By Caleb Goellner
When the folks at Game Freak and Nintendo hatched Pokémon, they unleashed a lot more than just 150 beasts of burden, forced to fight each other for human entertainment. With the maddening success of their dual-game adventure RPG and related multi-media tie-ins, companies across the four corners of gamedom raced to milk Pikachu's ripe teat faster than fans could say "I choose you!" As with any maddening fad, the copycats rarely tried harder than was absolutely necessary to recreate what consumers found magical about the source material and the few that did try to make the best of the situation were rewarded with relative mediocrity. Recall with curiosity, fondness and in many cases despair the nine monster franchises trainers just didn't (and still don't) really need to catch.
9) Monster Rancher
In a lot of ways, the Monster Rancher franchise is like Pokémon's cooler older brother. As a video game, MR had everything kids liked about Pokémon, only with more grit (monsters aged and died) and humor (farts!). Even when it inevitably came time to mimic the pocket monsters in anime form, MR maintained its more streamlined and mature nature. After all, the show was basically Captain N meets Pokémon. If anything, MR is only guilty of capitalizing on a fad to pull a cool franchise closer to the top. If it weren't for the anime's subtle but striking similarities to Pokémon (a cute main companion monster that only spoke its name, an Ash-like protagonist, a tangible monster storage system) MR could have been a real contender on its own. Sadly, many didn't notice what did make the property special and it now sits between releases. Well, it would be sad, if the show's theme song didn't come across as a Poké-rap gone horribly right.
8) Fighting Foodons
While a few details have changed, it's easy to see the monstrous *snicker* influence Pokémon had on the combat-themed Fighting Foodons. In FF, chefs (trainers) create (capture) unique food monsters (pokémon) to battle for supremacy. It's essentially a kid cooking up edible slaves for death matches against The Glutton Empire, which can be seen as a Team Rocket analogue. If the similarities stopped there, the show could exist as a mere camp cartoon without criticism, however, ceaseless food puns ultimately drove any potential fan base back to their Game Boys.
In a bold move to establish their brand as a household name, Digimon declared themselves "the champions." That's some serious arrogance. The digital monsters likely play Queen's appropriately titled rock anthem on an endless loop to support this claim, because their digi-popularity has never quite surpassed that of their evolutionary adversaries from Pokémon. That's not to say the franchise didn't improve on its competitor's faults to some degree. Rather than cater to the cutesy crowd, Digimon's beasts speak human languages, slay one another in brutal combat and digi-volve into demonic beasts worthy of the title monster. On the other hand, the franchise asks kids to pay attention to lengthy, season-long storylines that never really go anywhere. That's not what champions do! Champions get caught smoking pot and lose cereal endorsements! If Digimon monsters ever want to take their game to the next level, they're going to have to level it up!
6) Magi Nation
The Pokémon universe may be populated by incredibly powerful elemental beasts, but it's ultimately governed by technology and science. With its "dream creature" twist, Magi Nation deviates from Pokémon's monster collecting/battling format by introducing such godless concepts as magical stones and rings. To make matters worse, the storyline of the Game Boy games and animated series borrows heavily from classic short literature. For example, protagonist Tony Jones sells his pocket watch to buy combs for love interest Edyn only to find out she's cut her hair to buy him a chain for said watch. O. Henry would not be pleased by this completely fabricated homage, but it's still better than what passes for a plot on the actual show.
In theory, Medabots are the coolest toys ever. They're basically Gundam model kits that fly and fire live ammunition and only cost roughly the amount of one trip to the grocery store. In practice, however, they're pretty much robotic versions of Pokémon that exist to help a young boy fulfill his destiny. Medabots' premier outing on Game Boy in 1997 has many similarities to Pokémon, but the 2003 sequels became series rip-off offenders by coming packaged in two different colored versions and sporting many lookalike graphics, especially indoor locations like stores. The franchise took measures to deviate from Pokémon as necessary, though. Unlike the perpetually fatherless protagonists of Pokémon, Medabots star Ikki Tenrio seems to have an actual relationship with his parents beyond a shared living space. That's a positive message that will doubtlessly enrich the hearts and minds of every child who learns to enslave artificial intelligence to stage war games.
4) Fossil League: Dino Tournament Championship
Game Boy DS gave developers the chance to really shine on two screens at once, inviting all kinds of innovation and creativity to the gaming arena. In the case of Fossil League, this meant developers budgeting 98 percent of their effort into building nice dinosaur graphics and the rest on eating gourmet sandwiches and watching Pokémon on DVD. The top screen showcases 3-D dinos in full-contact battle (borrowing a few move names from their Pokémon forbearers) the bottom screen is a stage for human game sprites ripped from 8-bit NES RPGs. Such disparity would be incredibly distracting if not for the game's finer qualities. Like the promo trailer says, it's "Educational!" Why, elementary school teachers the world over have probably snapped up this gem to better teach students the physics behind the game's concept of time travel. Wait? The dinosaurs are educational? Get outta here!
Since its 2001 premier, the Dokapon franchise has seen some major enhancements as it's advanced to more powerful gaming consoles. However, the series' initial outing is such a stain, it's a bit surprising the series has come as far as it has. It'd be a bit callous to call the game a complete Pokémon rip-off since it's so obviously a generic mashup of all RPG stereotypes, but given its monster-collecting mission, Pokémon stands out. Perhaps the most noticable factor working against Dokapon isn't that it looks and plays kind of terribly, rather it's the battle music, which seems to have been lifted directly from the Pokémon series. Apparently making a good battle jam is really hard and better left to the experts at Game Freak.
2) Bakugan Battle Brawlers
Balls that open to reveal battling monsters? A planet's destiny determined by big-haired pre-teens with a lust for turn-based conflict? Those art some key traits behind Bakugan Battle Brawlers, which, in the reverse of Pokémon, began as an anime and is now spinning off into other media such as video games. Upon first glance, the extremely angular and obnoxious character designs might bring to mind Yu-Gi-Oh! and indeed, there are plenty of comparisons there worth mocking. However, the anime's plot is much more of a Digimon rip-off, making Bakugan a copy of a copy. Unlike the hysterical degradation of imperfect duplication found in Michael Keaton's Multiplicity, Bakugan's unoriginality isn't entertaining, just mildly annoying and forgettable. Come to think of it, that makes Bakugan exactly like Multiplicity.
"Build 'em, Collect 'em, Trash 'em!" Few games are so aptly tagged. Then again, Robopon is a pretty dadburn exceptional game. It's not exceptional in the way that gold medalists or valedictorians are exceptional, though. Mostly it's just the most blatant rip-off of any video game series most will ever see. Pokémon and Robopon look, play, and sound nearly identical, only one stars biological beasts while the other hosts mechanical monsters. A formal list of each overlapping detail wouldn't be much fun to read, but it's worth noting that everything that could have possibly been cloned, was cloned. Everything. The only thing saving Robopon from a giant lawsuit is probably the fact the fact that the folks at Nintendo are still too busy counting the money their pocket monster franchise continues to bring in with each new release to worry about it. If the world's economic woes continue though, Robopon's people may be forced to make an out-of-court settlement to a cash-strapped Nintendo in the very near future.!--EndFragment-->!--StartFragment-->