A Perfect 7: Celebrating the Average Game

The first game I bought when I got a PlayStation 2 was Mobile Suite Gundam: Journey to Jaburo. At the time I was a rampant Gundam fan. You can blame Cartoon Network. Back in the day they used to run Gundam Wing every single day, and after becoming properly enamored with the show I graduated onto the numerous other Gundam properties. My interest in the franchise has cooled over the years but back then when I saw that game sitting on the shelf at my local Electronic’s Boutique, I enjoyed a rather severe geekgasm.

I took the game home and played it the entire night. And I mean the entire night. When the sun rose the next day I was still planted in front of the TV, trying to smash the final boss with my rocket mace.

“You must really like this game to wake up so early.” My mother said. I didn’t correct her with the truth.

I cannot count how many times I beat Journey to Jaburo. After a time, when I had grown bored of it, I did trade it in, but for a time it was almost an obsession. Each level had to completed with absolute perfection. I had to know the foibles of each mobile suit inside and out.

Journey to Jaburo scored a meager 6.8 at GameSpot. Across sixteen other available reviews, it only managed a 5.6. Ouch.

In today’s gaming culture, a rather unfortunate norm has been adopted in which any game receiving less than an eight is generally discounted as being bad. I’ll admit, I have been guilty of this myself. Take a look at my game purchases over the past few years and you’ll note far more AAA rank titles than anything else. A part of this is simply because there have been a ton of great games to play this generation. Why should I stoop to a lesser product when there’s something better available on the market?

Because even flawed titles have value. Point in case, in 2007 I bought a PS3. There weren’t a lot of games for the PS3 at this point in time. I bought Heavenly Sword and Conan. Both are hack and slash action games, but Heavenly Sword is generally regarded much more highly than Conan. I can understand why. Despite its crippling short length, Heavenly Sword was a gorgeous, well made game with great gameplay and an enthralling story. Conan was a God of War rip off (right down to the controls) with sub par graphics and barely any story to speak of. That said, I enjoyed Conan more.

Part of this may be because of my prior affinity toward Robert E. Howard’s beloved barbarian. I love the films. I love the books. I wrote my thesis on Conan as an example of a hypermasculine existentialist. But it was more then that. Conan for its flaws was just more enjoyable to me. Heavenly Sword was great, but it was uneven. I’d just be getting used to fighting as Nariko and then be stuck playing as Kai. I never really got used to the whole counter system at the foundation of its combat. It was fun, but didn’t grow on me enough.

Going into Conan though, I already knew how to play it. It was a clone most certainly, but that also meant I was able to jump in almost effortlessly. It left me more time to learn its actually quality combo system. It wasn’t ground breaking, but it was entertaining enough to make me play it again after I’d finished. That alone, is a feat in itself for my short attention span.

Some games are given lower scores not just for being generic but also for being different or niche. The Dark Spire, for instance, is one of my favorite DS games. Modeled to be an old style dungeon crawler -right down to optional wire frame graphics- it was the kind of throwback that only a certain audience would enjoy. Many of the people who reviewed it were not a part of that audience, leading to more than a few less than stellar assessments of the game. I love it. It has challenged me in a way few other games in recent years have. If I were to look merely at the score though, I probably wouldn’t have purchased it.

Granted, many games earning lower scores do generally deserve them. But there is a deep and inherent risk in discarding anything but “perfection”. Gaming is a for profit industry, and while a few publishers and developers (praise to be to Atlus) do try to deliver unique games, many stick to what they’ve seen work before. By buying only the same old stuff just because it gets stamped with a (to a degree) arbitrary stamp of approval, we’re guaranteeing to some degree a level of stagnancy in the medium.

I’ve done a lot of reviews in my short career as a freelance journalist. The most difficult score I ever dealt out was for Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled. Made to imitate SNES era RPGs, there was so much about it that I really loved. But in the end its various problems led to my giving it a 7/10. It wasn’t a bad review compared to the way some scored it (lighten up guys), but I knew it was still a death sentence. For the folks who made it, it was their first game. It took them years to put together and really, they it was a good little title. But by the gaming world, it’s counted as a failure. Something about that doesn’t feel right.

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