From No Mario's Sky to modern recreations of Goldeneye 007, fan-created takes on our favorite games are usually pretty awesome. Or they are to everyone except the creators of those franchises, at least.
Nintendo recently issued indie-game repository Game Jolt, a whopping 500-plus takedown requests under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), essentially destroying hundreds of games inspired by the likes of Mario, Zelda and Pokémon. It's far from the first time the Big N has asked enthusiastic fans to stop making games with its properties.
But before you start picturing the folks at Nintendo as the evil group of corporate moustache-twirlers so many people like to see them as, it's important to remember one thing: The company has every right to do this.
A Game of Copyrights
According to the DMCA notice (which you can read here), certain Game Jolt games "infringe copyrights owned by Nintendo." It's all very simple, really ─ if you don't own the rights to Mario but decide to make a Mario game anyway, there's a good chance that Nintendo will come knocking with a takedown request. You wouldn't invent a new smartphone and call it an iPhone, or make a car and call it a Tesla, so why claim to have made the latest Legend of Zelda title?
That said, it's easy to feel for the people behind some of these (largely free) fan projects. One of the most notable victims of this copyright claim spree was Another Metroid 2 Remake, a meticulously crafted revamp of the 1991 Game Boy classic that took a whopping eight years to create.
The loss of games like AM2R is painful, not only because of the love poured into these types of games, but also because Nintendo seems to have relegated the Metroid series to strange spinoffs instead of releasing the kinds of 2D platforming adventures fans crave.
But at the end of the day, those developers decided to make a game using characters that they didn't own the rights to, and suffered the consequences.
Paying Tribute Without Paying the Price
On the bright side, some creators are having a good sense of humor about the Nintendo ban-hammer. The folks behind No Mario's Sky ─ a brilliant mashup of Super Mario Bros. and procedural space adventure No Man's Sky ─ simply rebranded their game as DMCA's Sky.
You still get the same charming pixelated graphics and fun spaceship exploration, but you'll be stomping "Moombas" and saving "Princess Mango" instead of interacting with characters that would get the development team sued.
That brings me to my final point ─ developers have proved time and time again that you can make great games that pay tribute to the classics without completely aping them.
Yacht Club Games' Shovel Knight is the best Mega Man game I've played in years, and Dan Fornace's Rivals of Aether gives me the same frenetic fighting joy as Super Smash Bros. without infringing any copyrights. If you miss Metroid or Castlevania, just check out Axiom Verge, Ori and the Blind Forest, Guacamelee or any of the dozens of great "Metroidvania" games released over the years.
Of course, you could argue that publishers should be working with these talented indie developers rather than shuttering their homage games. That's exactly what Sega is doing for Sonic Mania, a retro-style Sonic game being developed by folks who have previously worked on Sonic fan projects. To be fair, virtually all of these DMCA'ed games were released for free, and weren't built to profit off of someone else's property.
At the end of the day, though, all of those franchises you love are probably still owned by the people that created them. My advice to indie developers? Keep making awesome games. But in the name of letting fans enjoy the result of your hard work, make sure every bit of those games is truly yours.