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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

I Know Why The Caged Reviewer Whines

I've been trying to figure out why game reviewers hate Wii games so much.  Is it because they have some predisposed bias?  Is it because they represent some mysterious "hardcore" gaming cabal who is hell-bent on the destruction of the Wii at all costs?  Not really.  The answer is actually much simpler.

Consider this:  Many early Wii games got great reviews.  Metroid Prime 3 is holding at a score of 90 on Metacritic.  Zelda: Twilight Princess has a 95.  Super Mario Galaxy has a 97.  Those are arguably some of the most motion-intensive games around for the Wii. Reviewers liked those games and had no problems with the motion controls.  They might have thought of them as a slight inconvenience, but the reviews usually rated that games on their own merits and didn't throw in backhanded compliments like, "It's good for a Wii game."

So what changed?  Well, there's no denying that the Wii had some lean times through 2007 to 2008.  There were virtually no games that came out during that period.  We had Smash Bros. Brawl, Mario Kart Wii and Wii Fit.  That was it.  However, if you're a reviewer you still have to review something, right?  You can't just ignore a console for an entire year.  So, if there are no good games coming out but you have to review something anyway, you end up reviewing some incredibly crap games.

After a while of playing awful games, what happened to their perception of the system? Instead of seeing the Wii as the Next Big Thing, they started seeing it as a nightmare. Every time they put in a game, they expected that it was going to suck because that's what usually happened.  Since they had to wade neck-deep into the waters of crapware and stay there for a long time, they thought the Wii is bad.  That's totally understandable.  Nintendo's awful Wii Music-revealing 2008 E3 conference didn't help matters either.  Instead of seeing a future of better games, they saw a bleak future of awful minigames and worthless ports, leading to no hope in sight for Nintendo's white monster.

Gamers at large, however, don't have to buy a new game every week.  They don't have review schedules or deadlines.  They can sidestep crappy games if they so choose, and for the most part they do.  Therefore, the Wii keeps selling because their perception of the Wii is completely different than the people who've been forced to play awful games for a year.

The next step to this process comes when the game reviewers look around after all this time playing crappy games and they see that the Wii is STILL SELLING.  They reason, "The Wii sucks!  I've played more crappy games for the Wii than for any other system!  These people must be idiots!  It's my job to steer people away from it so they don't get burned."  They become anti-Wii advocates and end up turning more gamers away from the system.  However, the vast majority of consumers don't care about reviewers or reviews, and instead rely on first-hand accounts and recommendations from friends.  Their friends are buying the Wii and Wii games, so they keep buying them too.  This makes the reviewers even more upset, since they're being ignored by the gaming public at large.  That makes them even louder. Remember, as a reviewer, it's your responsibility to be an advocate for games that are good and a warning for games that aren't.  When people keep buying the Wii, the reviewers get desperate because they assume that the public is buying crappy games for a crappy system.

Add to this the fact that lots of people are being exposed to gaming for the first time through the Wii, and you can see why reviewers are even more upset.  If the Wii sucks, and people are getting their first exposure to gaming through it, then these people will assume that gaming sucks.  However, since the Wii doesn't really suck, these people aren't drawing that assumption, and more people keep buying Wiis despite the protests of reviewers, and the circle continues.

When we analyze it from this angle, we can understand why reviewers see the Wii like they do.  In many ways, it's Nintendo's own fault for not spacing their releases a little better and giving reviewers a reprieve or even throwing them a bone once in a while. However, now that there are better Wii games, it's also the responsibility of the reviewers to put aside their prejudices and review the games for what they are, not what they could have been.

3 comments:

  1. I think the issue also stems from "Good" Wii games getting bad reviews. And most of those bad reviews use cookie cutter terms that dont really reflex the game. Along with just BSing about the titles controls (Which is sadly believed to be ONLY reason to play a game on the Wii) reviewers like to compare the title to its PS3/360 counterparts. Often that viewpoint is followed by "If you only have a Wii" perhaps indicating that to enjoy any title on the Wii (mainly those that are released on the other two systems) you need to ONLY own a Wii. And because you only own a Wii your missing out. Its like trying to sell the other two systems in a review that should be directed to those who are interested in that title for the Wii. FOR THE WII.

    After reading a review on Modern Warfare Reflex I ran into a few problems like this. The game doesnt have "Waggle" Like you would find that term to describe games like Rabbids or Mario Party. What is Waggle? who knows, I thought it just blind motion controls that dont work well. MWR has motion controls. You can shake the nunchuck to reload your weapon. Is that waggle? I dont think so, im sure many dont either. But does the reviewer just say "Shake the nunchuck to reload" not at all. It becomes a chore to have to "Waggle" while playing the game that it knocks the score down. Then comes the "Compaired to the "Real" systems this game is just okay" . . . I completed the title, on both a Wii and 360, and its pretty much the same GAME. Yes, the graphics are not the same great job you recognized that the sky is blue. But the game as it is, is the same. Is it really necessary to state your favored system in each review? no, its poor work and thats why a lot of people do not respond to reviewers.

    Ive seen this apply to Nintendo titles as well. I read a Metroid review that compared it to Bio shock and dead space. Why? I have no Idea. Ive never seen a review on Ratchet or Jak that compares it to Mario or Crash. It feels like the chewbacca defense. Such an unnecessary comparison once again shows the ignorance of these people who are getting paid to spew their bias viewpoints.

    Alas, this isnt just a Video game thing, Music, Movies, Political issues. sad sad things.

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  2. @Anonymous:
    I think your example of using Call of Duty: Modern Warfare [Reflex] is a good example of how most FPS games on the Wii are reviewed.

    Instead of talking about the game's strengths on the Wii, i.e. controls, smooth online multi-player(which most people probably bought Reflex for), etc., they'll say, "It's not HD! I don't have coordination to use the Wii remote in FPS games, so because I suck, the game sucks! Oh,and did I mention it's not HD?!"

    I own a PS3 and Wii, and I actually prefer my FPS games with Wii controls, like Red Steel, Metroid Prime 3, Call of Duty: World at War, and The Conduit. Though I prefer FPS games on the Wii, over the PS3, I don't say PS3 FPS games suck because they use the dual-analog controls.

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  3. A browse through Metacritic reveals a lot of Wii games getting very mixed reviews. LKS, Muramasa, The Conduit (which although a mediocre FPS is the closest thing I have experienced to PC mouse based gaming on a console), and many more.

    Now some of these mixed reviews are for niche titles, which means they are chalenging the Mainstream gaming paradigm (what others call 'hardcore') which is kind of uncomfortable for reviewers stuck in that view. As someone who enjoys Indie and Retro titles on the PC I see it as a sign that the Wii is a more progessive, even grown up, console than the HD systems.

    Even Wii sports suffed from mixed reviews in that although most scored it about the same everyone seemed to think a couple of the events didn't work. Problem is that different reviewers hated or loved different events. Sounds like a success to me.

    The proof of the pudding is in the eating I guess. Muramasa wowed me more than Bioshock and as much as HL2. LKS keeps drawing me back. I bought World of Goo even though I have completed it on 2 different PC's because it is perfect.

    The other gaming system which marries casual gaming with niche and indie titles is the iPhone / iPod Touch. Also doing well. Also badly regarded by the mainstream press.

    Reads like the end of an era to me.

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