Today, I bought a Nintendo DS. Immediately, I was faced with the problem that all late-adopters of consoles face: that of sifting through a very large back-catalogue in order to choose my initial purchases. While in the store, I went with my heart, and what I remembered being told was good. I left with New Super Mario Bros. and Professor Layton and the Curious Village.
These are both great games, and I already adore them, however, I intend on playing more than two games for the rest of my DS-playing life. So, as soon as I had enjoyed myself with these two games enough to take a breather, I did what your usual new-console owning gamer would do. I went to Metacritic.
The all-time highest scores for DS games are as follows:
- Mario Kart DS
- The Legend of Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass
- Advance Wars: Dual Strike
- Jump Ultimate Stars
- Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrows
- New Super Mario Bros.
- The World Ends With You
- Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia
- Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan
I had already resolved to buy Mario Kart and Phantom Hourglass, so that was mere confirmation that they were good. However, almost all of the rest of the list does not interest me in the slightest. In fact, having played The World Ends With You, I know that I want to do all in my power to stay away from it, let alone spend the AU$60 or so on it.
The games that I am actually interested in sit further down the list. Phoenix Wright sits at #52. Civilization: Revolution is at #57. Diddy Kong Racing amazingly sits at #297.
This is the kind of thing I really need to experience time and time again as someone who thinks semi-professionally about, and studies games. No matter how much we might like to think it, there is no gaming canon. There is not one single game that can universally be regarded as ‘good’.
My brother hates Zelda. He won’t play a single one. He isn’t a huge gamer, but it’s interesting nonetheless. He likes Call of Duty, and a number of other shooters, and also the odd flight sim and strategy title. But games like Zelda, where he says “it isn’t clear what you are supposed to do,” he just won’t play.
I had a conversation with a friend of mine the other day after class. We were discussing games, and we had lengthy conversations about Okami, Shadow of the Colossus and Iko. He’s a well-versed gamer, who knows his stuff.
But he hates Half-Life. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but he said that it just never quite clicked with him. Boring, he said. Dull, uninteresting. Stopped playing after a couple of hours. Has tried since, but to no avail. Maybe this is what Will Wright meant when he said that he would “rather have the Metacritic and sales of Sims 2 than the Metacritic and sales of Half-Life.”
But in gaming, perhaps more so than other mediums, we tend to put a lot more value in review aggregators, or ‘top’ lists, even if we say we don’t. I like to consider myself quite illuminated in regards to treating this industry as subjective and meaningful outside the norm, but even I turned to Metacritic as some kind of flawless indicator of quality. When I’m looking to watch a movie, I never look at Metacritic, or ‘top’ lists. I do a bit of research on my own, I ask other people’s opinions. I watched Peter Jackson’s King Kong last night. It wasn’t great, but it was enjoyable enough, and well worth the $10 DVD. I didn’t look at reviews before watching it, and I certainly don’t know its Metacritic score even now. I went on the basis that I was simply interested in the film, and that I had a few friends who had seen it and had interesting opinions on it. In short, I did exactly what I should be doing now.
There are people out there – not just people, but gamers – who don’t like ‘canonical’ games like Zelda and Half-Life. There must be gamers out there who hate every Mario game ever made (I’d love to meet them).
It seems obvious, but this is the power of subjectivity. At present, it is the rare voice that criticises a universally acclaimed game (Metacritic approved terminology used intentionally, of course). But it is the rarer voice who praises a universally criticised game. On gaming forums, at least, you might not be challenged for your love of Elf Bowling, but I’d say you will feel like there might at least be something wrong with you.
So, some practical questions: what DS games should I really buy? And do you find your own tastes fit in neatly with those of Metacritic, or do you have feelings for a game that is unfashionable to love or hate?