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Nov 11

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So, I had a chance to try out the Wii at the local Arcadia Festival yesterday. I wasn’t blown away with the festival itself (the only new thing there was the Wii and entering ended up costing 17.50$ rather than the 10$ the website claims), but it’s always nice to try out new games before their official release. I was taking a “wait and see” approach to the Wii, so that was a nice opportunity to see if the hype was warranted.

I played Wii Tennis and Excite Truck and watch others play Zelda, Raving Rabbids and Warioware. As I expected, the graphics were nothing exceptional — they were about the level of good looking Xbox (the original) games. But hey, it’s all the revolutionary controls, right?

The two games I played were quite simple: Wii tennis could be played with a single button instead of the wiimote (you don’t even control the movement of your character) and Excite Truck is an arcade racer with an accelerator and a boost button. Warioware looked just as simple. Raving Rabbids is a gun shooting game (with a cursor on screen) with some mini-games. The people I watched play Zelda didn’t seem to use motion sensing for much, but I didn’t watch them for too long.

I didn’t see anything really revolutionary — nothing that couldn’t be done easily on previous consoles. Sure the games are accessible to non-gamers (the target market for the Wii), but it’s because of the simplicity of the games and not the new controller. Would Excite Truck be much harder to play if you pressed left and right instead of holding the controller like a steering wheel?

Talking about Excite Truck, it had a control problem that’s unique to the Wii: lack of feedback. On a regular controller, you know if you’re turning as hard as is possible because you’re pressing the joystick fully. On the Wii, you turn the controller like a virtual steering wheel, but it’s not clear how much you need to turn it: is a quarter-turn enough? Is it 180°? 45°? Hard to say because there’s nothing to stop your movement.

Likewise, it isn’t obvious in Tennis that flicking your wrist results in much more powerful hits than full arm movements. I’m sure I’d get used to those two quirks, but it goes to show that there’s a different type of learning curve with the Wii: learning to do the motions correctly.

Nintendo’s motto is “Playing is Believing”. I played, I still don’t believe. I’m sure games taking full advantage of the Wii’s capabilities will come out eventually, but none of the games I saw really impressed me. Aside from Zelda, they mostly felt like mini-games. Zelda is also coming to the Gamecube, and (I’m probably the only one to think so) I think the Zelda formula is getting stale after 10 gajillion games. So I guess it’s still wait and see for me.

Sep 24

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So, I’m playing Zelda Minish Cap on GBA these days. It’s standard Zelda fare — indeed, there’s barely anything important that’s new. The presentation is good, but if you’ve played recent Zelda games, you’ve pretty much played this one. It’s also one of the most frustrating Zelda because of cheap design decisions: health is incredibly rare and you have to find areas that would be secrets in other games to go on. I would have given up the game early if it weren’t for FAQs, because some important elements are incredibly hard to notice.

Much to my surprise, this game got very good reviews, with an average of 91% on GameRankings. Mind you, it’s not a terrible game — it’s pretty decent, but it’s certainly not a 91% game. If this game didn’t have “Zelda” in its name, I’m pretty sure its score would be at least 10% lower. This kind of preferential reviewing really annoys me…

It’s not the only game that’s like that. You rarely see sequels of successful games get a low rating — it basically doesn’t happen. I’ve never seen any review score a game badly because it’s just more of the same. Game reviewers seem to believe that being formulaic is a strength, not a weakness.

Why is that? Is it because reviewers don’t consider originality as important, so if the sequel is a glorified expansion pack they find it worthy of as high a score as original creations? Is it because they let their nostalgia overcome them? (”Oh! I love Zelda! This will be great!”) Is it because reviewers are fanboys at heart who can’t rate hyped titles low? (It’s amazingly rare that highly anticipated titles get bad reviews, especially sequels — they can’t possibly be all good, now can they?) Or is it simply because reviewers almost only care about production value, and successful games have bigger budgets?

It’s even stranger because the opposite phenomenon happens in movie reviews. It’s very rare that movie sequels get rated as high as the original, even if they’re very good. It seems movie critics put a lot of emphasis on originality wheras game reviewers don’t.

Take this review of Just Cause by Gamespy. The reviewer didn’t like the game. Why? Mainly because it’s not a straight clone of Grand Theft Auto. Being different doesn’t seem to have any value for this reviewer: he spends a whole 7 lines talking about what’s different from GTA, then the rest of the review talking about how it would be better if it was identical (It should be in a city! The music should be licensed! There should be more GTA-like side-missions!)

Now, I’m not arguing about the actual quality of the game. I’ve played the demo and liked it, but I haven’t played the full version. My issue isn’t that the reviewer didn’t like the game, but rather that the main reason he disliked it is because it’s not a simple clone. That review sounds like a word processor review, where the tester goes through a list of features of the competitor and verify if this title has it. This isn’t a productivity app, it’s a new game — the reviewer should evaluate the game as it is, rather than as what the genre dictates.

Shouldn’t reviewers value difference more highly in the game they review? If game reviewers don’t go above base fanboyism and ask for more creativity, who will? I have a hard time taking the gaming press seriously, game reviews in particular, if the reviewer’s standard are lower than mine. I can get the opinion of a Zelda or GTA fan by going to any web forum — reviews should go beyond that.

Jul 2

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I’ve recently subscribed to a game rental service. It sends me games in the mail, which I play until I’m bored of them. I then send them back, they send another game, and so on. As such, I’ve played more games than usual lately.
I thought I’d review the games I’ve played so far. Most reviews are long, boring reads when all you want to know is if it’s worth playing or not. So my reviews are going to be short and sweet, going straight to the point. While the games reviewed are months old, the reviews are completely independant — no publishers have tried to buy my review scores, as opposed to some other sites…

Enough chatting, to the reviews:

  • New Super Mario Bros. — DS — 3/5 — Just as fun as old Super Mario games, because it’s exactly the same. Nothing new here.
  • Table Tennis — Xbox 360 — 2/5 — I can’t think of how to make a much better ping pong videogame, but it’s still just ping pong so I got bored quick.
  • Psychonauts — Xbox — 5/5 — One of the best Xbox games ever: fun, funny and creative.
  • Tomb Raider Legend — Xbox 360 — 3/5 — Exactly what you expect from a Tomb Raider game, competently made but nothing new. The story is both dumb and hard to follow.
  • Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter — Xbox 360 — 2/5 — Awesome graphics and not much else. Bad AI, repetitive trial-and-error gameplay, feels like every other military shooter out there. At least the Canadian prime minisher gets killed…
  • Project Gotham Racing 3 — Xbox 360 — 4/5 — As good as racing gets, but still just another racing game.
  • Dead or Alive 4 – Xbox 360 — 3/5 — Great graphics, fun fighting, cute girls, but not much different from previous DOAs.
  • King Kong — Xbox 360 — 2/5 — Fun minimalist gameplay at first, but lacks depth and gets repetitive quickly.

The thing that struck me most about those games is that you could easilly beat them all in a week-end (in single player), aside from Project Gotham. The traditional argument for games costing 60$ is that they offer many hours of entertainment, but it’s just not true anymore. Some DVDs last longer than that with their special features…