Palworld Comes Under Fire for Potential Pokémon Plagiarism
“Palworld is a shameless rip-off, with guns,” one developer tells Inverse.
Booting up Palworld, I’m not entirely sure what to expect. The first trailer showing a bunch of Pokémon-esque mascot characters toiling away in a factory making AK-47s just wasn’t my thing. But the game surprised me as I began to build my base and capture monsters that looked a little too close to some of my favorite Pokémon. It wasn’t just a Pokémon clone, it was an open-world survival game that also, for some reason, had musical stings that sounded too familiar to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
Palworld’s fans will tell you it’s not just a “monster catching” game, but a survival game with those mechanics tacked on — and I’m inclined to agree. There’s evidence to suggest Palworld potentially samples from Pokémon Legends: Arceus, at least in terms of visuals, while developer Pocketpair’s previous game Craftopia takes “inspiration” from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
This seems to be a recurring trend for Pocketpair. The Tokyo-based studio is two for two in making Nintendo “inspired” survival games. The company’s CEO, Takuro Mizobe, also said in a recent interview that his first foray into game development was at a Nintendo seminar in 2010, where most of Pocketpair’s development team was assembled. Craftopia shares so many visual similarities with Breath of the Wild that you don’t even have to squint to see similarities. The game’s Steam page makes it look like Breath of the Wild with some Fortnite building, which Mizobe has readily admitted to.
There are, of course, “monster capturing” mechanics thrown in for good measure as well. In Craftopia, you capture cel-shaded animals instead of the colorful and highly stylized Pals in Palworld. Despite this, Craftopia and Palworld are functionally the same game, just with a different skin slapped on some creatures and a few different features. For example, in Palworld you can automate crafting through the use of your Pals.
When questioned about the originality of Palworld’s monster designs in a more recent interview, Mizobe told Japanese outlet Automaton that the studio has absolutely “no intention of infringing upon the intellectual rights of other companies.” He added that the game had passed all legal reviews and that no action had been taken against Palworld. Inverse reached out to Pocketpair and Mizobe but did not receive a response.
On Thursday, The Pokémon Company issued the following statement: “We have received many inquiries regarding another company’s game released in January 2024. We have not granted any permission for the use of Pokémon intellectual property or assets in that game. We intend to investigate and take appropriate measures to address any acts that infringe on intellectual property rights related to the Pokémon. We will continue to cherish and nurture each and every Pokémon and its world, and work to bring the world together through Pokémon in the future."
Despite Mizobe’s claims of no plagiarism, social media users have vocally criticized Palworld for its similarities to the Pokémon franchise. Twitter/X user @byofrog even pulled meshes of character models in the two games and compared them, revealing some extremely similar proportions in their designs.
Jon Troy Nickel, a 3D artist who’s worked in the gaming industry for 15 years, including at Blizzard Entertainment and Riot Games, tells Inverse that these kinds of knockoffs are extremely common in the industry, but he’s not convinced that’s what’s happening here.
“I wouldn’t say that they are ripping models or kitbashing [The Pokémon Company’s] stuff,” Nickel says. “And I only say that because this kind of thing is extremely common. It’s more common than you’d think, especially in regards to a highly stylized game.”
While it varies from company to company, Nickels adds that it’s more common among smaller, independent developers.
“I have done work for a bunch of indie studios, and they will approach me with a spiel like, ‘We’re making a game like Breath of the Wild,’ and their art perspective and MO is that it will look like Breath of the Wild or Genshin Impact,” he says. “They will have an aesthetic they’re going for and expect you to hit that aesthetic, and if it doesn’t hit that aesthetic, they will tell you it needs to look more like that.”
When it comes to Palworld, Nickels concludes that it’s hard to judge given the size of Pocketpair’s team. A developer blog revealed that some of the work was also outsourced.
On the topic of that shared aesthetic, a developer and artist at an up-and-coming indie studio that has chosen to remain anonymous so they could speak without potential repercussion voiced their opinion tells Inverse that, in this case, there’s no question of whether Palworld is a Pokémon knockoff.
“The creators are careful to showcase the ‘Pals’ that don't look directly like recognizable Pokémon in their marketing art, but a more critical look at the rest of the designs doesn't take a seasoned artist to see how egregious the plagiarism is,” the source says, adding that Pokémon has a distinct style defined by “abstract monsters with colorful patterns and relatable Sanrio faces.”
Whether Palworld went far enough to be considered copyright infringement is still up for debate, but whether the game copied Pokémon seems more clear-cut, the source says.
“One could argue that Nintendo does not own the right to make something that looks like a Pokémon — as long as you change a color here, add another toe, change the shape of a curl on the tail, you are ‘technically’ doing something different,” they say. “But how is this any different than someone copying an essay and changing just enough words to make it seem like it's your own? It isn't. Palworld is a shameless rip-off, with guns.”
We’ve been here before. In 2020, Spanish developer Crema released Temtem, a massively multiplayer online role-playing game with an uncanny resemblance to Pokémon. Despite the similarities, no lawsuit from Nintendo or the Pokémon Company made headlines. At the time, video game lawyer Ryan Morrison told Inverse that the Pokémon Company only owned the copyrights to its specific creatures.
“You can’t own a genre,” he said. “You can’t own a game type. You can’t own mechanics, save for a few examples.”
Palworld is available now on Game Pass, Xbox, and PC.
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