Niche game? -2 points

What’s this recent trend of scoring certain “niche” games lower than they deserve? I’ve just finished some extensive playtime with Phantom Brave and Gradius V, and the scores these games have received have been consistently in the 7-8 range, despite these two titles being among the best if not THE best in their respective genres.

Is it because they aren’t perceived as ambitious enough? Because they aren’t “immersive”? Or do the reviewers fear some sort of audience backlash, where a mainstream type whines that the reviewer sold them on an old-school shoot-em-up?

Frankly, it’s pretty fucking retarded. If you don’t know why Gradius V is one of the greatest horizontal shoot-em-ups ever assembled, then you shouldn’t be reviewing it. And if you can’t tell why Phantom Brave is a significant advance over FF Tactics, then maybe you simply don’t “get” the SRPG genre. This “knock the niche game” approach is really inconsistent, especially when marginal updates like Madden 2005 get raves because the reviewer happens to be a genre enthusiast.

If you aren’t a major enthusiast of shoot-em-ups or SRPGs, then you aren’t going to understand why games like Gradius V and Phantom Brave are worth 9s and 10s, and you’ll hand out safe but truly unappreciative scores in the 7/8 range. Kinda like what would happen if I reviewed Madden 2005: “it looks pretty, it feels like more of the same, but I bet football fans will love it – 4 out of 5 stars!”

Playing devil’s advocate- I think the idea is that since most sites and publications are targeted at casual gamers then niche products wouldn’t necessarily warrant the highest ratings. If you give Gradius V and Phantom Brave a 9.5 everyone goes “wow this game must be great” and most find it just isn’t for them. If a 9.0 or greater stands for “unreservedly recommended” its kind of hard to add the qualifier “if your interested in this niche.”

Not saying I agree (I don’t).

So in order to get the best scores, games should be designed strictly for the mainstream? No wonder most devs prefer to stick to GTA clones, RTS clones, sports titles, and “realistic” military FPS titles.

Most devs could give a fuck about the scores, they just want to sell enough copies to stay afloat.

Dismissing or downgrading a game because it will only appeal to a niche audience of enthusiasts is kind of stupid.
Sometimes it’s not so much that only enthusiasts have the magic ability to see what makes their favourite game so great, but that they’re more inclined to overlook the inherent flaws. It works both ways.
And sometimes it just comes down to preference and what you’re really looking for in a game. You can’t review a game with some patronising idea of what you think your readers will like, but you also review it with a patronising idea of what you think fans of the genre will like. Again, it works both ways.
The best you can do is construct a decent argument weighing up both sides of the issue so the reader can decide, and give the score you personally want to give it based on what side of the fence you fall on.
Sometimes there just isn’t a right answer.
Maybe the problem is scores themselves, but then they’re pretty useful as a guide sometimes. Oh no, another dilemma!

Scores are nice… sales are better. As a dev I like getting good reviews but I’d rather my game sold well. It’s a lot better to have a good selling poorly reviewed game on your resume than a poor selling greatly reviewed game. Of course we always try for both, it’s just sooo damn hard.

This is what happened to Panzer Dragoon Orta, too. Well, most of the scores were pretty nice, but not “nice” enough to entice gamers, apparently.

What do you mean? MetaCritic shows an average of 90% for Panzer Dragoon Orta reviews and I think that’s being generous. Sure it was a nice looking and stylish game, but also short and a pretty simple rail shooter.

I’ll second that. I heard lots of raving about Panzer Dragoon Orta, so I rented it. It had nothing to reccomend itself for a purchase.

Gladius V: Same story here… it’s a horizontal shooter. That makes it not a 10 in my book. I guess I am not up enough to know the difference between a twin googler beam and the laser reflector droid from the last game, but it’s a side scroller. There’s nothing in the game that’s going to blow my mind. And most of the time when side scroller fans talk about innovation they mean “really hard”.

I won’t find anything in a sports game, racing sim, or military-themed FPS title that’ll “blow my mind”, either. They’re all at best 8/10 when they do their job flawlessly. Does that make my scoring somehow fair?

Measurement and Evaluation of anything is hard.

Hell, one of my professors has a PHD in M & E (education degree). It’s difficult enough to warrant 4 years of study on the graduate level, so I think it’s fair to cut the poor video game reviewers who haven’t had such training a little slack. Since, you know, it seems like most of their qualifications are “Uh, I know how to type, and I like games lots. A lot! I mean I like games A LOT, not lots.”

Isn’t this the same thing folks were complaining about when Doom III reviews were posted?

Good reviews convert into sales, so I think you are kinda contradicting yourself there. Most developers I know care about the reviews. They might say they don’t if they get bad reviews, but when they are good…well doesn’t everyone want to be praised?

So, the onus is on reviewers to generate sales for these poor, unappreciated “niche games”? And if reviewers don’t automatically give our favorite “niche game” a score of 100%, they’ve failed at doing their job of generating sales for game companies?

Maybe make more sense for some to have reviewers get directly paid by companies to help sell their games? Some kind of incentive or commission program; the more a reviewer gushes, the more bonus pay he gets? That help?

Expecting reviews to sell games, and blaming reviews (and reviewers) for “not helping to sell games” doesn’t hold with me. Especially if a game gets mediocre reviews all around, not just from one or two magazines, because if that happens, maybe it’s just not that great. Thought it was the publishers’ job to distribute and market the game so it’s attractive to consumers, and reviewers’ jobs to objectively critique them? Maybe I’m missing something here. Just an opinion.

Not at all. If a game doesn’t sell, it doesn’t sell. What they need to do is consider the strength of the game within its genre – for example, Gradius V is a sore sight better than most horizontal shmups ever made, and probably the best Gradius title.

I can overlook an ignorance of all the little touches: the Salamander and Axelay references in the visuals and music; the deliberate Treasure-isms found in the enemy attack patterns and boss designs. But to be fundamentally unaware of how this game stacks up against other shooters, regardless of era, indicates that the reviewers weren’t really qualified to do so.

Would you want a reviewer to cover Doom 3 without an appreciable knowledge of the FPS genre? Or a review of Dominions 2 by a dude with no interest in TBS/4X titles? Just because a genre isn’t popular doesn’t mean that it should automatically get a demerit; besides, folks that weren’t interested in the genre probably don’t care if you give it a 2 or a 10. I honestly can’t recall the score given a single non-arcade sports game released in recent memory, and all the 10/10s in the world wouldn’t make me any more interested. But those scores do mean something to a fan: it’s an acknowledgment of how the game places against other entries in the genre. If a reviewer lacks the experience or perspective to grade a game thusly, he or she should just pass rather than mislead the potential fans.

I have no idea what this comparison is supposed to mean. What are you saying about your professor? And how would an education degree help video game reviewers?

I think the main problem is there aren’t a ton of overlaps between the current generation of reviewers and people who are qualified to judge a shmup. The last real heyday of shmups was effectively early on in the Genesis time frame, which is, what, 13 years ago now?

Too bad too. All the talk about Gradius V has me pining yet again for the old days when there was a new one every two weeks, and most of them were pretty good. (I probably still have a copy of ThunderForce 3 packed away with my genesis. I bought a Gamecube primarily because of Ikaruga at the time. I fondly remember Wings of Wor) But it, like the traditional 2D scrolling platformer, is a game type that’s really out of style. And the fact that it’s hard as hell if you’re not used to shooter type playing probably has a strong effect on the reviews. (In much the same way that I would tend to review just about any FPS on a console as being a pain in the ass and less fun than it might really be due to not having good dual-stick aiming reflexes built up.)

I’ve noticed this same trend myself, Doug. In fact, it was the Phantom Brave review in GI (I think…maybe EGM) that made me notice it. All these reviews have a qualifier that suggests that the game is not for everyone. That’s fine, but you can’t deduct from the score for that. The game has a target audience; it has specific goals within its genre. That’s how it should be measured. Disgaea and Phantom Brave are AMAZING games that deserve high scores for what they do.

All that said, I have also noticed that a common complaint with both such games is that the graphics aren’t very good. This is a fair complaint, especially for PS2 games. Perhaps that is lowering the score rather than just the nicheness of the product?

One of the most cited complaints in Phantom Brave reviews seems to be people burning out on Nippon Ichi games. There have been a lot of comments like “after Disgaea and La Pucelle in such a short time frame PM is only an incremental improvement.”

Ok, on, you can give Gladius V a 10 out of 9. But on gamepro or whatever, no.

"Why not," you ask, "it's the best of its genre!"  

The simple answer here is that the mainstream reviewers review for the mainstream.  Mah-jong double deluxe 4001 plus might be the best fucking mah-jong simulator around, with stellar AI and wonderful Takigishi Arigatohari-designed animated tiles, but it's still a goddamn mah-jong game.  The same thing with Gladius V.  If you want a decent review of the game, then why are you looking at reviews from publications which call it a niche game?  Things like Steel Beasts get medium reviews, but it is the best modern armor sim around.  If you look at (or whatever) it will get those 9.7 out of 10 reviews.  But I am fairly sure most gamers won't be interested, even though it is a great sim.  It just doesn't have mass appeal.  Thus as an overall "How much will you like this game" score, I would not give it a 10.  It's the same with Phantom Brave, another totally niche product that just doesn't have mass appeal.  It might be the best rpg/tactics/turn based whatever around, but in a sense, it's like winning the Kansas Downhill Skiing World Championship.  Not many people care that much.

I think the real issue here is that you have a certain favorite genre (side scrollers, tank sims, turn based historical hex-map wargames, hentai puzzle games, whatever) that you feel is underappreciated.  You really LOVE Gladius V and think "other people would love it too, if they were only exposed to it!"  So, it must be those dirty reviewers turning off people who would otherwise be side scroller addicts.  This is a logical flaw, in that it is a niche product BECAUSE most people DON'T love it. Let it go, son, let it go.  You can still like a game even if other people don't, and it's not as if the stunning sales figures of side scrollers are going to be hurt by a non-orgasmic review.  It is also apparent that low sales numbers will not prevent side scrollers from being made in the future, given that they haven't been huge sellers in a long time.  

So what’s your beef? Lighten up about it.


I have no idea what this comparison is supposed to mean. What are you saying about your professor? And how would an education degree help video game reviewers?[/quote]

The complaint Doug seems to be making is that game reviewers suck at evaluating games, and they shouldn’t. I was just saying, it’s a difficult enough topic that some universities list the science of measuring and evaluating things as a legitimate four year graduate program.

Expecting a journalist to ascend to supreme levels of judiciousness is silly considering most of them probably don’t have a lot of training in the field. The reason I mention that it’s a legitimate area of study is to show you it’s an extremely difficult task.

Doug’s gripes appear to be more ones of outrage that the reviewers aren’t assigning points on a qualitative scale. By that I mean rating this games graphics as trouncing game X’s, but it’s lower than game Y’s graphical superiority. That’s a tough thing to judge. There was another thread around here where folks were citing pacman’s graphics as digital splendor. Atari generation graphics just don’t get no better than that, brother.

All that said, I think I’d enjoy hearing a shooter fan review a sportsgame. I generally am unentertained by sports games, but hearing a fan of shooters become entranced by a sports game is equally cool. And if he doesn’t enjoy it, it’s equally entertaining to hear him tear it apart. “Yeah man, I feel the same way when I play madden”. I don’t agree that it’s a travesty.

I don’t think it’s a terrible thing for an uninitiated person to play something completely new to them, and then rate their experience. I also think it’s ludicrous to expect a gaming journalist to understand all of the facets of measurement and evaluation, and calculate their scores with atomic precision. He’s worked it up like a conspiracy. Like every mainstream reviewer is either selling out, instead of considering the difficulty of evaluating anything.

I’ve done a good amount of exaggerating Doug’s view to illustrate my point though, so maybe in the end I’m just a rambling asshole. What fun.