Game Review Bias and ‘Innovation’

It always terrifies me that (I’m going to be mean and say supposed) ‘supposed’ (in scare quotes and everything!) highly regarded review websites write reviews with such obvious bias. ‘But…’ I hear you say ‘the bias can’t be that bad, can it?’

Well, for example when you put two long running game series together – in this case we’ll say Dynasty Warriors and Pokemon. A lot of big review websites describe these games in pretty much the same way – that they haven’t changed at all (despite the fact that they have, but we’ll get to that). But apparently because most of them watched Pokemon when they  were kids this makes it okay and it get a high scores. Dynasty Warriors on the other hand is slated for not ‘innovating’ (again, in scare quotes! I’ll explain why in a bit too).

So, are these games different? At their core, not really no. In Dynasty Warriors you still mercilessly slaughter thousands of people, and in Pokemon you still catch Pokemon. But both of them have added new things too. Now while Dynasty Warriors is not going to suddenly change genre and become a shooter, it has attempted whole different fighting systems (in Dynasty Warriors 6) and then scraped them again when they proved unpopular (Dynasty Warriors 7) they’ve changed how the story is told, they added different sets of characters to each game. Essentially they update the game while still keeping it Dynasty Warriors…which isn’t a bad thing. People still like them.

Now Pokemon, I’m going to be a lot less forgiving with (despite the fact that I’ll contradict the previous justification of ‘People still like it’, but I’ll try and cover that!) Pokemon is different each time too. With the newer versions, they add more and more Pokemon – that most people buying these games and reviewing them don’t care about, because most of them probably prefer the original 150. They keep adding more mini games that utilise the DS in new and pointless ways. You can dress up your Pokemon, or feed them cake. And this is going to make the game even longer, isn’t that fun?

Well, no. It isn’t. I don’t like Pokemon. It’s the MMO of Nintendo games – you waste hours and hours grinding, doing the same thing so your Pokemon has a bigger number to beat something else with a bigger number. Blah blah blah repeat. The game takes a long time to finish. And while you can grind in Dynasty Warriors – you don’t have to (for one, it has a difficulty setting) it’s perfectly possible to just finish the game, enjoy the story and sell it. With Pokemon, it genuinely expects you to grind and grind and grind because a certain boss is too high a level.

The main point of both reviews, the main sway in the score, is the age of the titles. Reviews of Pokemon genuinely say along the lines of: ‘They have made this many iterations of the Pokemon series, that are still great, so the number of games it has is great’ – but this doesn’t sound like anything other than ‘I like the game, therefore High score’. Dynasty Warriors on the other hand, has reviews that go more along the lines of ‘They have made this many iterations of the Dynasty Warriors series, that are bad, therefore low score’ – but that doesn’t justify how it’s bad. Using the same reasoning ‘It hasn’t changed’ to justify calling one game good because it’s popular and you like it, and another bad because it’s less popular and you don’t like it, isn’t really valid reasoning. It’s doubly not valid reasoning when both games have changed, and the one you like hasn’t even changed for the better. ‘It has bad game design, for example here…’, ‘It has bad voice acting, for example here…’ is at least attempting to justify your opinion on the quality of the game.

So, for a reviewer to legitimately justify giving Pokemon a significantly higher review than Dynasty Warriors is silly. They are both essentially still the same game as they were years ago, and despite my personal feelings (so without the goddam bias) – people still buy both games. So I do think they should be reviewed a little fairer. Or certainly with the same score if you’re going to say mostly the same thing about each one.

Now, I’m going to take a brief tangent and talk about game ‘Innovation’ – which honestly I hate as praise. Games don’t really innovate. Why would they? There does genuinely come a point when you make something as good as it can be – and that’s it. The control pad is a good way for playing games. Handhelds are essentially control pads with a screen stuck on, and both the PS3 and Xbox use controllers. Now the Wii, on the other hand, with it’s Wii remote and nunchuck, if you ask someone you know that owns a Wii (and possibly another console) how much they genuinely play on it, they’ll probably say ‘Well, not a lot, really’.

Obviously, this isn’t just because of a control design, that’s silly, even if I do prefer using a control pad to waving around a Wii remote. The other problem the Wii has is that…well once you own that Mario game, that party game, a racing game and maybe a fitness game – that’s the range of most titles on the Wii. You play them, there isn’t much point trading it in for the few pounds you’ll get because everyone else owns a Wii along with those few same games. And then it just sits there – not getting played on.

Just as a personal aside, it does irk me that Nintendo is regarded by many as ‘Innovative’. I don’t buy this. The 3DS isn’t innovating – it’s Nintendo doing what they do best, selling yet another hand held with another feature a lot of people don’t care about (and one that they’ve even tried unsuccessfully before) so that again they can release a new slew of the same games with ‘3D’ written at the end. Save yourself some time and money, keep your DS (especially since running the 3DS with 3D drains the battery, so it’ll be turned off most of the time anyway) and play on the Pokemon, Zelda, and Mario games you already own.

If you take a look at video games rather than consoles, very few big budget games actually innovate. Pokemon doesn’t innovate, Call of Duty doesn’t innovate, and even a good game like Metal Gear Solid doesn’t innovate. It tries to be better and better at what it does each time. And I honestly think this is preferable (even if it does fail). While I like the idea of ‘trying something new’ in principle, I mean that more in terms of not being lazy on game development. I don’t want just the same game, I want the game developer to have tried to make their game as best as they can make it, to change what didn’t work and keep things that did. When I buy a horror game, while it isn’t a new and innovating genre – I hope the developers have put the time into making it scary, accessible to players, and interesting – even if it isn’t new (in other words Amnesia: The Dark Descent was awesome) It won’t feel like I’ve been conned out of 30 to 40 pound then.

One thought on “Game Review Bias and ‘Innovation’

  1. Ixionyx

    Ah, you finally posted this. I was interested to read it from when you mentioned it last week.

    All quite correct, but we’ve discussed before why reviews (subjective, biased, occasionally adjusted by bribery…) are oft’ unreliable. But we all know that industry reviewers frequently fall into the catagories of easily-pleased fanboy, ol’ stick in the mud or publisher-paid shill… Rarely could they could be considered to be knowledgeable professionals. It is one area where the industry still lags way behind movies.

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