Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Picking a Video Game Review System (You Can Help)

Long before I ever thought about writing on a personal blog, I pondered the best way to express a rating for a video game in a written review. I've seen all kinds. Reviews with a single score at the end, out of 5 points, out of 10 points, out of 20, 30, 100. Reviews with scores from 4 different people. Reviews where they break down and review each component, sometimes they average those numbers for the final score, sometimes they don't count at all.

One line of thought says you should let the words speak for themselves. no number, no letter, no rating at the end at all. It's a nice sentiment, but everyone writes differently; some people focus more on the things they didn't like about the game as they write about it, without giving praise to enjoyable portions. Without a black and white rating, it could come off more negative then the writer intends.

Here's my own little conundrum, though; I don't really use reviews anymore.

I got a Wii within the first month of it's release. I wasn't considering all the details that may have been a prelude to the console's future when I did. Motion controls seemed to have a lot of potential, it was much cheaper than the alternatives, and it was from Nintendo. That was enough for me at the time. Fast-forward through the next few months; mediocre to poor reviews for the games all around, without a big selection of highly praised games or games that looked to be highly praised on the horizon. I wanted games, dammin, so I ignored the reviews and bought some. I eventually got Elebits, Excite Truck, Red Steel, Sonic and the Secret Rings, and Kororinpa Marble Mania. None of them were critical home-runs, but they all seemed like fun (Red Steel I had rented) so I jumped in. Kororinpa, Elebits, and Excite Truck remain some of my favorite Wii games and the others were plenty of fun. I found this scenario of reviews/review aggregates not reflecting my enjoyment of a game at all to be true again and again; if it seemed like fun from videos and descriptions, it almost always was. The one exception was controls; you can't glean how you'll feel about the controls from a video or description. So when something isn't completely straightforward, or from a quality development studio, that's when I turn to reviews. But usually written impressions come out before reviews to gather info on controls.

As I said, I don't -use- reviews often. Usually when I read them, it's to compare my own opinion of a game to the (hopefully) in-depth opinion of someone else. I read them for entertainment, basically. But I understand that people do use reviews, and I love to steer other people toward something I enjoyed. I want to write reviews for video games, but I'm not sure what system would match my ideals and be accepted by readers. I really like the idea of a "recommended" or "not recommended" system, because for me, that's what it boils down to. Was it worth my time and money, or wasn't it? It reinforces what I would write just enough to give people the right idea. It wouldn't be a simple "yes or no" of course, as the rest of the writing would hopefully add context to the recommendations, such as the current prices you could find the game at or a lower price I might suggest waiting for, if you should avoid it if you aren't familiar with some cultural conventions that might be a turn off, if you could find a better version or a better, similar experience somewhere else, etc. But my concern is if the "yes or no" will feel too cheap, too simple to a prospective reader. One game vs. another, you don't have any context at all unless you confront me for my opinion directly, something I'm definitely willing to do, but it's awkward to advertise that every time.

Alternatively, I enjoy the prospect of a review system that breaks down and scores the components of a game; controls, visuals, music and sound, "fun factor". It naturally gives every review a comparable structure and you're not necessarily forced to make an aggregate score from those parts, so I don't have to say visuals account for this or that percentage of the rating, when something like graphics fidelity isn't always important.

Let me know what your favorite review system or scale is. Give me something different to consider.


  1. Well, after two tests, and being in a semi-recovering state from the flu over the last 5 days, I'm catching up on posts!

    I've held off for the longest time on doing "reviews" on my site.
    I actually prefer detailed previews...or even just game-play videos with voice-overs(getting more into this).

    I have a standard I would use, if/when I start doing reviews on a regular basis though...and it would be like Kotaku(even though that site I disagree with on 95% of their content due to it being basically trash journalism IMO), where they show a positive/negative list of what they enjoyed overall and what they disliked overall.

    IF you do reviews though, please include the amount of time you played the games...because nearly 95% of all reviews read like press releases these days that are copied/pasted from other sites...just with different words to appeal to their audiences.

    When reviewers don't even finish games before reviewing it(which I think happens VERY often)...the least they could say is how many hours they played it, or where they stopped and what level they stopped on and why they didn't finish it.

  2. I really don't have any video game review style that I like really. Actually, I don't think that I'd really be a good video game reviewer since I can tolarate most games that I play (ex. Rugrats in Paris for the GBA. I actually had a blast with that game! It was a good distraction whenever I go on car trips but it was freaking hard to complete the game even for a licensed game)

    However, I do prefer Kotaku's way of reviewing games but recently it feels as if Kotaku reverting back ever so closely to rating their game(I don't have any concrete proof but it's just a feeling that I've got).

    But if I were to choose a review style, I would just write about the game's "The Good, the Bad, and the 'Nitpick'" (....I know, but just try to stay with me here). In the good section, one will only talk about the good things about the game, then only talks about the bad things about the game, and then finally comes the "Nitpick" section which the reviewer talks about which components of game should have improved on the game, removed from the game, and remained the same in the game.

    Basically, you got two pseudo-objective sections (The good and the bad) and then a subjective section (The nitpick). Also to clarify, when I say "pseudo-objective", it means it really subjective, but in the reviewer's perspective, it should really be fact for the game.

    Sorry to go off topic here, but have you guys ever noticed that the 3DS does not have a built-in microphone? I actually found this out when I saw a 3DS starter pack which includes earphones with a microphone, but since the system has removed that feature, games like warioware, rhythm heaven, and other games will be somewhat useless on the 3DS unless the games are compatible with a microphone but I don't know... Something to think about.

  3. @Coffee
    Yeah, I definitely planned on including stats like play time, purchase price or if I rented it, control method I used most often (Classic Con vs. Wiimote + Nunchuk, for example). I've never actually read a Kotaku review (the site structure doesn't make it convenient to view them later when I would read them) so it's funny that you both mention Kotaku's review style.

    Actually, it does have a microphone. I couldn't tell you where it's located on the unit, but Nintendo's site still says it's there

  4. Oh cool, I was just wondering about it since I haven't seen anything on the hardware to indicate an embedded microphone on the system.

    Also, I chose Kotaku's way just because there was no rating system because everyone is just using the rating system as a crutch just to decide on whether to buy a game or not. Which, unfortunately, makes everything that the reviewer wrote "null in void", in a way.

  5. @Falco8
    Hmm.... I don't know if I agree. If the reviewer likes the game, then they might give it a high score to encourage people to buy the game, and if they don't like it, a low score to "help" people to avoid buying the game. In a way, they are accomplishing exactly what they want.