There needs to be a difference between reviews and critiques in the video games industry. Reviews need to be about whether or not a game works properly. What factors are in this game and how do they come together? A review should not be whether or not the game had fun. Critiques are about what designs could have, in a perfect world, enhanced the gameplay and are more about learning new philosophies to improve on your design for the future. They should not be given a number score.
Clearly new ideas should be applauded, but games should never be marked as being "the same as the last" in a review. The simple answer for that is because, to quote an old TV slogan, if you haven't seen it it's new to you. Many reviewers take it upon them to decide when a game has become grating, which is entirely subjective. There could be new mechanics that they are blind too, due to the tight schedules they keep while trying to blast through as many games as possible. I've seen many reviews make clearly incorrect statements in regards to a game's mechanics being business as usual, Pokemon being a recent example, and at that point your review is doing nobody any good. DDR games still get hit because in the end each game is essentially the same but with a new soundtrack,. If all someone want is more songs for DDR than it sounds like a great game, and placing reviews that show the opposite is confusing and misleading. A lower score indicates that the game is of lower quality, and if it's the same game... well that graph doesn't quite add up. If it's the same game with new music, and the music is the draw of the game, what's the problem?
If a mechanic is technically frustrating, say a lack of a trading system in a game where there clearly should be one *cough*Borderlands*cough*, it is entirely different from a game that is missing a feature you think would be totally awesome in it. Reviews of New Super Mario Bros. Wii have begun spilling out over the net and it's frustrating to see many of them present the lack of online multiplayer as an excuse to drag the score down. Since when is the omission of features critical to how well the new game plays? How does a lack of online playability make playing the local single and multiplayer any worst? It doesn't. It's simply a feature that isn't there.
There are always features that aren't there. Those should be saved for a proper critique, or at least in a review under a specific "wishes and wants" segment, but never let that detract from the quality of the product in your hand. If we go down this route then there needs to be points taken off for a lack of Screen Capture and Recording functions. Smash Bros. Brawl had both of them, and there's little reason why any other game can't have them. Now, if New Super Mario Bros Wii. did have online, and it was terrible, then the score should be brought down. We should only review what's there, not what isn't.
Rhythm games have been suffering their own recurring problems in reviews: the music is being judged subjectively. Many DJ Hero reviews are being praised for their awesome mash-ups and many Band Hero reviews are showing ill-favor due to the game's pop-heavy music. That shouldn't matter in a review. Oh sure if the audio quality is bad or if on a technical level the mash-ups just didn't work, that's fair game. Saying that Band Hero is terrible because you're hung up on Taylor Swift and The Spice Girls is just plain lazy. What kind of music is in a rhythm game should be mentioned, but telling people that how that game is based on the soundtrack is terrible for a reader. Reviews of Guitar Hero 3 said it had a great soundtrack, but personally I found it to be boring schlock. Who's right? Nobody, because it's purely subjective.
Overall that brings the question of fun into the mix. Some people argue that reviews boil down to "is the game fun?" and that shouldn't be further from the truth. I loved Alone in the Dark because it managed to tickle me in just the right way. Oh sure the game wasn't perfect by a long shot, but I clearly enjoyed it more than most reviewers and on top of that think that it did a lot of things right that just didn't quite tie together as well as they should have. Visuals have this problem, too. Some people hailed Wind Waker for it's impressive art style while others detracted it for it's childish look. The fact is, if you don't like the cartoon look and you can't get passed it, no amount of 10's in the "graphics" department are going to be of any use to you.
Maybe I'm being to picky. Maybe reviews should just be whether or not we all enjoyed ourselves and then should clearly be ignored by everyone else because it does no service to them. We all have different tastes. Somebody could me that last night's football game was breathtaking. but I'll never care because football doesn't interest me. Should video game reviews be brought down to swapping stories? I think there's a place for that, but I don't think it's in the official review.
What do you think? Should reviews be a mixture? Is that human aspect doing anybody a favor, or is it possibly causing people to shy away from games they might otherwise like? Love to hear your feedback.
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