Criticizing Video Game Reviews

The Kinda Funny crew spent last week live-streaming from GDC (Game Developers Conference) and they had their former co-worker Vince Ingenito on the Gamescast. I’ve always liked Vince on IGN. I think he’s a fantastic writer and you can tell he has a wealth of knowledge about games. Recently he’s been taking some flak for his review of “Tom Clancy’s The Division”, which is very popular right now. Topic 2 of the Gamescast is all about criticizing game reviews, and why people react so strongly to negative reviews of games (or things in general) that they love.

I think that reviews are very important. Whenever I’m looking forward to a new movie, video game, TV show, or album, I almost always check out a review before I buy. And there are a lot of times where the outcome of a review is the deciding factor to whether or not I buy/watch/listen, especially in regards to movies and games. If I see that a movie or game has received a particularly low score (below 7 out of 10 is a red flag for me), I might pass on it entirely. If I’ve been looking forward to a movie or game for awhile, I usually decide to go for it and come to my own conclusions, but a low review score is disappointing. Batman v Superman is a great example of this right now—critics are hating it, but I’m definitely still going to see it.

The developers of video games know how important reviews are, but it’s not always about the review doing well. Just having your game reviewed gives it coverage, and companies know that some consumers who were interested before the review will still purchase the game to decide for themselves if it’s good or bad. I think the claim that big video game websites get paid off to give good scores is completely ridiculous.

I understand why people feel upset when something they love gets a bad review. I’ll admit that when I love a game, I like seeing reviews that share that love, and seeing comments from other fans that love the game too. There is something validating about other people sharing your opinion, and it’s nice when someone you respect (like a critic) shares your view. On the flip side, when a critic or group of people hate something that you think is awesome, it’s almost unfathomable—how could these people be so blind to the greatness that you experienced? But that doesn’t objectively mean that the critic is wrong. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and the great thing about reviews is that there are usually lots of them, so it’s easy to compare and decide for yourself who you think is right—I usually go with the opinion I trust or respect the most.

I’ve written a few reviews this year, and I plan on writing many video game reviews in the future. From what I’ve experienced, reviewing is not an easy job. I have a newfound respect for people that do it for a living, because there is a certain pressure and accountability to having your name on something and putting it out for the world to see. On a website like IGN, these critics play a game, write a review, send it to their editors, and then it becomes a sort of representative opinion of what the entire site thinks of the game, regardless of other staffers who think differently. Even though it’s just one person giving their opinion and picking a score, that score becomes representative of the company. That’s a  lot of pressure. But perhaps we as consumers should try to remember that a review is just the opinion of one person, and that the company they work for simply supports the opinion. It’s possible that not everyone agrees with the review, but instead everyone supports said person’s right to their opinion.

How much do reviews affect your decision to consume media? How does it make you feel when a reviewer knocks something you love? Let me know in the comments.

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What 5 Games Best Represent Video Games?

I’m taking on Topic 3 of the Gamescast this week: choose five essential games that best represent video games in general. This is a very tough question to answer and the guys struggled with defining it—is it about genres? Or do you show the history of games with your choices? Or do you pick five games based on modernity?

I liked Greg’s criteria best, which is putting together a video game sampler to give to someone who has never played a video game before. Greg’s idea with this is to show someone all the different experiences you can have with video games. The experiences are what I like best about games, and that is how I’m going to form my list.

1) Super Mario Bros. (NES)

I think a Mario game has to be on this list, and I think it might as well be one of the originals. This is one of those games that even if you’ve never played a video game before, you can jump into this one and have fun. The number one thing that video games should be is fun, or why else would anyone play them? Super Mario Bros. is a shining example of a game that is fun, and it definitely belongs on this list.

2) Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

I’m including an Uncharted game on my list because I think that it possesses a few qualities that represent video games today. Uncharted 2 is visually stunning and is a game worth showing people for that “wow” factor. It also tells a compelling story that rivals those of movies and books. Uncharted is an action movie in video game form and it really shows how far video games have come since the days of Mario.

3) Heavy Rain

When I got back into gaming a few years ago, Heavy Rain was one of the first games I was really curious about. It’s defined as an interactive drama adventure game, and I think it is worth including because it represents a genre I’ve grown to love. I also think that these types of games are very accessible because they appeal to movie and television lovers, and story lovers in general. It’s this powerful storytelling yet simple gameplay that I would want to show to people who are intimidated by playing games.

4) Final Fantasy 7

This is my list, and I have to include a Final Fantasy game. In my mind, the Final Fantasy series represents the JRPG (Japanese Role Playing Game) genre, and Final Fantasy 7 is a gateway game to the rest of the series and to JRPGs as well. Final Fantasy 7 is one of the reasons I fell in love with video games as a kid, and though it looks dated today, I think it’s an important game to show newcomers.

5) Grand Theft Auto V

I’ve never really played any Grand Theft Auto (GTA) games, and yet, I have to include this newest installment of the series on my list. I feel that the GTA series is a good representation of open-world games, where you can jump in and do anything you like. That’s really the only way I’ve played them—on the couch with friends, running around and raising hell. GTA V was one of the best selling games (if not the best) of the last few years, and I think its overall popularity and representation of an open-world experience merit its place on my list.

Omissions

This list definitely doesn’t represent some major genres today, and that’s because I wanted to focus on the experiences that games provide. With that said, I think you could plug in an FPS (first-person shooter) like Call of Duty or Halo, because these are important franchises to the FPS genre.

I also think the sports game genre deserves to be represented but it would be too difficult to choose any one sport to put on my list. I think Madden, Fifa, MLB, NBA and NHL could all be recommended to sports gamers, it just depends on their favourite sport. These franchises all do a great job of representing their sport and providing a video game experience for sports fans.

MOBAs (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) and MMOs (Massively Multiplayer Online) are played by millions of people and definitely merit mention in terms of what games are today. I personally don’t play these types of games, so I couldn’t tell you what is best. I would suggest League of Legends as the top MOBA, and World of Warcraft as perhaps the most important representation of MMO’s.

Finally, I’d like to give a nod to fighting games and racing games, as these represent a niche-competitive genre of gaming. I think a Street Fighter game is a good representation of fighting games, and Gran Turismo for racing games. Although, I think the Nintendo counterparts of Smash Bros. and Mario Kart are appealing options to consider as well.

So that’s my list and explanation of things I did not include. Let me know in the comments what five games you would choose to represent video games. I think it’s also interesting to hear how you approach this question when selecting your games, so let me know your thought process  as well.

 

The Best Video Game Music

I love music, and some of my favourite video games have amazing soundtracks featuring originally composed scores or licensed tracks. Topic 2 of the Kinda Funny Gamescast is all about video game music so of course I’m going to weigh in. I’ve talked about many of the games below in previous posts, so I’ll keep the discussion brief, but I’ve added a little taste of the music each has to offer.

Hotline Miami 1 and 2 features synthwave/electronic music from various artists, and its music is as addicting as its gameplay. These games require you to spend a lot of time figuring out each stage, so good music that doesn’t get boring or annoying is essential—this pairing of music and gameplay is perfect.

Final Fantasy VII is widely regarded as having one of the best soundtracks. Period. The Final Fantasy series in general is known for having great music, a lot of which was composed by the legendary Nobuo Uematsu. Final Fantasy music is so good that live orchestras have played it, recorded albums of it, and have done tours of it. Final Fantasy VII is one of the first games I ever played and still has one of the finest soundtracks.

I am such a big The Last Of Us fanboy, and I’m not ashamed to say it. I’ve never  been so obsessed with a game before. I played the game twice, watched every behind the scenes video on YouTube, watched the full-length making of, bought and played the DLC on day one, watched the Teens React playthrough (all 20 parts), watched the live reenactment special, and downloaded the beautifully composed soundtrack. So ya, obsessed. I don’t normally study or do homework with music playing because it can be distracting, but sometimes instrumental stuff puts me in the zone, and Gustavo Santaolalla’s score for The Last of Us is awesome. Fun fact for all you Making a Murderer fans: Santaolalla did the music for that too.

I just recently talked about To the Moon, and one of my big selling points was the soundtrack, so check out both these videos.

The Life Is Strange soundtrack is mix of licensed music and originally composed music by Jonathan Morali of the band Syd Matters. It’s a phenomenal collection of music that adds to the atmosphere of the game, which follows two teenage girls and feels like an indie movie. The YouTube video above is actually a video I posted years ago (well before the creation of this game), because I loved the song so much and noticed it was not on YouTube. The song is call Obstacles by Syd Matters and is one of the major songs in Life Is Strange. I also quite enjoy the originally composed stuff, and I think Jonathan Morali composed a phenomenal score.

Telltale’s season two of The Walking Dead featured some licensed music while the credits played and this song was one of the best. The music throughout The Walking Dead is sombre and dramatic—I didn’t pay attention much to it while I was playing (and perhaps that’s the hallmark of a good soundtrack for this particular type of game), but the music during the credits was often beautiful and I was particularly taken with this song.

Honourable mentions: 

Mega Man

-I’ve only played Mega Man 9 and I love the music from it. I’ve heard the others have amazing soundtracks as well.

Final Fantasy X

-As I said above, the Final Fantasy series as a whole has great music, but my two favourites for music are VII and X. I’ll admit now that I haven’t played VI, but I’m looking forward to it, and maybe its soundtrack will dethrone one of these two behemoths.

Flower

-Thatgamecompany makes games that are interesting experiences and couples them with great music. I’m sure you gamers who know them are wondering why I listed Flower instead of Journey. Well, I haven’t played Journey yet… I know I know, so little time right? But Flower’s soundtrack is nothing to scoff at either.

NBA 2K Series/Madden circa 2000s

-The NBA 2K series always has awesome licensed music—a couple of the soundtracks were put together by Jay-Z and Pharrell. Madden in the 2000s used to have soundtracks of licensed music. These days they use their own football scores. I kind of miss the old days.

I’m the kind of guy who hears a song in a movie or video game and later looks up what it was. I love music, and I especially love being shown new music, so leave a comment with any video game soundtracks you love, or any songs you love that you heard in games.

 

The Most Overlooked Games

For topic 3 of the Kinda Funny Gamescast this week, the guys discussed some games they thought got overlooked or didn’t get enough attention. I haven’t played very many games this year, but I’ll take this opportunity to hype up some games I love that I think people should check out. Some games I’m including are pretty well known within the PlayStation community, but the casual gamer might not know ’em, and I feel like talking about ’em. I also plan on reviewing some of these games in full someday, so I’ll try to keep my explanations brief.

To the Moon/A Bird Story

So this is actually two games—To the Moon is an indie adventure RPG that came out in 2011, and A Bird Story is an indie adventure short that came out in 2014, and is set in the same universe as To the Moon. They are made by indie developer Freebird Games and they can be played on PC or Mac. I’ve combined them because I essentially have the same things to say about them, and I hope that anyone interested will play both.

To the Moon tells a fantastic, emotional story: two doctors attempt to fulfill the wish of a dying man by altering his memories, so that he may experience something he didn’t actually do in his life—go to the moon.

The game looks beautiful, the dialogue is really funny at times, and the soundtrack is phenomenal. Plus, it only takes about four hours to play, so it’s a great pick for those wanting something short and sweet.

A Bird Story is only about an hour long, but it’s worth playing for those who enjoy To the Moon—same beautiful graphics, and another great soundtrack.

Spec Ops: The Line

At first blush this game seems like any other third-person shooter—you play as an american soldier, accompanied by two others, as you fight your way through a war-torn Dubai. Super generic on the surface, right? Well, as you go about the regular business of shooting down anything in your way, events in the game start making you question your actions and decisions, and the experience is actually a commentary on war-time shooters.. Kinda meta. Released in 2012 for the PS3, Xbox 360, PC, and Mac

inFamous

This is one of the games that most PlayStation gamers know, but I’ve talked to some friends who are casual gamers and they had never heard of it. So I figured I’d talk it up a bit to those who aren’t in the know. inFamous is an action-adventure game where you play as a bike courier who wakes up with superpowers after an explosion levels the city. Through your actions you discover what happened, how you got the powers, and you determine the fate of the city. Released in 2009, inFamous is a PS3 exclusive, and it has been successful enough to warrant two sequels.

As a kid I was a very casual gamer, and for the most part I just played sports games. I credit inFamous with showing me that the world of video games had so much more to offer than touchdowns and goals. The gameplay is fun and addicting, the story is told with these cool graphic novel-style cut scenes, and the morality system gives you two different ways to play. I’m definitely a late-bloomer when it comes to gaming, but thanks to inFamous I am no longer partially blind to the wonderful world of video games.

That Dragon, Cancer

I’ve mentioned this game a few times over the last couple weeks, and that’s because I can’t get it out of my head. And I haven’t even played it. Instead I watched a Let’s Play on YouTube and I was blown away—so much so that I still intend on playing it. I don’t want to give anything away so I’ll just say this: it tells the story of a young cancer patient from the perspective of his parents. A brutally honest, emotional story, that needs to be experienced (which feels weird for me to say given the heavy subject matter, but seriously, play this game). Just released on Jan. 12, 2016 for PC and Mac.

Emily Is Away

This is another short experience, about one hour in length, and it’s basically just a nostalgia trip. Journey back to the days of MSN Messenger (or in this case AIM) as you converse with a character named Emily. The story is interesting and will be relatable for many. It’s a cool little trip. Another newer release as well—Nov. 20, 2015 for PC and Mac. Oh, and it’s free to play, so no excuses.

Life Is Strange

Life is Strange is an episodic adventure game told in five parts. It’s centered around a teenage girl named Max, who discovers she has the power to rewind time. Another great story here, where the choices you make effect the outcomes in the game. If you enjoy the Telltale games, this one’s for you. Originally released in January 2015 on digital platforms, it is now available as a physical copy, and it’s playable on PS3/PS4, Xbox One/Xbox 360, and PC.

If  you have played any of these games, let me know your thoughts in the comments. And definitely give me some video game recommendations, because I intend to play quite a few games this summer.

Kinda Funny: Year One

On January 5, 2016 Kinda Funny celebrated their one-year anniversary. Greg’s YouTube channel, along with the GameOverGreggy show (GOG), had already been around for awhile, but it was one year ago that they rebranded as Kinda Funny and launched their second channel: Kinda Funny Games. Kudos on an excellent first year Best Friends!

To celebrate, the guys streamed on twitch.tv/kindafunnygames all day long and they also debuted Kinda Funny: The Animated Series, which I have linked above. Kinda Funny’s twitch stream that day was a celebration, but also an opportunity for them to promote The Animated Series and hopefully receive enough funding to continue the series for 12 episodes. To increase funding, the guys set up milestones that, if achieved, would see them do various things on stream, such as a push-up contest, the famous Nick Scarpino pec dance, Kevin on the GOG show, and a live (drunk) GameOverGreggy show. Now with all that said I’ve arrived at my point.

Typically, I choose a topic that the guys discussed on either the GOG show or the Gamescast and weigh-in with my opinion. The Gamescast (which was also done on Twitch) was about each of their favourite games from 2015. I only played a few new games this year (Life Is Strange, Emily Is Away, Telltale’s Game of Thrones), but none of the major titles, so I can’t really comment. The drunken GOG show on the other hand was almost 4 hours long! And yes, I watched it live with the rest of my Kinda Funny Best Friends (and it was awesome), but the topic structure definitely didn’t hold up throughout.

So this week I’ve decided to help promote the Kinda Funny Animated Series, talk about my history as a fan of the guys, and share some of my favourite Kinda Funny moments from this inaugural year.

I think I’ve said this before, but I started following Greg Miller and Colin Moriarty back when they worked for IGN as THE PlayStation guys. I bought a PS3 in 2013 and I fell back in love with video games. I started visiting IGN daily, and Greg and Colin were my favourite people on the site.

Somehow I stumbled upon Greg’s YouTube channel and I started watching the “A Conversation With Colin” series and his Oreo cookie review series called Oreo Oration. I don’t know why I was so entertained by a grown man eating Oreos, but regardless, I watched every single one of those videos. And I think there are like 50 of ’em.

I eventually clicked on my first ever episode of the GameOverGreggy show. I have no idea which topic I started with, but I remember spending that night watching one after another. A few months later, January 5, 2015 arrived and the guys announced they had left IGN and launched Kinda Funny.

Between the two YouTube channels, three podcasts, the live Twitch show, the events Kinda Funny covers, and all the other content they put up, there are tons of awesome moments. There is definitely a lot that I can’t even remember because of the sheer amount of content I’ve watched (first world KFBF problems). But I’ll list a few stand-outish moments now, and later regret the ones I forget to share.

First thing that comes to mind is the GameSpot X Kinda Funny E3 coverage. I was glued to my computer screen for three days because I didn’t want to miss anything that Kinda Funny did at E3. I’ve never really cared about E3 before—other than reading about the big announcements at the end of the event—but because of Kinda Funny I was addicted. They had Nick, Tim, Sisqo (of Thong Song fame), Chloe Dysktra (@skydart) and Alfredo Diaz (@TheAlfredoPlays) doing things from the floor, while Greg and Colin interviewed some awesome guests from their main stage. My absolute favourite moment is Nick Scarpino dancing with some mascots:

Nick Scarpino

Other fun memories from this past year: the Extra Life 24-hour charity stream, Greg winning the Trending Gamer award, Greg’s Walking Dead stream, Colin’s Mega Man stream, Xavier Woods/Austin Creed (@XavierWoodsPhD, @upupdwndwn) coming down to Kinda Funny HQ and eating a mayonnaise sandwich (so gross), Once Upon a Tim, The Shadowboxer, every episode of Love & Sex stuff, the Hot Pepper gaming episodes each of the guys did, and there are countless little jokes in every GOG episode and every Gamescast episode—too many to list.

Last thing I’ll give a shout out to are the Let’s Plays on the KindaFunnyGames channel. A couple recent ones: the Emily Is Away Let’s Play and just yesterday, the “That Dragon, Cancer” Let’s Play, really resonated with me. There are tons of games I probably wouldn’t have heard of had the guys not done these videos, so I thank Kinda Funny for that.

So congratulations again to Kinda Funny on a fantastic first year. I’m excited to see what is in store for year 2 and I’m proud to be a fan and supporter of this company. If you would like to support Kinda Funny and The Animated Series go to patreon.com/kindafunny and throw ’em a few bucks!

The Most Emotional Moments In Games

Well, its finally happened—this week I picked a topic from the Kinda Funny Gamescast! Gamers rejoice!

Topic 3 of this Gamescast episode came from a fan who asked the guys about games that brought out the most emotion in them while playing. I love that Tim pointed out that emotional doesn’t have to mean sad, even though it’s usually the first thing people think of. I’m still going to talk about some of my favourite sad moments in games, but I’m also going to share some stories about my happier gaming moments.

SPOILERS AHEAD FOR FINAL FANTASY 7 AND THE LAST OF US

DO NOT READ ON IF YOU PLAN ON PLAYING THESE GAMES

Alright let’s get into the sad stuff.

Final Fantasy 7 is the first JRPG (Japanese Role Playing Game) I ever played, and it was one of my favourite games growing up. It was nothing like the games I was used to playing on my Sega Genesis, and I quickly fell in love with the cool characters and interesting story. One of my favourite characters in the game was Aerith (Aeris). I always had her in my party, and I loved every scene that featured her and Cloud (the main character). I’m sure that even if you haven’t played Final Fantasy 7 you know where this is going.

She dies. The game kills her off about halfway through. I was choked. In disbelief  I tried to find some answers: is there any way to save her? Is there anything you can do to avoid this scene? I found out years later that there is no way to prevent her death, save for cheating/breaking the game essentially. This whole ordeal may have been my first heartbreak. I’ve heard that FF7 is one of the first games to kill off a main character, which is very cool, but I still wish it didn’t happen.

Next up, The Last of Us. There are plenty of sad moments in this masterpiece, but I’m going with the very first one—the one that sets the tone for everything else. The game starts by introducing us to Joel and Sarah, father and daughter, right before the world starts to fall apart. And of course Sarah gets shot and dies in the arms of her father. I love everything about this game, and that introduction really got me.

On to some spoiler-free happy moments. I’m a huge sports fan and I have some great sports gaming memories. One of my favourites happened back when I was a teenager. A friend and I were playing some NCAA football, and we had reached a very important game in our season. The game went into overtime, things were tense, and there was a very real chance we could lose. But as all fairy tales go, my friend threw a perfect pass that hit me in the end zone for the game winning touchdown. We both jumped up and down, cheering and high-fiving, it felt awesome. Until we noticed the game had frozen. That’s right, our moment of glory stolen away by a glitch, probably due to our jumping, causing the disc to skip. We both still laugh about this one.

Last one I’ll share is another sports gaming moment. Two friends and I we’re playing the dynasty mode of an NHL game pre-Winnipeg Jets. We had been at it for hours, we were all pretty tired, and around 4 a.m. something magical happened. The song “Come On Feel The Noise” was on the soundtrack of this game, and when it came on at 4 a.m. all three of us tiredly sang in unison. Even as I type this one I’m smiling. It was such a funny moment and one of my favourite gaming memories.

I got back into gaming a couple years ago and it’s one of my favourite pastimes. I love gaming as a story-telling medium and I believe it has the power to elicit strong emotional responses from players. What are some of your favourite gaming memories? Or some gaming memories where emotions ran high? Let me know in the comments!