I have a few things lined up to write about, but I saw an interesting discussion online earlier today, so I thought it would be something worth talking about.
It’s a discussion that seems to have continued in perpetuity ever since the earliest days of gaming media, so regardless of whether you’re reading this at the time of writing or a few years down the line, I suspect it will remain relevant.
I’d like to talk about why I don’t consider myself to “review” games in the traditional manner — and why, from the very beginning here at MoeGamer, I have not made use of any sort of summative system such as percentage scores or star ratings. Let’s talk about that!
Here’s the picture that prompted the discussion. It’s a review of Street Gangs — better known as the PAL release of Technos’ classic River City Ransom — in the December 1992 issue of Total! magazine. Gaming enthusiast Martin posed the question as to whether or not there were any games that had mediocre reviews back in the day, but which you still found yourself kind of wanting to check out for yourself. This was one of his.
Now obviously with retrospect most people in the twenty-first century know that River City Ransom is an all-time classic of the beat ’em up genre, an influential title on numerous subsequent games — even quite recent ones such as WayForward’s wonderful River City Girls and the sadly deceased Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game — and a game that most people would regard as something of an essential when it comes to experiencing what the NES had to offer. So it’s quite odd to see a review from the time describing it as “unspectacular” and full of “mediocrity”.
Granted, this review, published in December 1992, came two full years after the North American release of the game — we Europeans had to wait a long time for PAL conversions back in the dark days of 50Hz — but it actually wasn’t all that much of an outlier from the period, regardless of region. UK TV show GamesMaster panned the game with a 32% rating, for example, and even Famitsu in Japan gave it a fairly middling (for them) 28 out of 40 on its original 1989 release as Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari.
Back in “the day”, as men of my venerable age tend to refer to it, the Internet wasn’t a thing, so all you really had to go on when it came to making purchasing decisions was articles like this: single-page pieces that consisted of maybe about 250 words of substance. So, for better or worse, a lot of people took them as gospel; as the definitive judgement on a game; as sufficient reason to rush out and buy a game or — as in the case of River City Ransom — pass on it.
But what this has never taken into account — and still largely doesn’t to this day — is the fact that not everyone feels the same way about everything. This seems obvious, doesn’t it? Of course they don’t. If we all felt the same way about things, we’d be mindless robots without any opinions of our own; no-one would ever create any unique art, no-one would ever have interesting things to talk about and politics wouldn’t exist.
Actually, that last one doesn’t sound all that bad. But I digress.
I remember seeing a lot of games in magazines of the time and thinking “that game looks cool!” then ultimately deciding not to try it for myself because the reviews were “bad”. This definitely continued throughout the SNES era, but I started to break away from this in the PS1 era, where I developed a strong interest in RPGs — many of which simply didn’t get covered at all in magazines of the time, so I had to make my own mind up! But, at the same time, I still knew plenty of people who took reviews entirely at face value, and let their opinions be entirely formed by… well, by someone else.
The fact that people can see one review of something from an individual and take that seemingly definitive judgement as “fact” is troublesome. Yes, there are examples of things that simply don’t work properly and it’s perfectly fine to point these things out as a reason not to bother with something — you wouldn’t want to buy a game that, for example, you couldn’t complete, would you?
But for more subjective things — the “I don’t like this”, “I find this boring” or “this offends me” side of criticism? That should never be taken as the definitive view on a game, because it’s entirely opinion-based. And it’s not only an opinion in the moment that matters — you also need to bear in mind any pre-existing opinions that may have coloured the current judgement.
I’m not going to do a retrospective review of an established classic like Sensible World of Soccer on Amiga and declare it “bad” because I don’t like football games, nor am I going to pan Crusader Kings II on PC because my strategically impaired brainmeat is fundamentally incompatible with how that game works. I’ll probably just quietly decide those experiences aren’t for me, set them aside — and perhaps enjoy hearing from people who have had a good time with them. This, unfortunately, doesn’t always happen elsewhere on the Internet, particularly when disagreement is just a click of a button away.
Pleasingly, we have seen a number of games enjoy a reversal of fortune over the years for one reason or another. Taro Yoko’s existential classic Nier is a great example; receiving largely mediocre reviews at its time of original release, based primarily on the fact that it wasn’t quite as graphically impressive as some of the other games around at the time, it has subsequently gone on to be quite rightly accepted as a masterpiece. There are still people who don’t like it, of course — and that’s fair enough — but even those people, in most cases, can recognise the reasons why it has come to be such a success, and so fondly regarded over the years.
This is why I tend not to take a traditional “review” approach here on MoeGamer. I’m not here to pick fault with games, and I’m not here to list pros and cons. I’m here just to talk about games that I, personally, have found pretty interesting. This tends to mean that the things I write about are things that I have enjoyed or felt positively about in some way. And that’s just one of many reasons I don’t use summative scores — there’s little point in using a scoring system if I’m already picking the things I write about based on whether or not I felt positively about them. That and slapping a quantitative measure on something inherently unmeasurable is something I’ve always found rather difficult to get my head around.
The other thing that I’ve always aimed for here on MoeGamer is for each article to be a truly personal look at something: some thoughts from the perspective of one person who you’ve hopefully got to know quite well over the course of the many articles on this site already. I’m here to present you with games that I’ve found interesting, intriguing, enjoyable or otherwise noteworthy, tell you a bit about their history and my own experiences of playing them — and then invite you to make your own mind up about them.
You can find a nice selection of games like this in the screenshots that accompany this article, as it happens; click on the titles in the captions to find out more. If they sound like something you think you’ll dig — great! And if they sound like something you don’t think you’d enjoy — equally great! Hopefully you came away from the thing I wrote with a better idea of what the game in question was all about — and why the people who do like it feel that way.
That’s one thing I think that has always been missing from the “this one review is the definitive opinion on [x]” approach. And it’s why the fact that people end up parroting the words of tastemakers — particularly, these days, deliberately provocative tastemakers — can be a bit of a problem. It sows discord and divisions in the community, when we could all be sharing the many and varied experiences we’re having, telling some great stories and learning more about one another and our favourite hobby in the process.
I find it fascinating to hear why people enjoy a specific experience — especially if that experience is one that I’m unfamiliar with. I remember a good few years back hearing about the now-notorious first-person adventure game Pathologic and thinking it sounded like the most fascinating game ever, for example — I decided to play it for myself and ended up absolutely hating my entire time with it, but that didn’t make me feel any less interested in hearing from people who really felt like they “got” what that game was going for.
Likewise, I’ve been fortunate enough — for the most part, anyway — to encounter people through MoeGamer and my work on YouTube who respect what I do in the same way. They may not necessarily be into the same things as me; they may not like exactly the same games I do; they may even have diametrically opposed opinions about certain games. But they’re interested in hearing about those things, regardless, and I really appreciate that.
I’m not here to tell you what you “should” play or what you “should” spend your hard-earned money on. All of that is your decision and your decision alone. What I do hopefully provide is a look at a broad spectrum of games and visual novels from over the years, from which you can perhaps find a few new favourites — and a few things you might not want to touch with a lengthy pole!
Either way, thanks for your continued support of independent games writing.
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