Send in the Clones: Nintendo Switch eShop Hits a New Low, Dinosaur Polo Club May Take Legal Action Against ‘Mini Metro’ Rip-Off

The Nintendo Switch eShop has a lot of issues. One of the worst is the apparent near-total lack of quality control in what gets approved by Nintendo for release. While reports indicated that Nintendo was being rather strict about who could or couldn’t publish at the start of the console’s life, it’s clear that things got a lot looser over the years. One by one, publishers of low-quality fare sold at bargain basement prices began to appear, leading to a glut of poorly-made games, template flips from the Unity Asset Store, and other such nonsense.

We’ve seen some games that skate the line of plagiarism on the eShop before. Pix Jungle Adventures from Kistler Studios, for example, clearly uses sprites ripped without permission from games created by Woblyware. We’ve also seen games that use names or marks that they don’t have a license for, with Pix Arts making at least a few games that step over this line. We’ve seen multiple instances of the same game template released under different names by multiple publishers such as the aforementioned Kistler Studios, Pix Arts, Piotr Skalski, and more. This is all pretty bad, contributing to the difficulty of discovery on the eShop without adding anything of value.

Things marked a new low with the July 16th release of Cooking & Publishing’s Mini Subway: Logic on the Metro Line. Cooking & Publishing is relatively new to the Nintendo Switch ecosystem, but the publisher has been around for a while on mobile. On its website, the Spanish company claims to support indie game developers, offering a number of services such as porting, marketing, QA, and more. Looking at their eShop releases so far, you’d be hard-pressed to see even the smallest aspect of that supposed mission in action. Games like Puzzle Cube: Magic Urbik Game (a virtual Rubik’s Cube) and The Minesweeper: Crew Bomber Edition (which copies even the specific aesthetics of Microsoft’s Minesweeper) don’t exactly speak to any sort of commitment to quality.

Mini Subway: Logic on the Metro Line is Cooking & Publishing’s worst offender yet. It is nothing more than a naked rip-off of Dinosaur Polo Club’s Mini Metro, going so far as to copy its overall graphical style and UI. Putting screenshots of the two games beside each other, the two are almost indistinguishable. While Mini Metro‘s port was carefully tuned for the system, adding support for button controls among other things, Mini Subway: Logic on the Metro Line is only playable with touch controls, typically a sign of a mobile template being cobbled together for the Switch.

Indeed, a little searching around has led me to a template being sold on the Unity Asset Store called Mini Subway – Mobile Game Template by a publisher named Lethargica. It’s highly likely that Cooking & Publishing purchased this template and compiled it for the Switch, a practice that in and of itself isn’t breaking any rules even if it generally results in a poor quality product. The issue here is that Mini Subway – Mobile Game Template, and Cooking & Publishing’s game based on it, appears to be close enough to Dinosaur Polo Club’s game to cross the line into plagiarism.

Readers of SwitchArcade will know that I was quite annoyed at seeing a naked clone of another developer’s game being released on the eShop, and I expressed my feelings quite clearly in my summary of Mini Subway, where I wrote:

“This is nothing more than a complete clone of Dinosaur Polo Club’s Mini Metro. Cooking & Publishing couldn’t even be bothered to change the aesthetic. But perhaps it couldn’t, because I suspect very much this is just a mobile template flip. It’s handheld only because touch controls are very much required. Frankly, I don’t understand why Nintendo is allowing this kind of thing. And I don’t know how the people at Cooking & Publishing are okay with this, either. Congratulations on stealing ideas wholesale from your betters, I guess? Is this why you got into making games? Is this living the dream? Please don’t support this trash. The real Mini Metro is available on Switch at a reasonable price and it’s a far more thoughtful conversion along with, you know, being the actual original. Disgusting. Shame on you, Cooking & Publishing."

The folks at Dinosaur Polo Club are apparently among my readership, because I received a response from them a few hours later. With their permission, I’ll print that reply here.

“As a small indie studio, we recognize that our own successes are, in part, due to standing on the shoulders of giants, and that part of the creative process involves taking inspiration from others and making it your own. Seeing people take inspiration from our games has been an amazing experience, but of course, there’s a difference between inspiration and plagiarism.

We owe it to our team to defend the work we’ve invested so much into, so we evaluate every report of copycat or clone versions of our games to assess whether they breach our trademark. While we always try to reach out to the developers first, if required, we will take legal action.

It’s a joy to see our games inspire others to make their own. We are nothing if not sympathetic to the hard work of fellow indie devs, but the work should be inspired by, not copied from."

My personal read on that is that Dinosaur Polo Club is significantly classier than I would probably be in the same situation, and that things don’t sound like they’re going to be too rosy for Mini Subway‘s future. I wouldn’t be surprised if the game is removed from the eShop at some point, in fact. As Dinosaur Polo Club says, there is a difference between inspiration and plagiarism, and I think anyone can see that Mini Subway is the latter.

But that brings us around to another part of the problem: Nintendo’s quality control on approvals. TouchArcade is at its roots an iOS gaming site, so this is hardly a novel situation to us. Apple (and Google) famously have very few qualms about letting all sorts of copyright violations, plagiarizing works, and so on slip through. Given the sheer volume of apps released every day, it’s perhaps understandable. But it’s not a good thing, and I’d argue it has reflected very poorly on the App Store. It’s not a path Nintendo should be following, particularly since the volume of new releases on the Switch is a fraction of what iOS deals with. This is a manageable amount of releases to do due diligence on. I know because I literally do just that with every release for the SwitchArcade new release round-ups.

If Mini Subway had copied a Nintendo game as closely as it copied Mini Metro, Nintendo’s Mighty Mjolnir itself would have descended from the heavens and obliterated it. Mini Metro is hardly an obscure game. Nintendo themselves featured its spiritual successor Mini Motorways in an Indie World Nintendo Direct presentation. If Nintendo isn’t willing to protect its partners in the indie development community that has supported the Nintendo Switch so vigorously, the eShop is going to end up just as much of a mess as the App Store, Google Play Store, and Steam. Arguably, it’s already not far from those.

I’m sure the right thing will be done here, and Mini Subway will be sent to the trash bin from whence it came. But this shouldn’t be happening in the first place, and I wish I could say I was confident that it won’t happen again. Heck, I wish I could say I was confident that the likes of Pix Arts and Kistler Studios don’t have their own flips on Mini Subway in the approval queue as I write this. But I can’t say either of those things, and that’s pretty sad. Absolutely nothing of value would be lost if Nintendo gave the boot to every last one of these template flippers, but I suspect they’ll be haunting the eShop for a long time to come. Where’s that old Seal of Quality when you need it, eh?