the artistry and psychology of gaming


Top 10 Developer Jabs at Competing Franchises

Top 10 Developer Jabs at Competing Franchises

A franchise can be a powerful thing. If your game series makes a name for itself, further sequels are almost a guarantee to get green-lit, budgets may be increased, critics can become more lenient, and your followers will only help to carry the name forward; where they debate favorites, publish fan-fics, and theorize on inner meanings and hidden philosophical implications to no end. The downside of this success, of course, is that your game can also inspire jealousy and dissent, and your competitors can quickly work to undo all that fame and adoration that your series so rightly deserves. Developers can have free reign over every corner of the game world that a player comes in contact with, so what’s to stop them from throwing in the ever enjoyable cheap shot here and there. Most of these inclusions are all in good fun, and are certainly good for a laugh or two if the reference is clear. So it is without further ado, that I list some of the best examples of hidden jabs within a game aimed straight at a competing title.

#10: All Your Base – Scribblenauts (DS)

To start off the list is a title that’s not really here nor there with its intentions. Scribblenauts was an out-of-the-box gaming experience that really needs to be tried to be fully understood. Simply put – if you write it, it will appear; from cat, to burglar, to rheumatologist, to xenomorph, to cyclotrimethylenetrinitramine, to…you get the idea. With such a tool that’s ripe for parody, we are also given the option for typing in “all your base are belong to us,” the famous line spouted at the beginning of the Sega Genesis game Zero Wing. Much to one’s surprise, a large monitor will appear on screen, and on it, will display a cyborg head not unlike that of C.A.T.S., the main antagonist of the game (he says the line). While 10 years ago this would’ve been a clear insult aimed at the game, it was more likely included due to it’s new-found fame on the internet, as other famous memes can also be found in the game as well. Still, a reference to a badly translated video game over a decade ago can’t bode too well for someone.

#9: Rabbids in Costume – Rayman Raving Rabbids 2 (WII)

Sometimes these references aren’t designed with malicious intent. In fact, sometimes they are made more as an homage than anything else. The thought of giving a nice sendup to modern day stars like Sam Fisher (Splinter Cell) and Altair (Assassin’s Creed) wouldn’t be so out of the question, and being under the same publishing house can work wonders. However, when that homage comes in the form of a shouting, belching, deformed alien rodent of questionable intelligence dressed in the character’s clothes, some might say that the parody may have gone too far (not really, but I’m trying to create drama here…). Who’s to say there weren’t a few awkward glares across the developer tables that year at the Ubisoft company picnic as a result of the generous send-up this game gave to some of it’s company greats.

#8: B-K KO’D – Conker’s Bad Fur Day (N64)

Ah Rare, we won’t be seeing the last of them on this list. As mentioned before, nothing but awkward water cooler remarks can stop inter-company development teams from taking shots at each other, and such was the case here. Each time the game loads, you may have noticed that as Conker walks into the bar, the disembodied head of one Banjo the Bear can be seen stuffed and mounted on the bar room wall. Kazooie’s corpse will also make an appearance, as it appears that she’s been fashioned into some sort of coo-coo clock. The main plot of CBFD is ripe with parodies as well, moreso aimed at movies than at fellow video games. There are some good jabs thrown in at gaming conventions though, such as pointless quests that ultimately have nothing to do with anything other than letting you get to the next one.

#7: Larion and Muigin – World of Warcraft (PC)

In a previous top 10 I submitted, I mentioned how World of Warcraft had an expanded reference to the Legend of Zelda, and how respectful it was to the series. Mario would not get the same treatment. Also in the Un’goro crater, you will find a pair of ridiculous mustachioed dwarves, one in red and blue named Larion, and one in green and blue named Muigin. Larion has a penchant for fighting with his brother and likes to attack bloodpetals with a hammer. The fact that gorillas in the area drop barrels doesn’t help.

#6: Here Lies Link – Final Fantasy (NES)

At this point, we’re starting to get out of playful territory, and moving into the darker side of “design intervention”. When the original Final Fantasy hit Japan, you could walk up to the cemetery area at the eastern part of the Elf Village, to find a grave that read “Here Lies Link” an obvious reference to the Legend of Zelda. Whether this was meant simply as a reference to a fellow fantasy series, or to exclaim one hero’s demise at the hands of a greater experience is left to guess, but it was suspicious enough that it got removed from the game’s North American release. The line was reinserted, however, once the game was ported to the PSP (pictured), in case there were any questions as to where the series allegiences lied.

#5: DOOMED – Duke Nukem 3D (PC)

Good old Duke; always up for a fight. When the man with the shades entered into the third dimension, he was ready to take on anything, including the games that brought him there. In the third level, Duke will eventually find a strange looking alter with a nearby switch. Flipping said switch will open up a secret area revealing the mangled remains of the space marine from DOOM with his legs missing and guts splattered all over the floor. Sure, with all those pixels, it might be hard to tell what you’re looking at (everyone knew anyway), but just to be safe Duke mutters a line to make The Chin proud: “That’s one DOOMed space marine!”

#4: Pretty Much Everyone – Asterix & Obelix XXL2: Mission: Las Vegum (PS2)

Taking a quick look at the game’s box art should give you a pretty clear idea of what’s going on here. If you’re familiar with the off-kilter platforming series, you’ll know that Asterix & Obelix offers up a fair amount of parody within the full experience, and in this game, you’ll be taking on the legionnaires, a series of grunts that are nothing more than bizarre takes on some very notable video game characters, such as Mario, Sonic, Pac Man, Ryu from street fighter, Rayman, Donkey Kong, and many more. You’ll also find some humorous shots taken on the sidelines towards Bomberman, Crash Bandicoot, Jak & Daxter, Lemmings, and my favorite, an opportunistic stooge named Larry Craft (a parody of Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft).

#3: Mari-Oh – Alex Kidd in Shinobi World (SMS)

This game makes the list for two reasons. First is the obvious crossover of Alex Kidd being in the world of the Shinobi games, which makes for lighthearted fair, but the real reason is what was once the first level’s boss. Now called Kabuto, this boss was once called Mari-Oh, and was designed as nothing more than a cheap jab at Nintendo’s leading man (You’ll remember that Sega and Nintendo back in the early 90’s didn’t have the same relationship that they share today). With Alex being Sega’s go-to character at the time, it was bad enough that you’d be beating on your company’s rival, but on level 1!?!? That’s a low blow. Sadly, Mari-Oh was scrapped before the game’s final release due to legal issues, so this is one that ultimately never came to pass.

#2: No Hopers – Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest (SNES)

Nintendo itself hasn’t been above sliding an extra commentary or two into their games at their competitor’s expense. This one comes by way of Rare, who developed the DKC series. Throughout Donkey Kong Country 2, Diddy and Dixie have the opportunity to collect Hero Coins, which when shown to Cranky, he’ll rate you along with his video game heroes Link, Yoshi, and Mario. However, in the bottom right you’ll notice a garbage can with the sign “no-hopers” on it. Keen observers will also notice that by the barrel is a pair of Sonic shoes, as well as a blaster that looks just like the one Earthworm Jim uses. Nothing like throwing your competitors out with the trash, and Rare’s seemingly always happy to get their hands dirty, but someone at the Big-N must’ve seen it before it published on SNES. As an afterthought, the image was removed when the DKC games were re-released on the GBA, but the damage had certainly been done.

#1: Dan Hibiki – Street Fighter Alpha (ARC)

To understand what ultimately led to the creation of Dan Hibiki, the man with the pink gi, we need to look a little further back in the series history to Street Fighter II, and rival publisher SNK’s own series Art of Fighting. When the latter came out after the former, Capcom cried foul, due to their main character Ryo Sakazaki sharing several similarities to both Ryu and Ken of Street Fighter fame. Due to this, the release of Street Fighter II: Championship edition heralded an intriguing piece of promotional art (pictured) that had Sagat holding an unnamed character by the head that wore Ryo’s orange gi, and had hair similar to Robert Garcia, another SNK fighter. By the time Street Fighter Alpha hit the arcades, this defeated character appeared as one of the secret characters, changed his gi to pink, got named Dan, and was an absolute pushover. With weak fighting mechanics, a telling fireball, and a penchant for unnecessary taunting, it became very hard to win with Dan. However, as the games went on, Dan grew out of his joke character origins, and became a true underdog for the series, and was able to develop a fairly strong fanbase among veteran players, as his style offered a severe handicap. As anyone who lost a fortune in quarters to those machines knows, if you lost to Dan, you weren’t going back in that arcade for at least a week.


Most of these inclusions were made all in good fun, and very few if any of the parodied companies take offense. After all, they can always dish out just as much as they can take. While inclusions such as the above may be targeted towards their competitors, it’s also important to notice that these shots don’t go unnoticed by gaming culture and all the players that make it up. In fact, references such as these ultimately end up tying everything closer together, rather than drawing lines in the sand for favoritism. We play the games, and we get the references, all the while enjoying both series in question a little more and admiring the momentary break of the 4th wall that occurs.

[Author Note: When I first published this list in early 2010, I had a few other contenders that unfortunately had to be left off the list. I would also like to make note of Jill of the Jungle, an early project of Epic Games that dished out a few consistent tongue lashings to rival PC platformer Commander Keen; as well as Battlefield: Bad Company 2, who had some pretty humorous comments about Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. There are many more out there, so if you have your own favorites I’d certainly like to hear about them in the comments section.]

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