The video game media’s obsession with sameness

Infendo

Wii bubbles don’t burstI was browsing the Gamerankings.com site today, seeing how my favorite game of the moment, Mario Bros. Strikers, is doing, and I couldn’t help but notice how busted the current “rating” system is.

Don’t be confused, I’m not defending Strikers, or any Wii game for that matter, while simultaneously bashing fine games like Ninja Gaiden Sigma (PS3), which I single out only because it held a top spot on the home page.

The gamers reviewing games phenomenon (as opposed to journalists reviewing games) was as apparent as ever. The bubble, I think, will soon burst.

Game titles in this analysis are largely irrelevant. It’s the genres themselves that betray the broken nature of today’s “gaming journalists” and their review scores. On any given day, you could blindly go into a site like Gamerankings.com and randomly select any of the highest rated games of the month, and you’d be right 99% of the time if you said that game — when its secret identity was revealed — was some kind of dark, shoot-em-up game with violence, murder or guns as its main theme. It’s as if certain genres of games automatically, on average, get a better starting point in the review process from reviewers today. Please note I said “on average.”

Take a look for yourself. The list looks largely like it was cut and pasted every 15 slots and the number “2” was added to the end. This includes all the Mario titles in there too.

In the stock market (here I go again), there’s a term called correcting, which happens when a stock’s value becomes overpriced–either due to the surprise popularity of a new product (*cough* iPhone *cough*) or some other factor that has caused investors to call things into question.

I think gaming, and by association game journalists, are due for a correction. This doesn’t mean developers should stop making the same game over and over again — or even will — it just means that this lopsided little industry is about to get righted.

Nintendo won’t be the only company to benefit from this, although they will be the first. We see the correction taking place at behemoths like EA and in the candid interviews with developers at events like E3 (“we’re now taking a more serious look at Nintendo’s platforms,” they say). Nintendo may be leading the way, but it will be interesting to see who makes the first legitimate run at beating them at their own game.

The tipping point will come when a majority of people start buying and playing games that receive less than 60 or 70% from the “major” publications. Voting with their wallets, the rabbling masses will make these publications more of a niche than they already are — if not irrelevant entirely. A perfect example of this, IMO, will be Mario Bros. Strikers Charged. Before it came out Tuesday, I got the distinct impression that many people had written it off as “yet another Mario spinoff” or “an update to a GameCube game.” (in that vein I find it weird that the media was suspiciously silent on the success/failure of Strikers in Europe — do the not count? hint: they certainly do). Those rumblings, such as they were, have subsided a mere day after the launch of this, the true beginning of Wii’s online play. The true review of this game comes when a friend comes over to see your new game, or a relative arrives for a birthday party and sees a bunch of kids playing it together or 2v2 over the magical “Internets.”

In fact, the reaction I’m seeing today is typically a “holy crap, it works!” kind of reaction. But was there ever really any doubt? The Nintendo DS was the foundation for a lot of the things you’re seeing on the Wii right now. Free access, no nonsense menus (perhaps bare is more apt) and connectivity (and a lack of chatting, *grumble*); all were things that Nintendo fine tuned on the DS. The The only uncertainty about Strikers’ online chops was that which was manufactured by a media that had decided to conveniently ignore the slew of successful Wi-Fi games on the DS. Now that Strikers has proved itself so far, I’d consider it a watershed moment for Wii online: from here on out, things can only get more fine tuned and progressive. And the low hanging fruit of the gaming media can only become more irrelevant.