If imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery, Nintendo has a great many admirers. In the 40 or so years that the company has been in the video game business, Nintendo has influenced many other companies and their games, which is par for the course when you are a major trailblazer. But unfortunately, for every respectful tribute to or inspiration of a Nintendo game, concept, or character, there have been just as many examples of the House of Mario being more or less copied— at times even leading to legal action.
For this list, we tried to shy away from outright bootleg games or the many cheap (and barely-legal) imitators that flood digital storefronts and mobile devices. Instead, this list is largely about games that were commercially-released and had the backing of legitimate video game companies... but clearly swiped a Nintendo game, property, or idea while barely even bothering to pretend otherwise.
20 PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale
Nintendo definitely didn't invent the idea of a fighting game that gathers together well-known characters from multiple franchises and brands— Sega, SNK, and Capcom were all doing that years before the original Super Smash Bros. was released. However, it's the using of the specific play mechanics of Super Smash Bros.— as well as the focus on characters that fall under the umbrella of a particular console line— that makes PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale a pretty obvious and uninspired knock-off.
19 Genshin Impact
Games have been borrowing the Zelda formula for years, and there's nothing wrong with that— when you more or less invent a genre, you have to expect other companies to make games within it. That being said, Japanese PlayStation 4 game Genshin Impact isn't just "inspired by" Zelda— it almost feels like a ROM hack of Breath of the Wild, clearly using that game's engine and even some of its actual enemy, environment, and other art assets to create a game that Sony should be ashamed of themselves for publishing.
A pretty strong argument has been made that Pokémon wasn't the first video game to ever feature the catching, raising, and battling of cute monsters. With that in mind, it's not really fair that franchises like Digimon, Yu-Gi-Oh, and Monster Rancher et al are often lumped together as "Pokémon rip-offs." But when a game just goes right ahead and puts the word "Poke-" in it's title, as the free-to-play, browser-based MMO PokeMMO does, there's no disputing its status as a flagrant copycat.
17 The Great Giana Sisters
The entire video game industry was built on clones, going all the way back to the very first commercially-released titles. It definitely took some time for laws to catch up with the industry and actually put a stop to outright theft of game concepts. But such laws were definitely in place when the absolutely blatant Super Mario Bros. clone, the similarly-titled The Great Giana Sisters, hit store shelves. Despite the commonly-repeated story that Nintendo actually did sue the makers of Giana to have the game outlawed, it actually only took the threat of legal action to get Giana voluntarily pulled by its publisher.
16 Atari Karts
Basically every kart racing game or character-based racing game in general owes a debt of gratitude to the Mario Kart series. In fact, most of the best non-Nintendo kart racing games are the ones that don't stray too far from the Mario Kart formula. But that doesn't mean that some didn't take that idea too far, as did the Atari Jaguar release Atari Karts, which was more or less a straight-up remake of Super Mario Kart only with worse gameplay and characters nobody knew or cared about.
15 Sonic Shuffle
It's not a huge stretch for a company to want to take its stable of characters and throw them together in a party-style multiplayer game. Mario Party definitely wasn't the first such game, and wouldn't prove to be the last. No, Sonic Shuffle— a rare creative misstep by Sega during the Dreamcast era— is resigned to being little more than a second-rate Mario Party clone, blatantly aping the latter's board game framing device, as if that's the only thing that can tie together a series of button-mashing multiplayer mini-games.
14 Squid Wars (Disney Infinity 3.0)
Splatoon wasn't the first game in history to be built around two teams vying for territory by coloring portions of the playing field. For Disney Infinity 3.0 to add such a mode wouldn't have been any reason to cry "rip-off!"— except that said mode was titled "Squid Wars" and was specifically about using a team's ink to color the map. The fact that Splatoon was one of Nintendo's only big hits during its troubled Wii U era and Disney felt the need to steal Splatoon's concept just gave the whole thing a bully vibe.
13 The PlayStation Controller
Look at a non-analog PlayStation controller, as seen in the picture above. Now, mentally remove the handles... suddenly looks an awful lot like a Super NES controller, doesn't it? Indeed, much of the PS1 controller's design— from its basic "dog bone" shape, to the layout of the face buttons, to the existence of Select and shoulder buttons— are all very clearly lifted directly from the SNES control pad. It's likely only because Nintendo held a patent on its iconic cross-shaped d-pad design that Sony didn't just help itself to that aspect of the SNES's controller as well.
12 Monkey Business
In the golden era of video games, everybody was copying everybody. There wasn't a single company that was too honorable to take the hit game of another company and just release their own clone version of it. And given that Donkey Kong was one of the biggest hits of that era, it obviously inspired a whole bunch of imitators— though, of all the ones that were actually officially released commercially, none were as blatant as the Atari ST's Monkey Business that barely even bothered to change DK's iconic girder layout.
11 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Smash-Up
In defense of blatant Super Smash Bros. clone Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Smash-Up for Wii and PlayStation 2, it was developed by Game Arts who was involved in the making of the original SSB game. So it can be argued that they had a bit more of an excuse to rip off SSB than most others did. However, there was no reason to copy the SSB formula so closely and they barely tried to do anything different beyond featuring a different— and far less diverse— cast of characters.
10 Super Sky Arena
According to the game's page on the Steam store, the developers of Super Sky Arena call it "a modern day re-imagination of Star Fox multiplayer." So they definitely aren't trying to pretend that their game is anything but a Star Fox clone. Still, even by admitting it, it doesn't make the fact any less true or any more admirable. There are many ways to "re-imagine" a classic game— see Shadow Complex's obvious and admitted reworking of the Super Metroid framework— without coming off like you're just outright copying another company's work wholesale.
9 Flappy Bird
From a gameplay perspective, Flappy Bird might not directly rip off any specific aspect of any Nintendo game, but it only takes a few seconds of looking at even a screenshot of the inexplicably popular mobile game to see that many of its art assets are clearly "borrowed" from Super Mario World. Yes, any game can have green pipes, for instance— but Flappy Bird's green pipes look like they were literally copied and pasted from Super Mario World's actual art files.
8 Golden Axe Warrior
As we previously mentioned, The Legend of Zelda inspired a sea of imitators, though most knew how to just take the basic action/RPG formula and make it into something unique. Others, however, weren't quite so ambitious, and were content to just be Zelda for platforms that didn't have Zelda. Golden Axe Warrior for Sega's Game Gear was one such game, the type of Zelda copycat that never would've been approved for a Nintendo platform but could get away with being such a blatant clone on a system that didn't have Zelda.
7 Pilgrim's Punch-Out
Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is all about paying tribute to and referencing video games and gaming culture, and much of the comic series, movie, and the other Scott Pilgrim video game is a love letter to Nintendo in particular. In fact, Scott's in a band called Sex Bob-Omb, directly named after a longtime Super Mario enemy. This mobile game created to promote the movie didn't have the usual cleverness of a Scott Pilgrim video game tribute, not even bothering to change the title of the game it is clearly— and lazily— ripping off.
6 Pac-Man Fever
There are two aspects of this Pac-Man-based Mario Party rip-off that are particularly disappointing. One: Pac-Man was the star of what is often considered the original side-scrolling game, predating even Super Mario Bros.— so to see Pac-Man go from originator to imitator is a shame. And two: many of the Pac-Man games of this era were actually pretty good, including the Pac-Man kart racing game. So this uninspired and un-fun Mario Party clone is just sad all around.
5 3D Dot Game Heroes
Of all the games on this list, 3D Dot Game Heroes for PlayStation 3 probably comes the closest to being a loving tribute to a Nintendo game rather than a blatant rip-off of one. Indeed, 3D Dot Game Heroes is clearly trying to be a modern re-imagining of The Legend of Zelda, even down to its deliberately pixelated look. Where things get sketchy is in the way the game lets you create your own hero, and since you can build an accurate 3D representation of old-school Link, it's far too easy for this game to become more clone than love letter.
4 Tear Ring Saga
This one is a bit complicated, as it began development as an openly Fire Emblem-adjacent title that was developed by some of the original Fire Emblem team. Think Xenogears becoming Xenosaga and then Xenoblade— not clones of each other, but spiritual successors. Legal action on Nintendo's part forced Tear Ring Saga to drop any obvious references to Fire Emblem, which made a game that was already a little too similar to its source material to begin with feel even more rip-off than spin-off.
3 Konami Krazy Racers
Make no mistake: Komani Krazy Racers for Game Boy Advance is Super Mario Kart with reworked tracks and Konami characters instead of Nintendo ones. For a brief time, the world was okay with such an obvious bite as the GBA didn't have a Mario Kart game to call its own. Once Mario Kart Super Circuit hit, however, an "acceptable" clone became a superfluous one. Perhaps it's unfair when that happens, but that's the risk you take when you seek to fill a Nintendo-based void on Nintendo's own platform— they're probably going to fill it themselves sooner or later.
2 Crusader Of Centy
Known as Soleil outside of the United States, Crusader of Centy for Sega Genesis/Mega Drive was essentially The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past for people who didn't have an SNES to play it on. It wasn't just a Zelda-inspired game for the Genesis as, say, Beyond Oasis so skillfully was— Centy was a straight-up LttP copycat even down to its basic visual style. Chances are, you glanced at the screenshot above and thought for a moment that it was LttP— and that was clearly the intention of Centy's developers.
1 Baitohel 2000
The developers of this bizarre, Japan-only PlayStation Portable game decided to just embrace the fact that their game was a WarioWare rip-off by including characters that looked like a child's bad drawings of Mario and Luigi. Perhaps the argument, then, can be made that Baitohel 2000 is more of a parody than an outright clone. Either way, it's sketchy territory for a commercially-released game rather than a fan-made ROM hack.
Sources: Kotaku, IGN, DidYouKnowGaming