With Minecraft finally set to hit XBLA next week, we’re left to ponder the fate of the other sandbox-building games. Responsible for drawing much needed attention to the otherwise neglected Indie Channel, games like CastleMiner, Total Miner and a few other derivative clones have found at least a measure of success on the channel, but it was FortressCraft that launched the controversial Minecraft cloning bonanza back last April. Since then it has gone on to sell well over 750,000 copies – a marginal feat for most Triple-A developers but absolutely earth shattering for a fledgling independent team.
Now, would FortressCraft exist if Minecraft didn’t – certainly not. But is it legit?
Although it sounds like an oxymoron of sorts there is such a thing as a legitimate clone. In fact, many respected franchises are heavily influenced by genre-defining games. Why wouldn’t they be? Saints Row started off as little more than a GTA clone, but has since evolved into a relatively unique franchise. Whereas GTA has become darker, more somber and introspective in tone, Saints Row has become more outlandish and cartoonish. It somehow works. Not every company is destined to redefine gaming every time they release a new game, so as gamers we must try to embrace the quality clones that take an existing genre and attempt to improve or at least put an experimental spin on it.
Others “games” make little effort to differentiate themselves from that which they are inspired by, and usually are only in the biz to cash in – Anton Sinelnikov’s atrocities Angry Grandpa and Plants vs. Zombie (not a typo) spring immediately to mind. Luckily, 67, yes 67, of Anton’s shameless attempts to cash in have been banned from the App Store.
So where does FortressCraft fall into this? Certainly it’s not as egregious a clone as Angry Grandpa is, but it’s hardly as innovate as another popular Minecraft clone, Terraria. I’m still of the belief that Terraria doesn’t exist without Minecraft, but the spin Re-Logic places on the now traditional sandbox-building model feels fresh and renewed. In addition to the two-dimensional setting, Re-Logic incorporated several unique systems into Terraria’s gameplay that went a long way towards differentiating it from Minecraft. And hell, let’s not forget that Minecraft is just the perfect execution of a game entitled Infiniminer.
Unfortunately, FortressCraft leans more towards being a shameless knockoff than a legitimate clone. One glance at the name clearly indicates that ProjectorGames are trying to appeal to gamers who fancy the idea of playing Minecraft on their Xbox 360. As far as the gameplay, FortressCraft is a prettier version of Minecraft’s Creative Mode. Yes, there are a few extra bells and whistles that distinguish it a bit, but not enough to really warrant the adamant defense from developer Adam Sawkins that FortressCraft is nothing like Minecraft. But give Sawkins some credit – each new patch brings another feature that Minecraft does not have, but many of these improvements are deliberately designed to do just that, and add little to the overall gaming experience.
As mentioned beforehand, the gaming community is perfectly willing to accept clones – that’s not even the issue. It’s the fact that ProjectorGames seemingly set out to make tons of money at the expense of another game combined with the gumption of lead developer Sawkins that makes this game journalist cringe. It’s the proud claim on FortressCraft’s cover that states “#1 Best-Selling Indie Game Ever” that screams to me “We have no integrity!” Oh and by the way, FortressCraft is the best-selling XBLIG game ever – it’s not even close to the best-selling indie game ever.
Without all of Sawkins grandiose claims and fallacies, I would be more willing to accept that FortressCraft was just another successful, partially legitimate clone, designed to satiate fans’ desire for a sandbox-building game on the 360. Granted, it will probably be all but forgotten by next week, and I hardly think that Sawkins will ever be known as someone other than the guy who cashed in on Minecraft and refuted claims that he was stealing an idea from Notch, but maybe he’ll surprise me by creating something original someday. Heavens knows, he has the funding.
FortressCraft: legitimate – sort of, shameless – absolutely.