Action heroes are a staple of popular culture and have been for many decades, and as with everything that becomes well-liked, it usually leads to a host of spin-offs.
However, today we’re not talking about something like Solo: A Star Wars Story, which added new depth to the much-loved character of Han Solo, who blasts around the galaxy, far, far away. We’re concerned with those characters that seem very familiar, as they strike a remarkable resemblance to someone we already know, but they’re just that little bit different.
Most modern action heroes don’t seem to fall foul of finding themselves with this kind of imitation, but it was commonplace if you go back to the 1980s. Forty years ago, characters like John Rambo were influential across almost every facet of digital media, their images were easy to copy and distort, and it’s something that became widespread in video gaming. You only have to look at the cover of the Commodore 64 Contra to see the influence that Stallone’s character had on video gaming, as one of the lead figures on the front of the box looks suspiciously like the All-American hero with his red headband and automatic weapon.
Another massive action icon who remains popular to this day and has also suffered a similar fate is James Bond. Bond is often seen in different guises, and one game, Sly Spy, is described by Retronauts as being the best James Bond game not to feature Bond! You can also find a Gala Spins jackpot slot titled Agent Royale, which again doesn’t feature 007 but does play heavily on his character. After all, ‘agent’ is a word that is used when discussing Bond, whilst Royale is the title of two films and the first Bond novel. 007 is also the focus of the not-so-subtle James Pond: Underwater Agent, which was popular on the 16-bit gaming systems of the early 1990s. The fish-based spy has also since ‘resurfaced’ on the Nintendo Switch as Nintendo Life confirmed the release of James Pond: Codename Robocod, which of course, merges with another popular 80s action hero, Robocop.
Indiana Jones is one of the most loved characters of the 80s, and his legacy lives on in gaming to this very day. You could even argue there are more games inspired by the great archaeologist than almost any other. One of the first titles to be released in his likeness was Rick Dangerous, made by Core Design, and had almost everything we saw from Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s got the rolling boulders, the Amazon jungle, and even the Nazis.
Core Designs stuck with the popular theme, and their next game was probably the most iconic and is always associated with Dr Jones, and that’s Tomb Raider. The link back to Jones was just as prevalent as the well-established tropes were still present, such as hunting through tombs, puzzles to be solved, and the obligatory boulder looking to end the player’s quest for gold. But this time, the protagonist was the now legendary female hero, Lara Croft.
For our final entry, rather than concentrate on one hero, we’ll look at the many faces of Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Austrian-born strongman was seen in many video games even if he didn’t realize it himself! Conan was Schwarzenegger’s breakthrough performance in action movies, and it didn’t go unnoticed by Palace Software, who brought Death Sword, or Barbarian: The Ultimate Warrior as it was known in Europe, to digital media. The game’s cover bore a striking similarity to that of the Conan movie poster; then, as players loaded up the title, they were in control of an instantly recognizable, sword-wielding muscle-bound lead. Let’s say it didn’t come as a shock when it was later revealed that the developer did indeed base the game’s lead role on Conan after reading the book series,
Navy Moves was a hit game initially released in the late 80s and appeared to feature another character in Schwarzenegger’s image. Again, another iconic pose was replicated in the promotional material; this time, designers seemingly lifted it from Commando. It was an image that would also be carried over into the game, as part of the on-screen heads-up display features prominently while the one-man army made its way through seemingly never-ending side-scrolling levels to save the world from an evil tyrant.
We hope you enjoyed our look at some of the most copied action heroes of all time, while they’re all very memorable portrayals of some iconic characters. It highlights just how much of an influence the genre had on a burgeoning video game industry that clearly needed an extra bit of motivation from popular culture to encourage people to pick up their joysticks!