Show Some Love

Posted on Mar 2nd 2018 at 08:00:00 AM by (Crabmaster2000)
Posted under Mario, Nintendo, Platormer, NES, SNES, N64, GCN, Wii, Wii U, Switch, GB, GBA, DS, 3DS



I've reviewed games casually on and off for the better part of the past 15 years. It's something I enjoy doing and I feel like I've got a relatively decent handle on objectively looking at the whole package of what a particular game consists of. What I don't have a lot of experience doing is comparing a game directly to another game, as I usually just look at what is in front of me and for the most part ignore any past or future releases. Can games even be, or should they even be, directly compared to one another?






I've started a new project with a friend of mine to play through each game in a particular series, in this case the Super Mario Bros series, and discuss each game one by one chronologically with the goal of eventually ranking each game in the series from worst to best. While we are still quite early in the process it has been really fascinating so far. Just simply talking about what has changed from Super Mario Bros to Super Mario Bros 2 was mind boggling. While they are both platformers at heart they could not be further apart in so many aspects. Some games like Super Mario Bros 3 are monumental leaps forward in the genre, while games like Super Mario World are smaller steps forward, but with such refined experiences compared to their predecessors it gets more and more challenging to find faults. Does that make it an objectively better game than something that was so progressive before it?

The conversations have been so enjoyable, but as I'm getting to the end of the 2D era of Mario I'm very curious about how to compare completely different styles of games when comparing something like Super Mario Land 2 to a landmark game like Super Mario 64? They seem like night and day different experiences and are much harder to look at side by side using the easy comparisons that have existed previously such as level design or character movement. Some areas are one-to-one still, such as the soundtrack or scope of the game, but how do you compare how fully realized the adventure is? Does Mario 64 feel like a bigger world and grander adventure than Super Mario World just because it has more content (even though it takes place in a much the smaller environment of a single castle rather than conquering and entire continent)?



My question to you readers is how do you go about comparing games that are so vastly different? I'd love to hear ideas on how to compare the scope of games that are so vastly different, the graphics, the controls, and a million other things that I'm likely overlooking. How do you do it?


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Comments
 
This strikes at the heart of the difficulty of being a game reviewer.  How do you say that a 2-D platformer game that might take you 30 minutes to beat is better than an open world game that packs 10+ hours of content and superior graphics?  Some of the opinion will almost assuredly be colored by personal preference, but at some point, you can boil it down to the basics, to help decide where a game ranks.  Are the game's graphics good for the context of the game's design concept, and do they communicate what they need to, in order for players to understand what's going on, and how to play?  Are they aesthetically pleasing, at least insofar as to be in line with the time of the game's release and the hardware it's running on?  Does the game control well, or does it have quirks that make it hard to grasp or pull off moves that are required to complete the game?  Is the sound design good for the hardware, and is it  good from a composition standpoint?  Is it music you would consider listening to outside the game?  Are the tunes memorable?  Does the game provide enough challenge, or too much perhaps?  Is the core idea of the game and its execution fun?

I realize I've thrown a lot out there, but in comparing games that are significantly different, despite sharing some commonalities (like SMB3 and SM Galaxy, for example), I always have to go back to the basics.  As a former boss of mine used to say, sometimes you're not comparing apples to apples, or even apples to oranges, but once in a while, it's apples and watermelon.  When things are so different, the only way to compare them reasonably is to get down to the essential elements, and see which game(s) rise to the top organically, based on how good each one is for its style, hardware, and context of the time it was released in, in addition to how well it still holds up.
 
Lots of great ideas there, Metal. Thanks!!
 
Thanks for bringing up an interesting conversation, Crabby!

Of course I've written several long-winded articles about such and I know you and I have (respectfully) found ourselves landing on different platforms about this. ((Ba Dum Ching!)  Suffice to say, an easy summation is that I find ranking and value judgments for video games to be inherently problematic and at best so subjective as to be missing the point.  Not that entertainment products are outside critique.  Yet perhaps more than any other media video games are not just subjective experiences, but experiences constructed from various combined components from other media.  (Art, sound and music, play control, art and play direction, difficulty, interactivity/passivity design, hardware and software limitations, etc.)  When combining individual player/reviewer bias and personal preference for any individual component, we also have to take into account the holistic nature of the various components that construct a single game and how it is experienced not just in part but in whole, which will create more differences in experience.  And then we still have to account for different eras and build methods (say, 2D vs 3D, linear vs open) not to mention even a "perfect" game can be otherwise negatively experienced because of outside interferences such as controller preference, lack of accessibility (no southpaw options!), or even poor screen resolution creating illegible text during normal play.

All together, I personally find measuring two games against each other akin to a person simply referencing two different experiences.  One can be superior in said person's preference, and it is worthwhile to share such, but to attach a number to it and declare it a measureable standard is not something I myself have found edifying.  Reviewing personal reflections, enjoyment, ups-and-downs, critical issues, and honest bias is what I find most helpful.  In many direct ways, it is like recalling to another person about a vacation or other trip that was taken outside of the daily experience.  There are good, bad, and even life-changing travels, but we rarely stick a number on them; instead we just relay our experience.  For me, the best game critique does the same.
 
Personally, when games are so vastly different in graphics, genre, or time period, I try not to compare them directly if I can help it. At that point direct comparisons of features/attributes don't really make sense in an objective sense. What I'm left with at that point is a much more subjective comparison. How does each game compare to similar games in the time period or in the context of when it was released? How did each game make me feel? How much fun or tedium did they give me? Do I still enjoy playing it after however many years or times I've completed it. But that's just my opinion. I'm of the mind that any review is a mostly subjective thing anyway. That's what makes them so fun to read; seeing other points of view and ideas.
 
I don't think I would have too much of a problem with this.  Maybe.  Well, like slackur wrote, there are a lot of parameters to consider, but really at the end of the day there are good games and bad games.  One should always consider personal feelings, but that doesn't change the results; the eye of the beholder can perceive, but not really change objective truth.  For example, I really like the Howard the Duck movie, but I know it is garbage in nearly every aspect of that word. I also am aware that Citizen Kane is a classic masterpiece, even if I don't enjoy it in any way (despite the best efforts of several). 

Now to bring it back, looking at the original Super Mario Brothers and Super Mario 64, we can all acknowledge that they are both very important games in their own respective time periods.  They both have their merits and downfalls, but at the end of the day, when objectively compared, there can be only one "best game" when comparing the two, and Super Mario 64 (for all its amazing qualities) cannot be that best.  This does nothing to change the fact that Super Mario 64 is my favorite game of the two (or Castlevania II is my favorite of the NES cycle of Castlevania games), only one can be better.

That being said, I usually don't take this route, instead giving personal opinions and anecdotes when writing about games.  Especially here at RFG.  This place is really chill, and that is why I like to come here.
 
Compario.  That's all I got.
 
@Ikariniku:^ You win! 😄
 
Thanks so much for the feedback guys. Lots of interesting ideas to stew on and take into account. Greatly appreciated!!

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