Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Video Game Review Scores

If there's anything more boring than articles about writing articles about video games, then I don't want to know about it. But there is one subject that I've always found interesting, and that's video game review scores.

Before I launched this blog, I had two personal websites named Electric Dilintia, both filled with my video game reviews. The first site had completely unstructured reviews, like the ones on this blog. The second had very structured reviews, with sections for initial impressions, gameplay description, favorite and least favorite elements broken down by (often windy) bullet points, final impressions, and an integer score of 1 to 10.

Even back then, there was some debate about what a review score even means. There were a hell of a lot of video game sites thanks to the dot com boom, and they all had different schemes and algorithms to arrive at a final score. My favorite at the time was the one at Nintendorks. They had a ten-point scale for all of the usual elements, and then they had suggestions for renting or buying, and finally, they had Mr. Face, essentially a five-point scale -- terrible, bad, okay, good, awesome.

So in the end, I decided to try putting a score system in place because, when it comes right down to it, categorizing things is fun. I did one to ten because it's a pretty popular system, and I went with integers because decimal scores basically just stretch the scale out to one to twenty or one to a hundred. And, as so many who came before me, I discovered the ugly truth.

The rating scale starts at 6.

I was completely independent, beholden to neither an editor nor the generosity of publishers. But every time I weighed in with my final analysis, my thoughts were about the same. "Well, it wasn't a great game, but... you know, it wasn't an offensive piece of crap either. Ehhhhh, 6. Slightly above average."

Yes, I actually dipped down into the sub-five categories a few times, but by and large, 6 was the magic number. It doesn't help that internet nerds put so much weight on a video game score, ripping into anything that isn't a 9 or a 10. So I dumped the structure and the score when I relaunched Electric Dilintia as a blog.

Which is a shame, because I still think it's fun and useful to categorize a game's quality. We just need a different sort of metric.

A Proposed Scale for Video Game Ratings

First of all, let's do away with the numbers. Numbers suggest that quality is rigidly quantifiable, and that a lower score implies less value, and that simply isn't the case.

When I think of video games and how I would classify them, this is what comes to mind:

Just like it says. These are the games that stick with you, the ones you can't get enough of, the ones you'll play over and over again for years to come. These are your desert island games. Super Mario Brothers 3. Samba de Amigo. Shiren the Wanderer. Retro Game Challenge. Pokemon. Super Smash Brothers. Phoenix Wright. Every single aspect of the game is exactly right, and it's so fun and addictive that you'll never ever ever really get sick of it.

Yeah, these are pretty good games. Well-made, fun to play, just a class act all around. New Super Mario Brothers. The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures. Custom Robo. Chibi Robo. The Typing of the Dead. Karaoke Revolution. What separates the Solid games from the Outstanding? The intangibles. The difference is in the level of emotional attachment the player has. Some games are enjoyable, but they just don't grab you the same way a classic does. This isn't a failing on the game's part; it often comes down to a personal preference. A solid game is always going to be worth playing, but it may get old after a while.

These are very specifically-targeted games. Cooking Mama. Master of Illusion. Earthbound. Strong Bad's Cool Game For Attractive People. Dragon's Lair. Rampage: Total Destruction. These games are usually Solid -- maybe even Outstanding -- but their appeal is very limited, and opinions can be very polarized. These games rely on the strength of a particular element, and they execute that element flawlessly. People who aren't fans of that element probably won't get as much out of the game -- so either you'll love it or you'll hate it.

Guilty Pleasure
At first glance, these games look Bad. They're unpolished, or they have terrible concepts, or the gameplay is completely broken, or it otherwise leaves the impression that not a lot of effort was put into it. And yet, something keeps you coming back to them. Pokemon Channel. Merchant Galactic. Duck Amuck. Battle of the Bands. Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law. The difference between a Guilty Pleasure and a Niche game is that even the fans recognize that there's something wrong with it. But somehow, a gleam of charm shines through, and to a very particular set of people, that may make all the difference in the world.

This is the opposite of a Guilty Pleasure. A lot of time and effort has obviously been put into these games -- and indeed, many people may consider them to be Solid or even Outstanding -- but when it gets right down to it, you have to admit that you're just not enjoying yourself. The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time. Metroid. Rhythm Heaven. Blast Works. There's nothing wrong with these games, exactly -- they just didn't have your needs in mind when they were making it. It's like looking at a Niche game from the point of view of someone who doesn't "get it". The reviewer's basically throwing up his hands and saying, "Yeah, I really don't have any business playing this."

And finally, Bad games. Games with nothing to redeem them. Dragon's Lair: The Legend. The Great Waldo Search. Mario is Missing. Fun! Fun! Minigolf. They aren't fun to play, they look like they were phoned in by the B squad, they're just a waste of money all around. The very best a game like this can hope to offer is a Guilty Pleasure. I don't think of a lot of games as Bad these days -- I understand the appeal of most games even if I don't "get it" myself, and I've gotten better at wringing a Guilty Pleasure out of just about everything I play.

I don't expect anyone to adopt this system -- hell, I know I'm not going to. But I think it's a lot more useful to start thinking about games in these sorts of terms than it is to make everything a number.


Sunday, May 17, 2009


Game Culture Killed My Dog

You know what I miss? Fan sites.

I miss GB Station and Nintendorks. Sites that were run by people who loved the hell out of video games and wanted to share that love with other people. Places run by people who would freak out in ecstasy over the promise of a farming RPG or a Game & Watch collection. People who had a bottomless appetite for video games, who loved weird concepts, who didn't mind if a game was "innovative" or "hardcore" or "mature" just as long as it was good.

I know I'm looking back with rose-colored glasses. I know that gaming culture has always been about teenage boys having playground arguments to defend the good name of money-grubbing corporations. But, y'know... didn't it used to be fun?

Gamers have become snarky. Look at The Angry Video Game Nerd and Zero Punctuation, and all of the attention and imitators they've gotten by just ripping everything they look at to shreds. I mean, sure, I do it too, but... When I rip into a bad game, it's because it's bad in a way that fascinates me. Because there's something about it that I love. I don't think that most snarky gamers really love the games that they tear down. They're just looking to get a laugh out of some easy targets. Which is a real shame, because there's a lot you can get out of even a bad game.

And ever since the Wii became a runaway success, there's this whole "NINTENDO IS TOO CASUAL" thing that's tainted every single god damned conversation you could have about Nintendo video games. Jesus Christ, and I thought it was bad when everyone complained about "kiddy versus mature".

And now we have this new meme going around that GAMES ARE ART, and, you know, fine, but it seems like we're facing this slippery slope where we're all turning into snobs. As if games can only be appreciated if they have some higher message or purpose to impart upon the huddled unwashed masses.

I see so much negativity. So many people treating recreation like it's a matter of life or death. And then I see it in myself, and it just makes me wonder why I bother with all this sometimes.

I don't have to stay on the bleeding edge of video game news. I already have enough games and little time to enjoy them. But I'm hooked. When something like Scribblenauts or Retro Game Challenge happens, I want to know about it.

Maybe I need a new hobby.


Saturday, May 09, 2009


DSiWare Roundup

So I got a DSi.

I'm experiencing a bit of buyer's remorse, just because it is such a lot of money to spend on a toy. But I can take comfort in these benefits, from greatest importance to least:

1) The shoulder buttons work.

2) DSiWare.

3) There are enough DS units in the house now to run a proper game of ArchimeDS (LOL as the Americans call it).

Let's talk about that second one.

Luckily, I got the system quickly enough that it was relatively inexpensive to get every single game for the service that I cared about, and the 1000 bonus points really helped. Here's what I've got so far:

Brain Age Express: Math Edition

The most expensive download, and also my favorite by a mile. Yeah, it's got a lot of content that already appeared in the first two Brain Age games (which I already own), but I like this version because it's always there. I don't have to think to bring it with me; I can whip it out and play math games whenever I want. And though there are some repeat games, hey, at least they're some of my favorites. It's the Best Of Brain Age.

And, of course, there's some new material. There's a game where you have to quickly sum up all of the numbers printed on a monster before it attacks you that pretty much plays out exactly like The Maths of the Dead, a game previously unavailable outside of my wildest fantasies.

Dr. Mario Express

Yeah, the lack of multiplayer sucks. And Dr. Mario may not be the best single-player puzzle game ever created. But it's still an effective time waster.

Wario Ware Snapped!

Gosh, what do you say about this one? It's... it's not a Wario Ware game. It's a photo booth toy that uses the Wario Ware title as an excuse to justify its existence. You play five brief games -- with no difficulty levels, scoring, winning, or losing -- by moving your hands and face around in the DSi camera's viewfinder. And then it shows you a slideshow that demonstrates how stupid you looked while you were playing. It's essentially a photo booth toy masquerading as a game.

It's either the worst idea in the world or the best. I'm not sure I can say which.

Mixed Messages

Mixed Messages is the peanut butter to the DSiWare's jelly. It's an outstanding hotseat party game that you can play with just one DSi unit. The more people you can get into it, the better. You can even save a game in progress, so if you know a lot of people but you can't get them together in one place, you can pass the unit around as you bump into them and put the game together that way. And, like Brain Age Express, it sits snugly in the DSi's memory, so that you'll always have it on hand, even if you want to put a real game in the card slot.

Paper Plane

Yeah, it's a retread of content from Wario Ware: Mega Microgame$ and Mega Partygame$. But I had 200 points left, and I really don't like Pyoro very much, so there you go.


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