Games copy other games. That’s just the natural order of things. Artists, writers, or whatever creative profession you can think of copies from those before them. “Good artists copy; great artists steal.” It’s why archetypes, genres, and the like exist: to build off of and create new things.
It’s then extra interesting when those fundamentals and baseline ingredients combine to create entirely new entities that eventually also become basic vocabulary. It feels a lot like when a brand name becomes a generic trademark, like Kleenex for tissues or Band-Aid for bandages. This, funnily enough, occurs quite often with video games.
Consider any game with a bouncing ball going between paddles. It can now easily draw comparisons to Pong. Remove an opposing side, though, and now you have Breakout. They’re both elemental games in the realm of titles revolving around a bouncing ball but only a seemingly slight change separates how they are brought up. They all, however, still boil down to Pong.
This is something worth considering when discussing modern games. There is such a huge catalog of games bubbling up from the past that finding any valuable genesis is a challenge. More than that, recent games seem to have more stock simply by virtue of timeliness.
Or perhaps it’s just relevance. Consider Apotheon. There has been a great deal of people—both critics and casual players like—that have been sizing up its combat mechanics against the likes of Dark Souls. Actually, make that Demon’s Souls. Whatever. A Souls game either way.
While lacking an entire spatial dimension, the comparison has some validity. Spacing and timing in attacking and defending is hugely important. Hacking and slashing away with a quick sword will land you more blows, but an efficient economy of damage forms up when you use a slower, more deliberate swing of an axe. You have to keep in mind the distance between you and your enemies and be able to read their intentions more quickly and reliably, but it’s much more satisfying.
That more or less has some base overlap with a Souls game. Spacing and timing are the order of the day—every day—with that series. You bide your time but you have to be able and willing to attack when the time is right. Position yourself and get those hits in when you can.
The defensive portions skew pretty close together, too, but it boils down to those two things. Positioning and timeliness. It’s not about snappy trigger pulling or planning around future resource allocation but about methodically finding your single opportunity for victory.
But let’s quickly assume the entire Souls genre didn’t exist, including the direct progenitors and their progeny like Lords of the Fallen. What, then, does Apotheon‘s combat remind you of? Surely a great deal of 2004’s Ninja Gaiden, albeit far less hyperactive. It is a brutal game that focuses solely on those two fighting principles but at a disorienting pace.
By some retrograde analysis, think about Shadow of the Colossus. Comprised entirely of singular, massive, deliberate battles, it perhaps has more in common with a Souls game than Apotheon. And then there’s Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, basically a 2D version of Dark Souls, which kind of makes it the most apt comparison to Apotheon if the original alignment holds true.
From that, there several questions that rise, but only two of them are worth addressing at this point. First off, what value is there of the timeliness of game comparisons? And then how far down the rabbit hole is it worth going? Under that Symphony of the Night guise, it would only make sense to travel all the way back to Castlevania.
However, that isn’t a very reasonable reduction. There are many more games that are more directly influenced by the original Castlevania or Metroid that their whole mashup genre is called Metroidvania. So then it’s not just about some temporal relevance but also about the most relatable components of two games that draw the Venn diagram.
If the lineage is clear, then maybe only the first step down the path is worthwhile. For tracing all the actionable heritage from a Souls game, it might be the only logical step to stop at as well. There has been a myriad of foundational construction leading up to what you could even call a Soulsian game, so to backtrace any further might even be depriving that progress of its tacit meaning.
All this written meandering boils down to a pretty simple notion: there’s a lot of history and implicit meaning packed into even the most fundamental appraisals. It’s a valuable practice, chasing down the origins to such statements, but it’s also wholly worthwhile letting the structural and intrinsic context of compound criticism exist on their own.