This is a question that I think needs some answering, because it’s an important one. When NintendoFire hands out a 6 to a game, what does that number actually mean? This article seeks to answer that.
The whole idea of giving an absolute number to a piece of art and entertainment is a little absurd, I admit. When it comes right down to it, the number is completely subjective. The opinion of any reviewer is just that, an opinion. It’s shaped by his or her previous experiences with games and entertainment, and they will have all kinds of bias problems before they even start the game, no matter how hard they try and remain objective. You see this in the comment section of any majour site that has given a score that the readership does not agree with, they will attack everything from the grammar in the article to the reviewers sexual orientation. So to combat this in small part, to try and push back against the subjectivity of it all, a scale must be decided. So, how do you go about that?
I remember reading PC Gamer back in the early days when it was a 200+ page tome, and I placed an inordinate amount of weight in the numbers that the reviewers gave to games. I was young, and as a kid who loved video games on all systems it was a very tough choice where to spend my paper route money. Looking back, I have no idea why a game got a 93 instead of a 92. Realistically, if I had read the two pages and liked what I had read and seen, a 92 or 93 wasn’t going to make any difference. This is too granular a scale, and looses credibility because of the highly arbitrary number. Of course we all know what happens when you put too much stock in a number like that, such as 20-30 people loosing their jobs.
So lets go to the other end of the spectrum, a binary system of a 1 or a 0. This is currently used over at Kotaku, where they give an interesting Yes/No prognosis on games that they review. Interestingly enough they also pull in a ‘Frankenreview’ where they convert other reviewers scores to a 0-100 scale and look at several of them at a time to get varying opinions. Perhaps this means they realize in some small part that a binary system doesn’t really work. Saying arbitrarily that everyone who reads Kotaku should purchase that game is far too broad a statement to make. What of the reader who really only plays Real Time Strategy games? Should she purchase the latest first person shooter, even though she’s tried the most critically acclaimed ones and decided she just doesn’t like the genre? I don’t think that’s a statement that you can really make. So, you need something between a 0-1 scale and a 0-100 scale.
That’s where the really interesting discussion happens, about granularity versus applicability. Or the really uninteresting discussion, depending on how pedantic you enjoy being. Over the articles that I’ve read, the reviews I’ve seen and the discussions that I’ve had, I narrowed it down to a couple possibilities: 1-5 or 1-10. This seemed to have a nice balance between being able to review all categories of games for all people, while still being able to actually figure out what a number really means. I’ve seen many sites using a 1-5 scale that then give half stars, or a 3.5. If you’re giving half marks, stop pretending you’re using a 1-5 scale because you’re really not. So I decided a hybrid system was the best, with 5 categories of marks broken down into arbitrarily better and worse games in comparison to each other. They are based on everything from story, gameplay, graphics, art design, audio design and UI to simple playability. Here’s what I came up with, and what we use at NintendoFire:
(Reminder, all of this is my opinion, including the examples. Feel free to disagree.)
1 or 2
Games that should not have been made.
They have massive technical errors, a plethora of unfixed bugs or frequent crashes. Gameplay is derivative at best, unbalanced and broken at worst. Graphics are poor and have problems such as clipping errors and texture pop-in. Art design is uninspired, visually confusing or simply a mess. The story is unengaging or non-existent and audio design is severely lacking.
The worst in this category are literally unplayable due to technical errors, the best just shouldn’t be played.
Examples: Blood Beach – WiiWare, E.T. - Atari 2600, Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing - PC
3 or 4
Games that have one or more redeeming features but still have many large issues, likely only enjoyed by big genre fans or discount bin hunters.
Titles must be playable all the way through, though audio glitches, graphical problems and other bugs are allowable. Graphics and art design must allow for a minimum of playability, clunky interfaces and obnoxious user interface elements are the norm here. Gameplay can be repetitive, obnoxious and frustrating but must work in a semi-logical fashion and have some connection to the game world. Audio design is generally an afterthought and story is not high on the priority list.
The best are playable though clunky games that are generally far too short or incredibly hard, the worst are very hard to redeem in any particular way, a mediocre mess.
Examples: Ninjabread Man - Wii, Iron Man - Multi, Silver Surfer - NES
5 or 6
Games that show promise, but are held back in 1 or more key areas. For genre fans and those willing to take a risk.
These games may have a non-existent story or terrible art design or unintuitive controls or other major problems, but not enough of them to fully detract from the experience. Experienced genre fans should be able to make it all the way through the game, and point out areas in gameplay and some elements of the game that are arbitrarily ‘good’ in comparison to other games of the genre. There must be a ‘fun factor’ present to keep players engaged. This can be things like neat weapons, interesting dialogue, unique multiplayer modes or excellent audio, but if every aspect of the game is at least solid, it does not belong in this category.
The worst of this category are bargin-bin pickups with several glaring faults in core areas, the best are verging on solid games had the development team been given more time to finish, or had been more clever.
Examples: Dark Sector - Xbox 360, Metroid: Other M - Wii, Star Trek: Away Team - PC
7 or 8
Games that are solid, fun and without major issue. Genre fans will love them, those that sometimes dip into the waters and well-rounded ‘gamers’ will find things to enjoy here.
These games must have no major faults in the core areas of story, gameplay, graphics, art design, audio design and playability. Multiplayer is not a necessity, but is a welcome addition. Games in this category are polished enough to not have any glaring errors, though numerous small glitches and odd decisions are allowed. Campaigns may be short and multiplayer may not be varied enough, but there is enough content of good quality to keep players engaged to fruition. These titles generally do not innovate much, and often follow genre lines and established control schemes and gameplay elements. If they are not familiar to those who play the genre of games, they should be intuitive enough to allow a reasonable level of competency in the game. This can be accomplished through a comprehensive tutorial or other system that enables a player to jump in and play the game. All should have a ‘fun factor’, which can be things like neat weapons, interesting dialogue, unique multiplayer modes or excellent audio
The worst in this category are generally too short or offer poor value and have many small problems and frustrations. The best are either nearly devoid of new ideas but solid fun titles or have some problems that detract from the uniqueness.
Examples: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 - multi, Aliens vs Predator – PC, MegaMan - NES
9 or 10
Games that stand out from the pack. Few minor issues of any kind, a true example of a game of this genre.
There is a compelling reason of some kind (Amazing art design, unique gameplay mechanic, enthralling story, fantastic multiplayer, etc.) why this game is one of the best. Small glitches or annoyances that are unique to the platform (Like friend codes) are excused. Others are only allowable if they in no way impede player progression or are not a constant annoyance. Every aspect of the game should be solid and polished, with the core areas of story, gameplay, graphics, art design, audio design and playability free from serious error. Difficulty curves should be manageable, user interface should be intuitive and the game as a whole should provide good to excellent value for money.
The best are games that everyone should try, even those who are not typically gamers. They will stand the test of time and the very best push the genre and art form of video games forward. The worst are games that every gamer should at least try, even if they’re not typically fans because there is much to enjoy.
Examples: Half-Life - PC, Super Mario World - SNES, RockBand - Multi
So, that’s it. That’s the scale that NintendoFire uses. I know that it uses completely arbitrary terms such as ‘genre’ and ‘fun factor’, but when it comes down to it, a review is an opinion. When I write a review, it’s what I think of the game based on what I value in a game and my prior experiences. That’s it. If you’ve read a few of my reviews and you don’t agree with what I’m saying, that’s fine! Your opinion is just as valid as mine, your $60 is just as valuable as mine. My suggestion is go and find a reviewer or two that you generally agree with, and one or two that you don’t. That way you’ll be able to find games that you’ll most likely enjoy playing, but still be able to understand why not everyone agrees with you. And you know what? They don’t have to. We each have our own likes and dislikes, which is why the variety of an art form like video games is fantastic.