Friday Slide: Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing

In the movie A.I., a robot child is purchased to replace a real, living child who has become gravely ill. The parents welcome their robot child because it reminds them of their original, authentic child, but throw it to the curb as soon as their real kid returns to health. Sometimes I wonder if we don’t use games in the same way, replacing those raw desires with the nearest alternative.

Just this week, we saw two major games that couldn’t be more disparate in terms of authenticity: Monkey Island and Gangstar.

Wednesday night, a port of the Xbox Live Arcade remake of The Secret of Monkey Island quietly sailed into the App Store. Although this game features a brand new soundtrack, voice-over, and graphics, you can still switch back to the old graphics and sound with just two finger-swipes across the screen.

The Secret of Monkey Island is a fondly remembered, much loved classic adventure game that is irreplaceable for most old-school gamers. On the iPhone, we’ve had to make do with a few lesser point-and-click adventure games, like Flight of the Amazon Queen, which is pretty decent, but everyone knows it’s just a poor man’s Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis.

There’s simply no replacing a game like Monkey Island, and naughty hackers have already forced those old Lucasarts games onto the iPhone instead of waiting for the legal, licensed ports to appear in the App Store. But for wannabe pirates, this long wait (and the eight bucks it costs) seems to be well worth it.

On the other end of the authenticity spectrum, we have Gangstar, which is a blatant copy of Grand Theft Auto 3. Gangstar’s defining features, mainly its original characters, are at best moderate stand-ins for GTA thugs like Niko Bellic and CJ Johnson. Otherwise, it’s the exact same carjacking, random pedestrian-slaughtering gorefest we’ve adored since 2001.

And here’s the thing: Gameloft doesn’t care if you say this game is a total GTA3 rip-off. In fact, they want you to. What better way to receive instant recognition for your own brand, than to glom on to an existing, more popular brand? If Gangstar is “GTA3 for the iPhone”, but not an actual GTA game, Gameloft still gets to reap the rewards.

There are many, many other games that could be considered wonderfully authentic, or wonderfully inauthentic. The purest of gaming smack, Peggle, is still very much Peggle on the iPhone. Meanwhile, we may not have Gran Turismo on the iPhone, but Real Racing does the trick.

When authenticity goes horribly awry, and games that should be naturally authentic ports become grossly distorted (yes, that means you, Sega, and your shoddy ports of Sonic the Hedgehog, Golden Axe, and Streets of Rage), it’s up to us as reviewers to give you fair warning. You want to know how close these games are to other games, and how close games are even to themselves.

And if you find yourself stuck with an inauthentic game that you no longer want, if something better and closer to your heart comes along, don’t hesitate before shoving it out of the car and pressing down on the pedal. Unlike those pitiful robots in A.I., your unloved games won’t miss you at all.

Andrew Podolsky is the Managing Editor of Slide to Play.

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