider
The 1981 sequel to the movie that put Mel Gibson on the map had tons of iconic imagery whose influence can be seen in nearly every post-apocalyptic film and game in existence. Even Fallout 3's aesthetics were direct references to the Mad Max trilogy. While Fallout 3 was paying homage back to the Thunderdome and beyond, the 1988 Commodore 64 cover of the Road Raider was quite the rip off of Mad Max. Even Road Raider's namesake directly referred to Mad Max 2's surname, The Road Warrior, as an attempt to cash in on the success of the film. Road Raider's cover depicts a car chase and explosions, referring to the original Mad Max. Most importantly, it features a character who is an exact stenciling of Max Rockatansky. But instead of marauders killing Max's dog like in the movie, car explosions seemed to killed Max's trusty companion.
The Search for Spock / Gofer no Yabou 2
Old school gamers may have recognized Gofer no Yabou 2 as Gradius 2 in the United States. But sci-fi enthusiasts and Trekkies alike will recognize it as the game that switched out the Enterprise for a generic starship. The original Japanese cover to Gofer no Yabou 2 was an obvious copy of the movie poster for Star Trek 3: The Search for Spock. You would think that four years after Spock's resurrection that Konami would have a better idea to use. Instead, Gradius 2 even had the audacity to even include the stars beaming out of Spock's face. We'll never forgive neither Khan nor Konami for what they did to Spock, which is why Gradius 2 makes our list of 25 Stolen Images in Video Games.
Frank Frazetta's Norseman / Castlevania
From the 1960s and on, Frank Frazetta was the headlining artist for the comic book, fantasy and science fiction industries. With such an amazing repertoire of comic books, paperback novels, posters, and vinyl album covers under his belt, Frazetta's visual influence can be seen all over fantasy and fiction. In particular, Yusuke Nakano (a lead artist for The Legend of Zelda series), and Roger Sweet (the creator of He-Man), cite Frazetta as a main influence on their work. In particular, the strong stance and muscular build of his iconic Norseman painting has been widely copied by video game and comic covers alike. One of the most noteworthy stenciling's of Frazetta's Norseman can be seen on Simon Belmont in the American box art of the 1987 classic, Castlevania.
Streets of Rage/Sister Street Fighter/Final Fight
Sue Shiomi helped put female kung-fu stars on the map in the 1974 wire-fu film Sister Street Fighter. Even though wire work was starting to become overdone by this point in Asian cinema, that didn't stop Shiomi from being immortalized in a wire-fu pose on the film's poster. Shiomi's image has been copied onto numerous gaming images which just had to include a woman or thin male jump kicking a random bad guy. Sega's Streets of Rage was one of the most well known covers to feature this kick. Ironically, Streets of Rage can be labelled as a copy of Capcom's original Final Fight arcade game. Two years after Axel went into competition with Mike Haggar, Final Fight 2 hit the streets featuring the same exact jump kick from Streets of Rage's cover. Just because Shiomi's film has "Street Fighter" in its title doesn't mean you're entitled to its promotional images, Capcom.
Kobyashi Naru / Boris Vallejo / Gremlins
Much like the work of Frank Frazetta, Boris Vallejo is known for his paintings of fantasy artwork. Vallejo has also painted iconic images for classic 1940s pulp comics such as Tarzan, Doc Savage and Conan the Barbarian. In this center picture, we have one of Frazetta's most notable works: Conan dodging a fire-breathing dragon armed with only a sword. Both Conan and the dragon in this picture have gone to be copied many of times throughout fantasy gaming. In particular, Kobyashi Naru, a Mastertronic game stealing its name from the fictional Kobayashi Maru test from Star Trek 2, uses Vallejo's dragon on its cover. Vallejo's dragon has a sinister and intelligent look to it which seams to be in the realm of anthropomorphism, which makes Frazetta's influence on the Gremlins film to be a large possibility.
Hulk Hogan / Wrestling Superstars
European development team Code Masters must have simply not cared about copyright laws at all when they created Wrestling Superstars. By the time of its 1993 release, Hulk Hogan had already become synonymous with wrestling. If you heard the word "wrestling" you would immediately think "Hulk Hogan". So why wouldn't they try to use Hogan's likeness? Because it was a shortcut. For a European-based development team, hiding such thievery behind an American flag sure was an idiotic and cowardly method of stealing. Don't worry Hulkster, if we found out that a developer tried to make money off of our likeness, we'd rip our shirt and do a leg-drop on someone for you... after calling our lawyer.
Robocop / Image Fight
Image Fight is a vertical shooter released in arcades back in 1988. It was ported over to consoles in 1990. The cover art for Image Fight's console released features characters who look similar and are posed just like Old Detroit's number one crime prevention unit, Robocop. As seen in the center of the picture, the three characters on Image Fight's cover are in some of Alex Murphy's most famous poses. Someone at Irem must have been watching the movie, saw the poses and screamed "I'd buy that for a dollar!" But it looks as if Irem was trying to hold onto as many dollars as they could, which is why Image Fight breaks the top 10 of our 25 Stolen Images in Video Games list.
Mortal Kombat: Rebirth / Food
Mortal Kombat: Legacy may have helped put the war of Outworld back onto the cinematic map, but Mortal Kombat: Rebirth was the short film which helped Kevin Tancharoen rally support to do so. Tancharoen had limited resources (but much larger than the average fan-film), and was able to enlist the likes of Michael Jai White and Jeri Ryan in order to help bring Jax and Sonya Blade to life. Unfortunately, Tancharoen included a brief screen shot of Sub-Zero, which was a stolen image of a concept model (pictured left) created by FoOd, a talented sculptor and artist from ZBrushCentral.com. We absolutely love and applaud Tancharoen for breathing life into a game-based movie franchise that we thought was long dead, but we were also disappointed at this shortcut. So what does it take to finally bring Scorpion's archenemy to the silver screen? About two minutes of Photoshop.
The Punisher / Green Beret
Without a doubt, The Punisher is one of the most badass comic series ever created. While his cinematic and gaming history has been lackluster, his comic-based history has specific eras of awesomeness. Green Beret, known as Rush 'n Attack in the United States, was released for home consoles in 1986. This was the same year that Green Beret's original developers, Imagine Software, were bought out by Ocean Software, a publisher ultimately responsible for many of the shortcuts we have seen throughout this entire list (who are now known as Atari, Inc.). This Green Beret picture used in this advertisement is also the cover art for its console version, which released in the latter half of 1986, just months after this Punisher comic was released. We could argue that they were both inspired by the First Blood film (the first Rambo), but the pose, gun, and face are just too similar to ignore. They even used the same dimples and cheekbones!
Advanced D&D / Castlevania 2: Simon's Quest
Just when you thought Konami wouldn't stencil any other pieces of fantasy art to make their game covers, Simon Belmont continues the quest! The first Castlevania already copied the Norseman, so its only fitting that Castlevania 2 stencil another piece of fantasy history. The cover to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons features Strahd von Zarovich, whose look obviously refers back to Count Vlad himself. But someone at Konami must have been really pressed for time or must have been really lazy because all they did to the same picture was tilt his head, move some bats over and add in few windows! Cheap deaths, annoying day/night changes and a lack of overall direction were already reasons why Simon's Quest didn't make our list of 10 Best Castlevania Games, but stealing Dracula and his castle (which were in ruins in part two, by the way), on the box art reminds us not to regret it.
Star Wars / Borderlands 2
Artist Olly Moss is absolutely amazing, as is Borderlands 2, so it greatly disheartens us that someone at Gearbox did something like this. While it's extremely clever how Gearbox's artist blended together Moss' New Hope and Empire Strikes Back posters to create the reversible insert for Borderlands 2 (pictured in the center), it is quite a shame that Moss himself was never contacted for permission or, better yet, a chance to actually make the insert himself. This slip up was a foreshadowing of the conundrum of mistakes that was about to befall Gearbox with Aliens: Colonial Marines. Luckily, Olly Moss never took legal action over the picture. But come on, Gearbox, you even stole the zigzagging clouds. Don't think that you could take such awesome pictures of Boba Fett and C-3PO without us noticing.
Assassin's Creed / Night Angel Trilogy
Brent Weeks' Night Angel trilogy may deal with the life of an assassin, but that is where its similarities with the Assassin's Creed series ends. Unfortunately, Calvin Chu, the illustrator for the the Night Angel trilogy, designed the covers to Weeks' books much closer to Altair's likeness than their actual stories. Beyond the Shadows' cover is a bit too similar to the original Assassin's Creed title for us not to notice. It doesn't help that they're wearing similar gauntlets, holding the same type of hidden blade and covering their face in the same exact manner. While Ubisoft might not win in court, this is still more than enough evidence for us to put Beyond the Shadows and the rest of the Night Angel trilogy on our list of 25 Stolen Images in Video Games, only this time, it was the game that was being stolen from.
Army of Darkness / Duke Nukem 3D
Duke Nukem became famous for spewing out one-liners from various cult classic films. In Duke Nukem 3D, there are a few references to Army of Darkness (also known as Evil Dead 3), such as Ash's catchphrase of "groovy". The cover is quite similar to the theatrical poster of Army of Darkness, where Duke is standing atop a horde of bad guys (why didn't they put a girl there too?). While Duke's body appears to be a stenciling of Ash, we can't fully blame 3D Realms for doing this, because the Army of Darkness image is a throwback to the poster used for National Lampoon's Vacation, which was drawn by Boris Vallejo (who drew the Conan vs. dragon painting earlier on the list).
Terminator / Metal Gear
Michael Biehn got his claim to fame by playing a soldier from the future in the original Terminator film. Hideo Kojima has repeatedly said that American action films (such as Terminator and Escape from NY), were major influences onto his narratives and designs. Kurt Russell's Snake Plisken from Escape from NY may have been the blueprint to Solid Snake and the rest of Metal Gear Solid. But never forget that Solid Snake was first stenciled in Kyle Reese's image. Created only three years after Terminator was released, we'll assume that Kojima (with a small-time team), was pressed for resources and time, resulting in simply tracing over one of his recent favorites for a game cover. But the overarching awesomeness of Solid Snake seems to only make this tracing more enjoyable.
Cabal / Call of Duty 2
Cabal was a vertical shooter released back in 1988. But instead of the top-down perspective that the vertical shooter was famous for, Cabal rotated the camera back behind the player, resulting in one of the earliest forms of an over-the-shoulder, third person shooter. The original arcade cabinet (pictured left) featured a drawing of a commando which looked hilariously like John Rambo (with a Rocky-esque lisp). The console port of Cabal tried to feature a more realistic depiction of the original drawing. This "point at the explosion, scream at the screen" trope of video game covers has be done many of times throughout the past two decades. But one of the most obvious uses of the Cabal commando is on the cover of Call of Duty 2. Back then, CoD was nowhere as popular as they are today (focused on competing with the Medal of Honor series for WW2 first person shooters). The modern Call of Duty covers are currently famous for their own set of video game tropes, it would only make sense that its earlier titles were just as uninspired.
Predator / Contra
There is no doubt that Contra is the quintessential run and gun title and one of the greatest 8-bit games ever made. Its levels were varied, they were insanely difficult, and without the Konami code, you probably were never going to beat Contra by yourself. Unfortunately, Konami just had this habit of taking images from famous movies and putting them over their games' supplementary content! In the center of the Contra cover is an alien of Ridley Scott-fame. But Bill and Lance were taken straight from Arnold's likeness and poses from the original Predator film. Bill's vest, biceps, hair, gun and even his face belonged to Arnold! Removing the camouflage, adding a Rambo bandana and changing Lance's hair color wasn't really enough for us to overlook these things, Konami. Nevertheless, such a well-known, iconic game taking directly from a science fiction/action film of equal stature is why Contra sits atop the run and gun genre and atop our list of 25 Stolen Images in Video Games. Now get to the choppa!!