Shawn Elliot’s video game review symposium second part came out a few weeks ago and I’ve only recently managed to get through all 13,000+ words. The subject this time is on the matter of point of view in reviews. Do you want a fresh eye to a genre or a fan of it? What will give your audience the best perspective of a game? I’m not going to argue either way here. Instead I’m going to critique something that is related to both part one and two of the symposium.
Noby Noby Boy for those of you who don’t know is the recent downloadable game on the PSN by Keita Takahashi, the maker of Katamari Damacy. It costs five bucks and the prevalent opinion is that regardless of problems you may have with it, if you find it the least bit interesting, drop the five bucks on it and go for a ride. So it falls squarely under the Killer 7 argument. This was also the opinion of the following two reviews I’m going to deconstruct that it is worth the five dollars.
A problem often cited with metacritic and other score-aggregating site is that many sites do not use the 100-point scoring system and therefore their scores must be translated, which often doesn’t match the meaning behind the score. 3 out of 5 stars, for instance, come out to a 60%. The other problem is that one site’s 7 may not and often doesn’t equal another sites 7. It may mean good for one site and average to another. Knowing all this an interesting opportunity has arisen. IGN has recently reviewed Noby Noby Boy and gave it a 6.0. A few days earlier IGN UK released a review of the same exact code of the game awarding it a 9.0. On IGN 6.0 = Passable and 9.0 = Outstanding.
Let me reiterate the opportunity. Two reviews, using the same game, within 4 days of each other, using the same scoring method and same scoring scale gave two vastly different scores. The scores are not always alike, in fact, they very, very rarely are, but the difference is usually like a 7.6 to an 8.1. The scores are close if not even closer. The meanings are usually between really good to borderline great or whatever the specific scores might be for a game. But from ‘Passable’ to ‘Outstanding’ is a very different matter.
Looking over the reviews major differences appear. Many reviews describe the same game, but the evaluation of that description is different from site to site and magazine to magazine, e.g. Edge’s recent 7 out of 10 given to Killzone 2, caused an uproar from the fanboys, but their text described the same exact pluses and minuses that Eurogamer described who awarded it a 100 out of 100. With Noby Noby Boy, the two reviews were talking about the same game, but not quite describing the same game.
The US and UK reviews set their tone early and they are very different. The US review gets right into the mechanics of the game. Quickly listing what you can do with the buttons. The thing is it doesn’t leave that mode for the entire first page. Then half way down the page it makes the following observation:
“Now, after reading through my control description you might say to yourself, “Self, that sounds like a lot of functions assigned to the L2 and R2 buttons.” Well firstly, you should watch that sort of conversation in public as people will think you’re cookoo for Cocoa Puffs, but you’d also be right — especially with regards to L2.”
This isn’t a bad observation in and of itself, but it’s representative of the entire review. The first page consists of seven paragraphs of mechanical analysis. It does go into what you can do with Girl and the ability to get to other worlds, but still treats them from a mechanical point of view. Telling people about how the game plays is not a problem, its just it sacrifices so much space to do so and seemingly misses the larger point of the experience. It only gets to the venerable point of the game in the last paragraph before the Closing Comments. They do add a section called Another Take at the end to give a counter argument from a different staff writer, but it may be too little too late. Most people only look at the score of a game and using their search function to find it all I could see is a red 6.0 next to the game.
Then we have the UK review. By contrast the UK review spends only 3 paragraphs on game mechanics. The rest of the text is focused on the concept of the game and the experience of playing it. It’s mechanical rundown happens in the middle of the review. It begins instead with the thematic idea behind the game. “ã®ã³ã®ã³(nobinobi) in Japanese means, roughly, ‘hang loose’ – stretch out, procrastinate, be easy – and that’s all the game’s about. It’s a giant whimsical timesink.” A few paragraphs later it gets back to the concept of the game and begins explaining the player’s experience, by delving into a little silliness such as: “You’ll even make exciting new discoveries every once in a while, such as the world-changing realization that, by combining certain items, you can create flamingerinas or ghostguins.”
The UK reviewer calls Noby Noby boy an “emergent experience” with “subversive game design.” To me the UK reviewer understands the title better and adjusted his review to mach the idiosyncrasies of the game. The US review meanwhile stuck to the traditional method of reviewing, even though it doesn’t match the game. To the US reviewer the game is “a tech demo with a couple cool concepts to me, and nothing more.”
What is also interesting, given the latest symposium topic, is that both reviewers are virgins to this type of title. There is literally no game like it and is a unique experience. The UK’s closing comments explain it best.
“Noby Noby Boy is going to provoke arguments for months between people who claim to Get It and people who don’t, which is ridiculous because – in truth – there is nothing to get. Once you’ve accepted that, Noby Noby Boy becomes one of the most soothing, effortlessly playable things you’ve ever likely had the pleasure to experience. It’s a surreal and simple sandbox with no hidden subtleties or complex underlying system of progress and reward, no contrived meaning. Its appeal purely lies with its gentle, happy-go-lucky lunacy, and that’s what makes it so bafflingly absorbing.”
These two reviews drive to the heart of what reviews are supposed to be. Are they supposed to be a buyers guide explaining what you are getting in the most definitive of terms or are they a guide to explain the experience a given product will deliver?