Critic Review Roundup: A New Hope

I know you’re not keen on ever watching any more Errant Signal, but he’s being self-aware here and labeling himself. Maybe watch it just because he’s kinda labeling everyone else including you as well:

Huh. That’s really interesting.

It’s funny to see him acknowledge that he only really talks about the thematic aspects of games, not really their design aspects. I wasn’t really sure how much he thought about this. It’s funny, he kind of states my own biggest criticism of him outright, he doesn’t know how to talk about mechanics on their own, only their implementation in service of a theme.

His divisions of types of critics are interesting too. He chose more standard game reviewer as the 3rd axis, rather than Simultationism, which is what classic GNS theory would go for. It’s sensible he chose the divisions he did, because simulation/immersion type critics are buried underground (and the biggest one is rumored to be literally dead, but now I’m pretty sure he was just faking for an extended period of time) relative to the more mainstream division between narrative and ludology. I always saw game reviews as lowest common denominator between the other styles rather than their own independent thing, but it makes a degree of sense placing them as their own axis, since there’s a lot of usability of a product type of business that gets tied up in game reviewing, like everything that went wrong with SFV.

Also I wouldn’t put Mark Brown’s videos as far into the literary/cultural side as campster is here. Though I can certainly see that Mark Brown has a background and connection to that group of critics. I wonder who else Campster would put in this category?

I don’t agree with his assertion that evaluating if a game is mechanically sound necessarily comes across as dry or lacks humanity. Maybe it does for him in particular, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Like this world record progression series is really great at discussing some of the mechanical tricks of various games while also capturing a lot of the human element.

I have a youtube playlist dedicated to this stuff for a reason:

I’d argue that what he’s describing is not puzzle solving, it’s problem solving as some people put it. Every game involves this to some extent. I’d like it if he went over the specific mechanical ideas explored and how they interacted with one another more.

I also disagree with his notion that the lack of scores makes the game “accessible”. Unless scores influence the things onscreen in some way, like earning extra lives, affecting enemy aggression, etc, it doesn’t make the game more or less accessible. It’s just another goal for the player to optionally pursue once they’ve finished playing the game for completion.

My primary criticism remains that he’s not addressing what the game actually does. What are all the elements of the game and how do they affect each other? How do they push the player to think and react and plan? I could probably point out each individual aspect of the game and ask “What does this do?” He’s still focusing too much on surface.

And here’s the comment I left on his video directly:

My primary criticism of this review is that you’re not going into enough detail. There’s a lot more you could be saying about Thoth that you’re not. I haven’t played Thoth, but I can see a lot of good design ideas just from the video of you playing it that you didn’t bring up.

An easy tactic for this is looking at each element of the game and asking what it does. For example: Why does the player shoot two streams of bullets? What are all the different types of hazards? How does only having one screen affect the way the game is played? How does the fact that enemies are not destroyed when their health is depleted affect the way the game is played? Why do targets regenerate health when they’re not being shot? Why do most of the square/cube enemies seem to both bounce off walls, but also have a gravitational attraction to the player? What’s the purpose of having two controllable pawns that you can rapidly switch between, one sort of floating around in a brownian motion style? How does having some enemies have additional factors like expanding borders or damaging tethers between them affect the way the player prioritizes their targets? How does having solid damaging barriers sweep across the playfield influence the way the player needs to move in order to not get hit, but still attack their targets? How do all these factors combine to make a variety of interesting, challenging, unique situations that players need to make fuzzy heuristic approximations of strategies to solve?

This game seems like it has really good design sense actually in a lot of ways. Like it paid a lot of attention to making the player make decisions on how they move, how they aim, how they prioritize targets, and switching at appropriate times. It seems like the semi-random movement of the player pawns and the enemies is good at both allowing for consistent predictable play while still having the player make these fuzzy heuristic approximations for how they’ll approach a given scenario.

The big thing I think you need to do is start questioning why all the mechanics are the way they are, and how they relate to one another. Your review is more of an overview. It doesn’t describe the game itself, it describes a lot of the game’s trappings, leaving it up to video for anyone to really know what the game itself is about, or what the game is like. Try focusing more on how the game forces the player to think, and what types of strategies it encourages the player to devise. Try focusing on the depth, the variety in how each stage can be cleared in a semi-optimal fashion.

There’s a huge number of dimensions to games criticism on a ludological level that aren’t currently being explored, even by Mark Brown. I hope this comment gives you some ideas for stepping up your game. Systems critique doesn’t have to be “dry”. It’s beautiful and very human.

I’ll be frank, I don’t actually like your reviews because of your thematic bias. I think you end up off-point in many of them, especially games like Devil Daggers and do a disservice to these games in the process. If you’re willing to step up to the plate however, I wish you luck and I hope I’ve given you some food for thought. I’d genuinely like to see more analysis of this type, and I actually really liked your old Tony Hawk video, but found your modern analysis of Doom and Quake to be really lacking.

Looks like SBH made a video on BotW. Compared to Turbobutton’s video, what do you think of his?

I think his rhymes are wack. Like, most of the time, he doesn’t pick words with the same last syllable. He has like, no sense of meter.

Yahtzee did a much better job with wolfenstein, although he didn’t make a real point about the game.

So, SBH has a tendency to be a completionist it seems. He did the same thing in MGSV.

I think his rhyming makes it really hard for his points to come across.

His overall point seems to be that the game is good early on, and in certain more constrained areas (eventide island). Most of the quests and collectibles seem to be filler according to him, which wouldn’t surprise me.

The shrines all look the same. This doesn’t bother me personally. If there’s a repetition in gameplay challenges too then that’s more of a problem. He does say there’s a diversity in their mechanics though, which is promising.

Unskippable cutscnees on shrines, I can empathize with that.

He doesn’t really explain what’s up with the main dungeons much except alluding that they don’t make use of many powers that you gain, since they’re intended to be played out of order, and you can also get powerups out of order, so they don’t include any powerups for fear of turning you away without the proper key to continue. Not the best criticism here, I’d prefer something more specific.

I also heard from Joseph Anderson that there are like, 3 common enemy types only, with interspersed mini-bosses. That’s disappointing.

Yeah, collecting items for a sidequest sucks. Most Nier Automata sidequests thankfully dodged that by having a combat section or leading up to a combat section.

I don’t get his point about the story, he seems to simultaneously be saying the main quest is way better than the sidequests, but also that the emergent gameplay is what’s more interesting than the story.

So the gist seems to be that the good content is spread too thin, likely because of a focus on quantity.

Is it accurate? Is it not? Hard to say. Doesn’t make the most compelling case in the world, not much evidence to back his claims.

Does make me think that playing BOTW for completionism isn’t the best idea though. Already heard the sword combat wasn’t great. And there’s only those 3 common enemy types, so the question is becoming, can the various emergent gameplay elements be combined meaningfully to create thoughtful challenging gameplay, in the absence of conventionally good combat?

Do you think these are good guidelines to follow when designing a game?

Kinda general, but yeah, seems pretty sound to me.

I disagree with #4) A Catch-Up Feature for obvious reasons. And #6) Surprise can usually lead to randomness, which can be dangerous, however I do agree with the general principle that outcomes need to be inconsistent and unpredictable, otherwise you’re not really playing a game anymore.

Apart from that, it seems like a sound list.

What do you think of Yahtzee’s Nioh review?

It’s cute, it’s not really a review. Par for the course for Yahtzee. He makes complaints, doesn’t really back them up with evidence or get specific about why he thinks any of the things he does. Then he glazes them over by talking without breaks and mixing in color commentary to be entertaining. There just isn’t much to say about this review because he didn’t say much to begin with. He sort of likes most parts of it except thinks the level design has too many corridors, okay, cool.

What do you think of this?

What? WHAT? WHAAAAT? HAHAHA! What the hell am I listening to?

This review is straight out of Bizarro World! You need to ignore all the skills and play it like it’s straight Dark Souls? It has an amazing story as a work of Historical Fiction and this is the primary reason people should buy it?

One, what is he smoking to say it doesn’t have the major characteristics of a souls game? “Polished and Well Defined controls”. In what way are the controls not polished or “well defined”? He claims that skills “just don’t work”. You’re given multiple levels of clear instructions as to how to perform skills, in the form of instructions on the skill leveling menu itself and the skill customization screen. There’s no skill in the entire game that is harder to perform than a delay strike in DMC or Bayonetta. They’re all much easier.

The Ki Spell? Anyway, dispelling Yokai Realm is not that hard. It’s really not inconsistent. You just watch the bar, and press the button when it’s full. It even delays a bit when full before resetting, and lets you still dispel yokai realm when it’s just short of completely full to make the window wider. It’s useful at every stage of the game. This guy is nuts. The timing is perfectly clear. He should just watch the bar. It’s not that hard.

Then he harps on how all the skills you unlock are “worthless or useless in the context of the greater game world.” What the hell does THAT mean? Is he saying they’re worthless because they’re not zelda-style powerups that interact with environmental features? Or is he just saying they’re balanced poorly, so there’s no reason to use them in combat? If the former, he’s looking for the wrong type of thing. If the latter, he’s insanely wrong. Every weapon unlocks kicks, unlocks stronger, but higher commit command attacks, unlocks parrying, unlocks new movement options, new buffs, new charge attacks, etc. Almost every unlockable skill has a specific thing it’s better at than everything else.

At least he’s right about the gear. It’s pointless to try to level up gear, better stuff drops all the time. Trying to level up a piece of gear you really like is pointless, it’s easier just to remake it. And from what I’ve heard, the system lets you put any bonus you want onto any piece of equipment if you take enough time, so you can customize your gear to your liking, just you’ll need to redo that process every so often as the gear gets better. Or alternatively, you could ignore all the bonuses and just use whatever the strongest lowest weight item in your inventory is like I did. There’s really no point in holding onto items for a long time. Oh well.

I find his remarks on the story rather ridiculous, given that it didn’t seem like Kelly had any overarching plan, that nobody is given any character development, and William in this story is Irish, not Scottish. Saying this story is worth the punishing combat is insulting.

What universe is this guy from?

Why do so many people like this guy feel the need to insult their audience?

Alright, so I just covered this guy’s Nioh review, and so far it seems like this guy is from Bizarro World.

His take on Zelda BOTW was that it’s the “Worst Zelda in 20 years.” Based on what I know of BOTW, and the previous 5 3d Zelda games, my intuition tells me, “Nah mate, you’re stuck on the crappy 3d zelda format and you’re mad BOTW changed things to an actually innovative format.” Of course, I haven’t played BOTW yet, so who knows? Maybe it’s not as good as everyone is making it out to be?

The simple thing here is, BOTW is kind of the culmination of people’s frustration with the Zelda series, more specifically with Skyward Sword. 3d Zelda was stuck with its head up its ass, unaware of the irrelevance of all the design tropes it had accumulated. BOTW looks like it’s tearing a lot of those down, while genuinely innovating at the same time. The result of that might not be a good game, but it represents people’s hopes and dreams for a Zelda game. This dude said the culmination of everyone’s hopes and dreams is bad, so he gets dogpiled for saying it’s bad. That’s kind of predictable.

As for insulting people, calling them less intelligent for mistaking a certain thing for difficulty, I did that in my souls multi-enemy combat article, and a dude wasn’t so happy with that recently. So if that’s this guy’s fault, then it’s my bad too.

The thing that I think is the real issue is, his original review that I linked up at the top was terrible. He doesn’t describe what’s actually bad about the game in any sort of concrete terms. Just vagaries about how it lacks a sense of “reward” compared to the others. He’s presenting a lot of conclusions about the game without the evidence or breakdown to back them up.

By comparison, George’s commentary on BOTW has a lot more detail as to why he thinks that’s the case, and you can see that he got a lot more positive response to his critique as a result. (the dislike bar is a lot more favorable to say the least)

I think while that reviewer guy gave Nioh an 8.5, he gave Let it Die a 10 out of 10 and said it was his game of the year.


Any thoughts on this? He argues BOTW does a lot more with its weapon durability than just getting you to switch weapons.

Arlo made a video with a similar premise.

Both videos make points that the other one doesn’t. I don’t know whether they form a convincing argument altogether.

I think BoukenJima brings up a lot of fair and well reasoned points about the equipment durability, though I’m not sure he considered the edge case, what if all your equipment breaks and you have none left?

Apart from that I really don’t have much to say. It makes a number of good points across the board. I don’t know if it totally adds up, because I haven’t played the game for myself, but it seems reasonable.

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