Within the art world, the term "derivative" is usually viewed negatively, implying, at best, unoriginality and, at worst, theft of someone else's work.
But in reality, the term "derivative" simply means that art is "originating from, based on, or influenced by" something else. This is not inherently positive or negative. Art does not exist in a bubble; it's a product of a much larger sociocultural context in conversation with all the art that came before it. In other words, all art is derivative.
Star Wars was majorly influenced by the Western genre, which, in turn, had recycled and built upon the same core themes and plots for decades. Shōnen manga artists continue to borrow from their predecessors, and fans of the genre can trace a clear path of influence from newer series like My Hero Academia and Demon Slayer back to Naruto and One Piece to Dragon Ball and all the way to Osamu Tezuka's Astro Boy. All these works are, by definition, derivative. As such, the question should never simply be, "Is this art derivative?" because the answer is always, "Yes." Instead, the question should be, "In what way is this art derivative?"
Enter Enchanted Portals, an upcoming indie co-op platformer/shooter game that seems deeply derivative of indie darling Cuphead.
After the recent drop of Enchanted Portals' first trailer, Cuphead fans expressed their disdain online, accusing the two-person Enchanted Portals dev team of everything from laziness to plagiarism. But is the fan outrage fair, or is this just another instance of a perpetually angry Internet crowd picking out a fresh target for their daily "Two Minutes Hate?"
For reference, here's the Enchanted Portals trailer:
Enchanted Portals Kickstarter Trailer www.youtube.com
And here's the trailer for Cuphead:
Cuphead E3 2015 Trailer for Xbox One www.youtube.com
So right up front, Enchanted Portals does, indeed, appear to be overwhelmingly inspired by Cuphead. In fact, the creators have confirmed this fact on their official Facebook page: "We are avids fans of Cuphead and were inspired by it to create something similar, but we're trying to give it a different spin and making it our own thing."
Enchanted Portals borrows a lot from Cuphead, including the rubber hose animation style (defined by jointless, "rubber hose" limbs), run-and-gun, boss-centric gameplay model, and even the jaunty jazz music. Judging from the trailer, Enchanted Portals is stylistically derivative of Cuphead in just about every way. But...so what? The game is a clear homage to Cuphead. That doesn't make it plagiarism, or anything even close. It doesn't steal the source code, it doesn't steal the world or the characters, and until the game comes out, nobody even knows if or how it builds upon the general mechanics.
Moreover, Cuphead didn't invent rubber hose animation, which was popularized by classic Disney cartoons of the 1930s. It didn't invent run-and-gun gameplay or boss-centric shoot-em-ups, either, which can be respectively attributed to '80s arcade franchises like Contra and Mega Man for NES. The real genius of Cuphead was combining these elements in such a neat, well-designed package. But Cuphead does not hold a monopoly on this style or concept, all of which are also derivative of other artistic things that came before it.
To be clear, if anyone doesn't want to play Enchanted Portals because it's so obviously based on Cuphead, that's totally within their rights. At the same time, it's very strange that anybody is so angry about it. The developers never pretended that it wasn't directly inspired by Cuphead. Drawing upon and even reskinning previous games isn't exactly new within the video game world. What exactly makes this one worthy of so much hatred?
Sure, the new game might be banking on love and recognition of something already popular and established, but this is incredibly common within literally every artform in existence. That's why popular things are called "trendsetters": ecause they start trends. God of War spawned countless "beefy dude hacking things up" clones. PUBG inspired a whole slew of battle royale games. Cuphead will almost certainly do the same. Those copycats might not be your cup of tea, but there's nothing inherently wrong with them either.If you have the time to shout about Enchanted Portals on Twitter, it would probably be a more positive use of your time to go play some Cuphead instead.