A critique of the way most people review games

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.

As always my inane ramblings can be found on Facebook.


How Smash Bros. Brawl could make other Nintendo franchises better

Super Smash Bros. Tennis Anyone?

by Randy Marr
Super Smash Bros. Brawl EU Limited Edition Box Art
  It's small wonder how the Super Smash Bros. franchise has done so well. It features everybody's favorite things about Nintendo, it's incredibly polished, and it's a fun and original concept. You don't have to be a fan of the Big N to appreciate it, but if you are, there's some deeper substance for you. What Nintendo needs to do is take this celebration of itself and use it to help revitalize some old franchises and maybe even build new ones.

"But Benjamin Franklin, what kind of games are you talking about," you might ask, which would be weird because Ben has been dead for over a couple centuries and he wouldn't know anything about video games. But I think I can help you where our dear friend could not...

Mario Party: Nintendo's been throwing these shindigs for over 10 years now and I think it's about time they start letting somebody else crash it. They've really started digging the bottom of the bucket to make Blooper and Birdo playable characters, when what they should have done is started reaching out to games like Metroid and S tar Fox. Suddenly you have boards that aren't generic beaches, but are instead 2D style Metroid maps with space pirates running around for fun. Or maybe you're playing on the deck of The Great Fox. There's a lot more material to mine here and it would be in Nintendo's interest to start exploring it.

Mario Kart: Another one of The Plumber's personal onslaught of franchises, this game seems to enjoy a new iteration with every passing platform, while never really changing the game. It's time to end that by letting in new characters and levels. Like with Party, it's about ditching the more generic levels that are being recycled and moving to new frontiers. Samus could drive around in a kart shaped like her ship, or Link around on some freakish Epona motorcycle. Hyrule Field could be a new course, or maybe an old school F-Zero track just for fun. The other issue here, along with Mario Party, is that the games don't have a great level of polish. They're often very basic and that's fine, but a little attention to detail and fan-service could go along way to elevate peoples opinions of them.

Mario Golf: Samus has a Putter Beam and Link uses the Master Sword as a 9-iron. 'Nuff said.

Mario RPG/Paper Mario: You want them to do the Nintendo universe Kingdom Hearts style and you know it. Hopefully if they did, they remember to make the game not control terribly and have the story make some semblance of coherent sense. Or! How about we start applying the word "Paper" to some other games. Let's take Zelda and Metroid out of their standard and sometimes too-serious worlds and put them in something more humoro us? Even if you want Metroid to stay deep, you could give it a neat RPG with some active combat systems that the series just might lend itself to more than one would think. The fact is the Mario RPG's are some of the best games Nintendo puts out and I would love to see them take some of that cleverness and creativity to their other franchises. (Ice Climbers and the Quest for the Lost Iceberg. Think about it. I haven't.)

What other games or genre's could Nintendo lend it's celebratory concept into? Where else would you like to see the Nintendo fans get their obscure just deserts? Love to hear your ideas in the comments.

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Do we still need unlockables in games?

Character Unlocked: Someone You Should Have Had 8 Hours Ago

by Randy Marr
Unlockable reward or waste of time?
Because my boyfriend and I are creatures of a random nature, we picked Street Fighter IV off the shelf for the first time since April and had ourselves a few matches. Aside from the fact that the game's mechanics continue to be impenetrable, I began to question why half the game's roster was locked away. "Why can't we just play as the characters out of the gate?" I thought. "What are the upsides to them being secret characters?" I still can't find an answer for that question.
The first thing anyone does in a game like this is try to unlock all the characters as fast as possible. I did it for Smash Bros. Brawl on the night I got it... when really my friends and me just wanted to hang out and play some regular Smash Bros., not go through the story mode. I appreciate that there wasn't a need to spend 20 combined hours playing to unlock a character like there was in Melee, but the fact remains: Why aren't these characters unlocked from the beginning?
Sure it's fun to unlock little goodies or extra costumes or what not, that's fine. Progressive stage unlocking in a Mario game or finding secret weapons in Fable II, that sort of stuff. But in a fighting game, or in Mario Kart, what's the point? If you have a secret character who is clearly overpowered, than why even have his game-breaking self in there? And if said character is just as balanced, what is the point of locking him away? Why should somebody have to play the games as characters they don't like to get to the character they want? What's the reward?
In New Super Mario Bros. Wii, for Multiplayer, all of the stages are unlocked so you have free reign to play what you want. Don't forget that you can play through Story Mode with multiple players, and the stages aren't unlocked there, this is just for the specific coin battle mode. To me this seems like the right idea if you just want to goof around with some Mario games with friends if you're focusing on the single player for yourself.
So what about you, dear readers? Are there any games you wish had all playable characters or levels unlocked from the beginning? Or do you get a thrill from having to rush through the game as fast as possible to get all that big content? What games do you think would be better this way, but also what games do you think are made better by having hidden characters or stages? Love to hear the feedback.
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Dragon Age Origins DLC: Why is this okay?

Okay so this is a quick question/comment I have for everyone out there... Why is that when Valve decides they want to make a sequel to their wildly popular Left 4 Dead game, similar to how Guitar Hero, Rock Band, and Madden (among others) make year-out sequels, everyone throws shit at a wall like crazed monkeys. (By everyone I of course mean the people who acted like crazed monkeys, not the reasonable folk). But when Dragon Age: Origins launches with Day 1 downloadable content that could have just as easily been put on the disc, nobody seems to care?
Now, I understand that one of the two big DLC packs comes with every new, shiny copy of the game and that's an anti-piracy sort of measure, and that I'm totally okay with. But the 2nd one, Warden's Keep, costs $7 and one of it's benefits includes expanding your inventory. That sounds kind of like if you had to pay to expand your attache case in Resident Evil 4. Sure, you don't have too, but of course it's only a better idea if you do. Borderlands is in desperate need of a place to store items I want because they're trophies or I just think they're pretty, but if DLC launched day and date with the game, I don't even know if I'd buy the game. I know it's effected my decision to buy Dragon Age, which to be fair I was already kind of lackluster about anyway.
So why is this okay? Why can Dragon Age get away with this shady business, but when Valve wants to make a bigger and better game, they get the biggest kinds of tantrums? I get that maybe it has something to do with Dragon Age being delayed, but it still just seems like they expect the hardcore fans to foot that bill, and I don't think that's incredibly fair. Somebody explain to me, calmly and intelligently, how this makes any kind of sense.


Quick note: Earthworm Jim now available on Steam


Just a quick update for fans of old fashioned games: side-scrolling shoot-'em-up Earthworm Jim has returned on Steam. You can get the whole Earthworm Jim package including the original, Earthworm Jim 2, and Earthworm Jim 3 for only $20.

Never played the last one on that list, so if somebody out there has, leave a comment below, I'd love to know how it is.

Highlighting Xbox Live Indie Games: The Arkedo Series


I'm not quite sure if there's a word to define the sort of games in the Arkedo series, so I'm going to say it's New Retro. This phrase will be used to describe video games that are based on old 8-bit styles, but use modern visual technologies to spruce them up. Immediate examples would be Pac-Man: Championship Edition and Space Invaders Extreme. More recently released on the Xbox Indie channel are a pair of games by Paris-based developer Arkedo, JUMP! and SWAP!.

I first fell in love with the developer's visual styles when I played a little DS gem that released earlier this year called Big Bang Mini. It was a simple premise, use your stylus to "toss" fireworks up into the top screen to blow up your bad guys, while navigating a little sphere from stray bullets.

Those same visual styles return for JUMP!, and the title pretty much sums the game up. You play a man in a sweet cowboy hat who hops platform to platform defusing bombs before the 100 second timer runs out. It's a simplistic concept made better by the brilliant retro visuals and sense of humor. Every thing has a very blocky, solid look to it with plenty of neon lighting and edges to help really brighten the whole screen. Each level come with a cute title and game over messages range from "Here's a cookie!" to "Blame the game pad!" It's super simple, and super cute.



The second game in the series, SWAP! is a classic tile-switching puzzle game akin to Bejewled or Planet Puzzle League. Multiple brightly colored tiles slowly rise to the top of the screen and it's your job to connect 4 or more horizontally or vertically. Here's the clever twist to the Puzzle League format: you only get one cursor, and when you hover it over a tile you can slide it any direction by using the right thumbstick. Unlike Puzzle League, which only allows horizontal movement, you're given complete free reign on your tiles. If you want to take a tile all the way from the bottom right to make a line in the top left, it's all yours. It even comes complete with power ups to blow apart the field!

What's remarkable about these games, aside from being very clever twists on familiar concepts, is just the visual and audio components that accompany them. It's bright and friendly, without feeling childish. Gameplay is quick and simple, but with a certain amount of mastery involved. In short? These are retro, "old school" games for people like me who have been playing since the days of Tetris and Mario. They come with new visual technologies and crisp styles, but are very reminiscent of the older days. But even if you didn't grow up during those times, I think there's plenty for you to enjoy in the uniqueness of these titles amidst the fairly "meh" realm of the Xbox Live Indie scene. Heck, I'd go so far as to say they're pretty great against most Xbox Live Arcade titles.

Did I mention each game is just 3 dollars? (That's 270 Microsoft Fun-bucks) Not a bad deal for some surprisingly complete packages. I can't recommend that you support this amazing developer enough by picking up these two games, and Big Bang Mini is probably still sitting on store shelves at your local GameStop.

Have you tried any of these games out already? Any impressions you'd like to relay to your Examiner community? Don't forget to subscribe if you want to know all about what's going on with video games in a different light than you'll find anywhere else!


You No Longer Have An Excuse NOT to Order Left 4 Dead 2

   Valve announced today on the Team Fortress 2 Blog that they will be, for the first time ever, crashing two Valve universes together.  

  This is  not  fan fiction! This is  not  a dream sequence! The characters from  Team Fortress 2  will  team-up with Bill's hat from  Left 4 Dead 1!

   That's right, Bill's Hat has found it's way into the Team Fortress 2-niverse. Adding to the list of awesome deals like a free and exclusive baseball bat, 10% off, and early demo access, Valve has announced that if you pre-order Left 4 Dead 2 for PC, you will receive the hat of iconic survivor Bill for all your characters in Team Fortress 2. 

   Now if only we could get Team Fortress 2 characters to run the Left 4 Dead levels. Come on home-brew, don't fail me now!
   Anybody out there recently participate in TF2's holiday event? Wasn't it awesome? Exploding pumpkins make every game better.


Dead Space Proves that Little Details Make a Big Deal

If you wouldn't mind reading this article on my new location at examiner.com, I'd really appreciate it.

Good Use of Dead Space

By Randy Marr
   One of the best games of last year was Dead Space. It managed to prove that a good action-based game doesn't have to sacrifice horror, and that a game can be scary without forsaking good gameplay. Resident Evil hasn't been able to balance those aspects properly, and Silent Hill has never really played well, despite being steeped in terror. But EA Redwood (now Visceral Games) managed to find a wonderful harmony between both, and the reason? It's in the details.

   While playing Dead Space, I always found myself in wonder of every tiny detail they squeezed in. Isaac's head looks around as you navigate the in-game inventory menu, there's no sound in the vacuum of space (except for the sounds he makes inside his suit), and the frantic nature of his injured grunts and groans. Details like those really help to draw you into that world, which is what makes video games better at scaring you than movies: you're controlling your character. It helps remove that barrier of safety because the monsters are after you.

   Even Dead Space: Extraction, the "Guided First Person Shooter" (a fancy term for on-rails, or light-gun shooter) has its share of small details. You played that game from the first person perspective, and when the character you were playing as would talk, his audio sounded slightly different; it sounded the way it does when you talk, how you hear internal noise and it sounds a little louder. It was a great effect that helped put the player in the seat of this incredibly sculpted experience (buggy as it was).

   I will leave you now with Visceral Games' niftiest little detail found in both games, but be warned that it is a spoiler so if you've yet to finish either titles... well I wouldn't investigate these too much. Ready? Alright: take the first letter of each chapter title in both games to get a secret message. (It's not "Drink Your Ovaltine, I Promise.)

Dead Space:

New Arrivals
Intensive Care
Course Correction
Obliteration Imminent
Lethal Devotion
Environmental Hazard

Into the Void
Search and Rescue

Dead on Arrival
End of Days
Alternate Solutions
Dead Space

Dead Space: Extraction:

World's Apart
Another Day at the Office
Return to the Megavents
Rendezvous with Fate
Emergency Care
Nowhere to Hide

Life and Death
In The Hearts of Men
Escaping the Ishimura
Secrets and Salvation

   Good stuff, aye? Just one of those awesome little touches that helps make Dead Space a complete package for any video game enthusiast.

Leaked Footage Reveals Terrorists in MW2, AP Exagerates

This Just In: Players Play as Bad Guy in Modern Warfare 2; AP Ignores All Other Games That Happens In

by Randy Marr
   Ok, so let's get this all out of the way first so we can have an honest discussion: No I'm not a bleeding heart who rests on one wing or the other. People that do are idiots, because you need to side with facts on a case per case basis, not play partisan politics for personal agendas. So no, I'm not hear to scream about a liberal media trying to let the gays rape your family, and I'm not hear to claim right-wings are trying to take our fun away. I'm just saying that I have a problem with this ONE article. Barbara Orutay wrote this, and I have no clue who she is. She's just a public person who saw something, and has a place to write about it, just like the rest of us. What she saw clearly stuck in her head something powerful enough to want to try and share it to the world, and I'm just doing the same.
   Now let's talk about public perception.
   It's clear to me that this article was written as a reaction to some leaked Modern Warfare 2 footage. Do me a favor and read that all the way through but keep your mouth quiet for a moment because we're discussing this rationally and I don't need knee-jerk comments. My problem here is this: Barbara clearly writes this with the surprise that you're playing as a terrorist in a segment, and although there is little context, the fact is that you are doing something that looks bad. That's clearly the intent of the scene.
   It's also not the only time in video games where you've played the bad guy and done horrible things.
   Oh sure, I get it, violent games aren't so bad anymore, but playing as a terrorist ("Isn't that a popular word these days?" - Ramon Salazar from RE4) strikes some post 9/11 emotions in some people that can't let go and move on. So why is it newsworth that you're running with a terrorist cell, possibly in a "deep undercover" scenario, but when Commander Shephard punches a news-lady in the face because she wouldn't be quiet, nobody cares? Or when Fearmonger sets a whole town on fire in Fable 2 because it's funny? Or when I Protagonist blows up an entire city of people with a small nuke in Fallout 3?
   Perhaps realism is a debatable point here, but I object to that simply because you're playing a video game. I don't care if it's zombies getting gibbed in L4D or medic's blowing to chunks in TF2, blood is blood no matter how cartoony it looks and violent acts are still violent acts. If Barbara is upset because of this Modern Warfare footage, clearly she hasn't seen a large number of games played. Which brings me back to public perception.
    We need to change it. Do me a favor, and I'm not kidding, talk to your family about video games. And I'm absolutely fucking serious when I say this, but I do apologize that it sounds like some bass ackwards after-school special. Now that you're old enough to understand the difference I hope they taught you between right and wrong, go back and explain to them what they see on TV, or might see. People are going to read that article somewhere, and it's our jobs to make people understand what's going on before they read that and start having weird fits about video games.
   We are the ones that will make it happen. Don't believe we can? How do you think The Wii got popular with moms and grandmoms in the firstplace? It was us. We gamers took the Wii with us for Thanksgiving and Christmas and showed it to normal people, because we knew they would appreciate it, and clearly they did. Now we need to do something better; explain to them, in a calm, rational tone, what video games are doing and how they're evolving.
   If you have anything you'd like to say I'd love you to leave a comment. If you have any advice you want to give or like the idea but need me to elaborate on some specifics, feel free to drop a comment or PM me. I don't know why, but this article made me realize that the whole "video games are bad" perception isn't going away unless we help change it. And we can't change it unless we're calm, intellectual, and not like we usually are on message board forums. It's time for video gamers to show the world that we've grown up.

The Old Ones Follow The Demon's Souls This Weekend

Atlus Sends Mad-Cryptic Warning

 Adorable, but still evil!
by Randy Marr
   A hollered "Ia! Ia!" might be an appropriate response to Atlus's email, warning me that trouble is brewing in Demon's Souls. I'll tell you, I'm very intrigued by this game, but am also poor as fuck, so I don't have it. But it looks like Ol' Hallow's Eve might be a good time to grab it. Here's an excerpt from the warning, which can be viewed in full here on Atlus' forum:

We've discovered that the nefarious Demon will seek to descend the land in pure blackness on All Hallow's Eve. His minions will be more powerful, but the rewards for those who seek to challenge them will be greater as well.

   Sounds like either a programmed timed event (similar to Animal Crossing), or they have the ability to pump something through the interweb and straight into your PS3. Either way, it's an incredibly clever and awesome concept, if I may say so myself. This is the kind of real world synergy that more video games should leverage to maximize upstream revenue flow. 
    Wait, what did I just say? Sorry, I must be channeling Jack Donaghy.
   Anyway, it's a nifty little event I thought I'd share with the folks of you out there playing the game. And if you are, what do you think of it so far? I've seen some pretty favorable reviews, so I want to know what the little guy thinks. Also, here's some homework for ya, what other games do you think could use this kind of feature? What kind of uses for timed events could we have? Personally, even if the gameplay doesn't reflect upon it, I like the idea of Animal Crossing's real-world time cycle, and would love to see it used in other kinds of games. Pokemon does it too, and it's interesting, so why do you think this kind of mechanic hasn't taken off? Let's get some real debate going here, kids, whatta ya say?!
Super Mario Bros. 3 - World 6 Map