2005 marks yet another terrible year in the unending saga of mediocrity that is gaming journalism. I have been waiting for gaming journalism to mature to the level of regular journalism - or even tabloid journalism - for years. I keep thinking that big shift is right around the corner; the big change where the readers suddenly demand accountability and objectivity. It may happen, but it definitely did not in 2005. If anything this has been the worst year for gaming journalism since Old Man Murray stopped updating roughly three weeks after they started the site.
Since all of you crazy kids these days love lists so much I thought we could get together and take a look at the five worst gaming articles unleashed this year. There were so many to choose from, but I think the top five really demonstrate the absolute worst of the gaming media.
5. Mario Tennis: Power Tour Review at Planetgamecube.com by Stan Ferguson
Planetgamecube.com is the most reliable source for Gamecube reviews on the Internet. I mean, heck, they're so reliable I don't even need to see the score or read their review to know just how much they absolutely loved every single Nintendo title. I can see the title of a new Mario game and ponder to myself "gee, I wonder if Planetgamecube gave it nine or a ten?" These are the people who devoted two separate "9.5" reviews to Super Mario: Sunshine, one of which claimed "Nintendo and Shigeru Miyamoto have once again raised the bar not only in platformers, but videogames themselves." As much as I dislike generalizations and think they are dangerous, if you thought that about Super Mario Sunshine then you should be herded off a cliff with whips.
In a world of overzealous fanboyism, Stan Ferguson's "10" review of Mario Tennis: Power Tour takes the cake for overzealous fanboyism. His review begins with a pathetic self-assurance that Mario Tennis: Power Tour really is the best game of all time. Just to keep reminding you of what he is talking about I am going to accompany all of Stan's quotes with one of only two screenshots used in his article.That's the first sentence. It's one of those defiant but self-consciously pathetic statements like "my mom thinks I'm handsome." He gave the game a 10, he thinks it's one of the best games of all time, he's daring you to tell him he's wrong, yet he can't commit to "fantastic" or "amazing."
"This game is significant."
I understand his reluctance. I think every Mario spin-off game should be forced into the bargain bin on day one no matter how fun. Basing them around Mario is just pure laziness on the part of Nintendo and it seems unnecessary.
Does anyone really think Mario is such a multifaceted and absorbing character that he deserves to be explored fully over the course of 50 titles about racing buggies? Be honest here! Wouldn't you have more fun if they actually created some new characters whose lives are somehow linked with buggy racing or tennis instead of following Mario around through his every activity like a documentary crew? I don't eat a bowl of Frosted Flakes and then want to see Tony the Tiger playing with a dildo on a webcam or watch a movie about him solving crimes on the mean streets of New York.Obvious hyperbole aside, this sort of praise is usually reserved for things like matrimony and heroin. Maybe it's just me, but I haven't found a GBA game to which I would devote more than five or six hours. Not even if I get locked into the Laundromat.
"Mario Tennis Power Tour came into my life, stole my heart, and now I believe I'm eternally committed for richer or poorer."Ahh, the malignant heart of the stupidity. Nintendo fan sites should never review games because all of their writers are nostalgic adult children who hate modern games and want Nintendo to keep cranking out the same Mario pap. They honestly believe that 8-bit Mario is still a more engrossing experience than any modern FPS, racing, sports or RPG title. They look to every Nintendo game for that magical experience of childhood and then, over the course of a review, convince themselves that they succeeded in their search.
"I love this game. Love it. It gives me a sense of exuberance that I feel is so rare in modern games."
I'd like to add that Mario Tennis: Power Tour is not actually a bad game. It's a perfectly competent tennis game slathered with a thick coating of Mario from the old franchise bilge. It is definitely not Stan's transcendental realm of glowing crystals and astral orgasms.
4. Black and White 2 Hands-On at Gamespot.com by Jason Ocampo
Roger Ebert doesn't go to the set of "King Kong" and get the vapors over dolly shots. Leonard Maltin didn't ride a trained seal around the ocean during the filming of "Into the Blue" and start hooting "I smell Oscarrrrr!" over a bullhorn. Even cover articles full of huge pictures and adjective-laden text in Entertainment Weekly don't dare to claim that the movie is going to be great. Why does the gaming press think it's acceptable to prematurely ejaculate all over every major developer's upcoming games?
The worst part of this article isn't the actual article; it's that the article is about Black and White 2. Let me repeat that, because I know it's hard to believe that someone in the gaming press did it again: this preview is an adoring look at the second Black and White game. Gamespot did it again even though the gaming media was made a laughingstock by their hilariously inaccurate reviews of the first game. Gamespot did it even though many of gaming sites had to issue retractions, apologies and re-reviews.
Most of the gaming press abandoned their usual thesaurus of superlatives when writing previews of this game. They were smart enough not to get caught up in a repeat of the most embarrassing hype backfire of the past decade. Not Gamespot. Their article even opens with "we know the last one caused controversy" and then continues to say "but this one is even way awesomer dudes!"Now, with the sequel nearing completion, you might expect that the debate will begin anew. But we've gotten our hands on the latest version of the game, and we have to admit that Black & White 2 is starting to feel like the game that Black & White was meant to be.Oh, you mean it may actually surpass the 9.3 rating your publication gave the original? Whoopsies! I know some of you who actually played Black and White 2 might be thinking "hey, maybe they just missed all of the really annoying shit that's in the sequel because they were playing an incomplete version." That's no excuse, but just to put that one to rest I'll offer the following excerpt:Here is my review of Jason Ocampo's sense of humor:
To help you decide, your conscience reappears in the sequel. Like a cartoon character faced with any kind of ethical dilemma, a literal angel and devil appear in front of you, advising the path of good or evil. And like their cartoon counterparts, the angel and devil provide some humor to the game.IT'S SHIT.In a nutshell Gamespot is horrible, Black & White 2 is horrible and Jason Ocampo is horrible.
3. Darwinia Review at Eurogamer.net by Kieron Gillen
This is the most pretentious review ever written about anything. Not even a Pitchfork Media review can cram in this baffling density of freshman-grade twaddle. You could write a gushing review of "Time Code" as a concrete poem shaped like a moebius strip and you would still be a galaxy away from Kieron's review of Darwinia. For Christ's sake, even the title of the game and the name of the reviewer are pretentious. Before we get into the review, let's have a look at Darwinia:Alright, so they went for the "unique" rather than the "good" look with the game. Maybe it's really addicting or something and those graphics are very charming in motion. I wouldn't know, because I learned virtually nothing about the game from Kieron's article. Speaking of which, let's take a look at just what makes that article so horrible. I'll include a picture of the Merovingian from "The Matrix: Revolutions" because that is the most pretentious character from one of the most pretentious movies of all time.Oh great, he made up some bullshit in the first sentence. This is going to be fun.
Time for a Monday neologism: Post-genre.We're two or three paragraphs in and we still don't have any mention of the actual game. That's one of the hallmarks of great reviewing. Let's skip ahead a few paragraphs and see if he finds a point.
The theory goes like this. If we're looking at computer games, when videogame manufacture was first democratised by the appearance of home computers no one had any idea what they were doing so they were forced to invent by necessity. Ideas were thrown together just to see what operated well, or even operated at all. These times I'll describe vaguely as "pre-genre".
Eventually, however, they hardened into solidified idea-clusters which were the modern genres, each with specific characteristics. In fact, if a game failed to fulfil some of these criteria, it could often be dismissed as a bad game, when in reality it was just a bad example of a particular genre and really succeeded as something else.If post-genre was really so hip and cool then it would follow that the games that took elements of Grand Theft Auto would be even more progressive and intelligent than Grand Theft Auto. Everyone loves fantastic post-genre games like Total Overdose, which combined Mexicans and Grand Theft Auto, or Driv3r, which combined Grand Theft Auto with being a half-crippled spastic.
At this point, we've entered the realm of the post-genre. It's what the progressive, intelligent gamers are playing. Simultaneously, it's also a terribly populist movement. After all, what genre does Grand Theft Auto belong to? None. It's about a half a dozen, blended seamlessly into a fluid, expressive form. Genres have burnt out, and we hit the post-modern point where everything is up for grabs again, the entire history of gaming turned into beautiful decadent cocktails.
The irony of all of Kieron's post-genre stoner philosophy is that he's probably the same sort of dude who gets totally stoked for a game like Mario Fishing or Mario Hoppin' On Shit in 3D. That's because he's really intelligent and he loves things that totally explode genre barriers by including Mario.
Wait, wasn't this a game review?Alright H.P. Warcraft, we'll be on the lookout for the "indescribable horror from the threshold beyond the double click." The gist of most of the rest of the review is that Darwinia is a quirky RTS game. My favorite part of the actual reviewing portion is when he makes excuses for its shitty AI path-finding and acts like it is a way-awesome feature of the game.
It's a terribly difficult game to explain. A game scientist could be able to distil at least a couple of dozen influences from it, from the large scale ones (like the touch of real-time strategy in the way you control and create your units) to the small ones (the way the centipede's attack patterns are a direct reference to the old-skool videogame of the same title). But noting all these separate bits would just confuse everyone... however a more streamlined approach just misses huge chunks of what make the game interesting.Haha! When I was playing Star Wars: Force Commander all of my units got stuck on a winding path up a volcano as a mission timer expired and I got so angry that I threw the CD at the wall. I guess I should have realized that Lucas Arts was really just designing it that way because I should want to hand-guide units around every terrain object.
Two complaints which I expect will turn up fairly regularly are those about its path-finding and the difficulty with the gesture system. A click at a distant location will lead to a squad marching in a virtually direct line with scenery obstructing their passage, rather than a unit finding the correct route to get there by themselves.
Imagine for a second that I made the first complaint about - say - Prince of Persia; that by holding down one button the Prince wouldn't make his way past all obstacles. You'd think me mad, noting that would remove the point of the game. The manipulation of your avatar to avoid obstacles is part of its design. The same's true of Darwinia - it's not a game where you sit distantly from your squads, but one where you have to be hands-on.
The grand finale of this article actually appears just before his little festival of excuses in his rambling and parenthetical review. The first time I read it I laughed at how he's such a huge asshole. Then I read it a second time and I wanted to cave in his face with a shovel."If you don't get Darwinia then you're an idiot." Congratulations on inspiring my personal boycott of this game, Kieron. If you're the sort of person that gets Darwinia then the game is for cunts.
There are a few other problems which I don't really consider problems. Speaking generally, it strikes me already that its reviews are going to be brutally mixed, though the writing will tell as much - if not more - about the limitations of the reviewer as the limitations of Darwinia.
That's all for today. The top two spots will be finished out on Monday. Here is a hint about the two winning articles: they were both written by the same person and neither one is actually from 2005. They are so fucking horrible that they have transcended the limitations of linear time.
This is Sid Meier's world, I’m just building wonders in it.
The Magic of Toys Will Shut Up Your Child!
Nightmares Fear Factory is BACK, baby!
The Something Awful front page news tackles anything both off and on the Internet. Mostly "on" though, as we're all incredible nerds.