#2. Ms. Pac-Man Is a Knockoff of a Pac-Man Knockoff
Ms. Pac-Man was the sequel to Pac-Man that took place after Pac-Man had a sex change operation. But it started out not as an official sequel, but as a completely unlicensed and shamelessly illegal knockoff ... that went on to become one of the most successful arcade games of all time.
Future attempts like Ms. Mario Bros. or Ms. Call of Duty 3 had no such luck.
In 1982, when Pac-Man was still all the rage, two MIT students decided to create their own arcade game called Crazy Otto, which they accomplished by grabbing a Pac-Man cabinet and modifying the game's programming to their liking. The two students were excellent hackers, but not so excellent at disguising the stuff they were ripping off -- "Crazy Otto" was clearly just "Pac-Man, but with legs."
Somehow, no appendages at all is less disturbing than only legs.
Midway, the North American distributor for Pac-Man, was prepared to sue the pocket protectors off these two students when they noticed something -- their illegally hacked game was actually pretty good. The enemies were smarter, the character moved faster and the mazes in general were just better. At the same time, Midway was getting antsy waiting for Pac-Man's creators in Japan to provide a sequel as interest for the original game was beginning to die down. Leggy Pac-Man walked into the scene at precisely the right moment.
Look at it. LOOK AT IT.
So Midway bought the knockoff game from the students, replaced the new characters with the original ones and slapped a bow on Pac-Man/Crazy Otto's head -- that's how Ms. Pac-Man was born. The game was a massive hit, as fans hailed it as a harder, better and considerably sexier version of the beloved classic.
And you can barely tell she was once a dude.
#1. Guitar Hero Is a Knockoff of GuitarFreaks
When Guitar Hero came along in 2005, it finally allowed the average joe to pretend to be a rock star without the talent or the practice or the "leaving your room once in a while" that are usually required for the job. All they had to do was pick up the guitar-shaped controller, strum the bar in the middle and hit the plastic keys when the game commanded them to. It's pretty simple, and that's why the game became so popular. Why didn't anybody think of this sooner?
Oh, wait, they did.
Are you supposed to grab them and fight? Because that would be so much more badass.
That's GuitarFreaks, a Japanese arcade game released by Konami in 1999. The gameplay was exactly the same as Guitar Hero: Players pressed plastic buttons and strummed a large plastic flipper on a guitar-shaped controller in time with the game's music. Every so often, the player could even raise the fake guitar in the air to gain extra style points. A small meter showed how well a player was keeping up with the song; too many missed notes and it turned from green to red to "Game Over."
Guitar Hero lacks the blue and yellow dongs from the Japanese version, though.
The game became a sensation in Japan and soon a PlayStation version was released, which came bundled with its own guitar controller. As Konami's music games started gaining traction in America, a company by the name of Red Octane began manufacturing controllers for them. Eventually Red Octane decided to make their own rhythm game using the same types of guitars ... and the same everything, really.
After hooking up with the developer Harmonix, who had a couple of music video games under their belt already, Red Octane grabbed the GuitarFreaks controller, added two more buttons and a whammy bar and called it a day.
"It was more of an afternoon, really."
They made the notes go down instead of up and changed the perspective of the "note highway," but everything was pretty much the same. Except for one small detail: Instead of using generic rock songs, Red Octane and Harmonix actually licensed rock classics like "Iron Man" and "Smoke on the Water." This strategy worked, and by 2009, Guitar Hero and its sequels had generated over $2 billion.
So what became of GuitarFreaks? It's actually still around, with sequels getting titles that are more convoluted and bizarre, like GuitarFreaks V5 Rock to Infinity, GuitarFreaks XG2: Groove to Live and GuitarFreaks V6 BLAZING!!!! Ultimately, though, it's still relatively unknown outside of Japan, while Guitar Hero, its knockoff, is the series that gets a South Park episode and talk of a reality show based around the game.
Ridley Davis is currently a student at Michigan State University. Give him a wave, if you can somehow track him down.
For more knock-offs that weren't so good at hiding it, check out 7 Classic Movies You Didn't Know Were Rip-Offs and 6 Iconic Scenes Ripped Off From Lesser-Known Movies.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 4 WTF Stories from the Legend of King Arthur
And stop by LinkSTORM to play the shit out of Crush the Castle.
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