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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.