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A Classic Arcade Review Rebuttal

Posted by: Cyril at 8/14/2007 10:24 AM
There's no question that the concept of reviewing "classic" games is a tricky one.  Everybody seems to have a take on what is and what is not appropriate when discussing classic video games, regardless of whether they're on the Virtual Console, Xbox Live Arcade, or part of a company's video game compilation.  While the rules for reviewing classic games are definitely fuzzy, there is nothing ambiguous about my disagreement with Dan's take on the review of retro titles.

As somebody who has spent a lot of time reviewing these retro games (be it on Gaming Nexus or other places), I feel that there's a bit more to looking at a classic game than Dan suggests.  It's not simply about appeasing a small group of old school gamers; instead I feel that in order to review these classic games you have to balance between that core niche of gamers that remember these classic titles and all of the people who have yet to experience the old school video game.  It's not an easy thing to balance, but a talented video game critic should be able to walk this line without giving either side too much preference.

I don't buy into the argument that writing a review for a classic game is all about asking the question, "Does this game do justice to the original title?"  While that's certainly part of the review process, one also has to take into account whether that game has held up over time and if the game is still worth your five or ten dollars.

The biggest problem with reviewing classic games is that most old school gamers tend to have a romanticized view of how good these titles actually were.  That concept shouldn't surprise anybody, most of these retro gamers were young when they were first exposed to these games and have spent the last ten or twenty years remembering them based on how they felt when they were ten years old.  It's also worth pointing out that when these games came out most of us didn't know any better; even the worst games were still passable because the concept of gaming was new enough that it allowed us to forgive some really bad programming decisions.

What it comes down to is that not all classic games are, well, classics.  While you may have had a great time playing Ice Climbers 22 years ago, the truth is that playing it now feels more like a chore than anything else.  That doesn't mean that you won't have a few minutes of good old fashioned nostalgia while playing it, but it's not the critic's job to review a game by looking through your rose-colored glasses.  If you're the kind of gamer who is only looking for that burst of nostalgia then a classic game review is completely useless to you, chances are you already know what game you want to play based on your memory alone.

I also disagree that "gaming media outlets, community sites and fan sites" are being unfair to these classic games.  From what I've seen on other sites (GameSpot, IGN, 1up, etc.) none of those game critics are holding these classic games up against Gears of War or Warhawk.  If that was the case then most of the Virtual Console games would be getting scores of 1s and 2s, not 6, 7, and 8s.  While I've definitely disagreed with the classic game reviews on other sites, most of the scores seem fair for what you end up getting.  The fact that something is $5 doesn't mean that it's worth a high score, especially if the game is short and shallow.  If that was the way we reviewed classic games then what would we do when a lengthy game with deep gameplay showed up.  The truth is, there is a difference between a shallow $5 experience like Track & Field and the lengthy puzzle game, Adventures of Lolo.  Both games came out around the same time and cost the same amount of money, yet one is a significantly better bargain.  At the end of the day you can't review a game based on nostalgia, part of it has to do with the game itself.