Known as "Pokémon with guns," Palworld has been a runaway gaming success.
But Pokémon fans have accused it of copying many of its creatures, or "pals."
Nintendo says it's investigating, but Palworld's CEO says the game is legally solid.
Gaming giant Nintendo has announced plans to "investigate and take appropriate measures" after a competitor launched a new game where the characters, fans say, bear striking similarities to Pokémon characters.
The game, Palworld, launched on PC last Friday to phenomenal success, quickly amassing record-breaking numbers of players on gaming distribution service Steam.
As of Thursday, the service recorded a peak of 2 million concurrent players.
According to indie developer Pocket Pair, that's the second-highest concurrent player rate for a paid game in Steam's history.
The game is estimated to have made more than $200 million in sales in the space of just a few days, the Radio Times reported.
But similarities between Palworld's pals and Pokémon, the titular creatures in the Nintendo game, were not lost on fans, who back when it was first announced in June 2021 quickly dubbed it "Pokémon with guns."
Palworld pals are also caught using a "Pal Sphere," itself a concept closely echoing Pokémon's "Pokéball."
🧭Open world survival crafting game for up to 32 players
🔫Adventure with over 100 types of pals
💪Capture, train, battle or put your Pals to work
We have spent 3 years making our dream game and we hope everyone enjoys! pic.twitter.com/dbhHeFzVqL
— Palworld (@Palworld_EN) January 19, 2024
Palworld allows players to capture and marshal over 100 different "pals" — cute creatures — in an open-world, survival, and crafting-based game, in which players can also send their creatures into battle.
Competing games echoing each others' style and gameplay is nothing new — Palworld's survival and crafting aspect has drawn comparison to ARK: Survival Evolved, another open-world game where the player has to eke out a precarious life in a landscape filled with prehistoric monsters.
But the visual similarities between a number of the individual creatures in Palworld and Pokémon have caused major discussions online.
An X user with the username Cecilia Fae compared dozens of the Palworld "pals" with existing Pokémon.
Another user, with the handle @byofrog, went viral after comparing both games' in-game models to suggest that it had even copied game assets to create the pals. Business Insider has not been able to independently verify this.
Pocket Pair's CEO, Takuro Mizobe, said in interviews with Japanese gaming outlet Automaton that while Pokémon is a "great predecessor," his company has "absolutely no intention of infringing upon the intellectual property of other companies."
The game has passed legal review, Mizobe told the outlet.
Mizobe said on X on Monday that his developers had received slanderous comments and even remarks that appeared to be death threats.
Pocket Pair did not immediately respond to Business Insider's request for comment, sent outside of Japanese business hours.
Nintendo's announcement on Thursday did not make direct mention of Palworld, referring only to "another company's game released in January 2024."
It also made clear that Nintendo hadn't granted the unnamed company any permission to use its intellectual property.
"We intend to investigate and take appropriate measures to address any acts that infringe on intellectual property rights related to the Pokémon," it said.
But legal experts have expressed skepticism that Nintendo would have a strong case.
Gaming outlet Rock Paper Shotgun spoke to its own in-house counsel, Tim Cotton, who said that the two games' creatures are "sufficiently different that there's no problem," while also pointing out that there are many other differences between the games.
"As an observer, the average person on the street, I don't think people are going to be confused as to who it belongs to," Cotton said.
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