Mass media has been key to Nintendo’s wild success with their Wii console – to reach adult and non-gamers, you must have the CNNs of the world carry coverage of your product. This is exactly what has happened. However, sometimes those general media sources find themselves a little over their heads. Case in point: Variety.
It’s all fine and dandy to carry news and such, but when outlets like Variety start trying to review games – particularly of the “hardcore” nature – matters sort of hit the fan. This is where they often prove themselves to be inept and less than equipped to handle the endeavor they’re undertaking. A good case study for this is Variety.com’s August 30th review of Metroid Prime 3: Corruption for the Wii. I’m not familiar with the reviewer, Tom Chick, and I probably won’t become familiar with him, either. While he’s done his homework and he possesses some knowledge of the franchise, the reader can’t really tell if this is through true experience or more of a Wikipedia job. While I’ve warned against ingrained game industry journalists taking a haughty stance with the mass media, there’s a difference between fearing their intrusion and rightly noting the deficiencies in their ability, at times, to opine on actual game design.
Chick is right with some of his points – for instance, pointing out the general dearth of hardcore experiences on the Wii up until Metroid (and obviously excluding such games as Twilight Princess), and noting that many of the Wii’s crowd may not appreciate Metroid. All the same, his justifications for such go too far, are subject to hyperbole, or simply miss the point of the game’s structuring altogether.
In his teaser opener, Chick proclaims that “Halo this ain’t”, and that those gamers “looking for a well paced, thrill-a-minute shooter with a compelling narrative are going to be disappointed”. Granted, Metroid is not Halo and it is not thrill-a-minute, but how one can pair “well paced” and “thrill-a-minute” is beyond me. Thrill-a-minute would constitute the equivalent of, say, running at a full sprint through your neighborhood. Well paced is more a measured jog. Outside of semantics, his assertion of a “lack of a compelling narrative” is also off track. While Metroid‘s story is not overtly told, those willing to look through the game world and investigate information that can be gleaned from scanning with Aran’s visor – a critical, not secondary or tertiary, part of the experience – will find there is a rich backdrop and mythology surrounding the origins of phazon, the Chozos, and the universe. There are ways of conveying a story outside of cut-scenes.
Chick finds Corruption too difficult and the story “borderline nonsensical”. That’s fine, that’s sheer opinion based upon his play experience. But later in his review, Chick again betrays his inadequacy as a games reviewer, again dishing opinion which lies outside his own play experience. He provides conjecture that denotes a certain, marked misunderstanding of current video game culture. Chick says that boss battles often make the game too tedious, but the problem lies in his reasoning. “[Boss battles] are exhaustive affairs requiring dedication, patience, and most importantly, a familiarity with the vocabulary of videogames: double jumping, circle strafing, shooting weak points for massive damage, etc. Those who previously used the Wii only for party games will need a 13 year-old boy to explain it all”.
“Double jumping” is a concept that lies outside the realm of comprehension for many Wii owners? Circle strafing, sure, but double jumping? You’d figure folks could put that much together. More important to question though is Chick’s last line – the 13 year-old boy quip. This is a paramount example of the hyperbole mentioned earlier. Chick may find himself as witty here, but really it’s just an askew exaggeration that is unfortunately unprofessional and inaccurate at the same time.
I’m not sure of Chick’s past game journalism experience, but whether it’s impressive or not on paper is besides the point. Variety should revamp their game review department – if they can’t grant a marquee title like Metroid Prime 3 an accomplished and intelligent critique, then they shouldn’t be rating games.