Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Review the Reviews: You missed the point!

Review the Reviews is an ongoing column about the problems with mainstream professional video game reviews.

Lots of people read and watch video game reviews. IGN receives millions of hits every month, Game Informer has millions of subscribers, YouTube is crammed full of game reviews from countless professional and amateur critics. But there is something wrong with so many of these reviews, and Review the Reviewers will point out the problems for the sake of ethical journalism.

For this first entry of Review the Reviews, I want to discuss a couple of examples where the critics have completely missed the point. They have missed the point of retro remakes and the point of a review in the first place.

The first example, and a blaringly obvious one, is Mitch Dyer’s review of Double Dragon: Neon. Not to go into too much detail, but the game is a modern update of the original Double Dragon game. This game was created specifically for the sake of nostalgia, it’s obvious. What else is the point of remaking a classic game, if not to appeal to the nostalgia of the older gamer generation who enjoyed the original?

Dyer said in his review, “This dedication to bygone design philosophies wounds Double Dragon: Neon because it compromises quality for the sake of nostalgia.”

He was complaining about the difficulty level of the game and what he calls “finicky combat” and “slow, cumbersome characters.” While I haven’t played this particular remake, I have played multiple entries in the Double Dragon franchise. They are old, but great. The combat was difficult back then; that’s what made it fun. The original games were short so that arcade players could defeat the difficult games in one sitting (standing?) at the arcade. The remake’s combat was built from the ground up to feel like playing these older games. This reviewer -- this professional and paid reviewer -- missed the point completely.

You can read in the amusing comment thread following Dyer’s piece for many good points, but my point, and the fact of the matter, is that it was his job to play it and grade it based on its merits. What he did wrong was missing the point of the game. He obviously does not enjoy classic gaming. When he thinks of a beat-‘em-up or a brawler game, he probably imagines smooth combat in modern games like God of War or Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. The problem is this game is not one of those games! This is a remake! Grade it accordingly!

My next example is far more atrocious: The IGN review for the remake of Turtles in Time. The review suffers from the same problems as the Double Dragon review and a few even worse ones.

While he gave “Re-Shelled” a higher score (Double Dragon received a 3), reviewer Daemon Hatfield, still complained about “cheap bosses” and game mechanics. This game is a direct remake of a 1991arcade game, of course the controls will feel dated and the difficulty will be high!

Hatfield makes two grievous errors in his shining example of unethical criticism. He discusses the price of the game and he compares it to unrelated games.

A reviewer is not supposed to talk about whether people should buy the game; that is for a consumer to decide. It doesn’t matter how the game is priced, what matters is if the reader might enjoy the game. Cost and benefit are subjective and unique to everyone; the price of the game should have no effect on the review.

The most offensive thing about Hatfield’s review is his comparison to different games. Early in the article he talks about Castle Crashers. Castle Crashers is a great game, but is not the game he is reviewing; there was no reason to bring it up. He then has the audacity to imply that the readers purchase the less expensive game, Shatter, instead. Shatter is a shooting game; it’s not even in the same genre.

Remakes are there to fulfill nostalgia. They sell for that reason. Look at the numbers for the 3DS remake of Ocarina of Time. The same website published a shining review for that game, because the reviewer knew what he was getting into when he started the review.

It’s not hard to write a review, and it’s a dream job for so many gamers. These critics should respect their audience and give fair reviews. They should know what they’re talking about, they should never compare a game to another game and they should never imply that the readers should or should not buy the game or another one.

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