Thursday, July 30, 2009

Review Guide

The Mighty Rating Scale:

Blue Mage Reviews uses a review scale that ranges from 1 to 10, with 0.5 increments along the way. And no, if a game gets a 1 it doesn't mean it's #1... it works the other way around. Some review sources use a five star rating system, but even when allowing half-stars (e.g., 3 1/2 stars), I don't think that gives the huge variety and styles of video games in the world enough room. Other sites use something closer to mine, with 1 being the worst possible rating and 10 being the best. While this scale is a great system when all's said and done, my problem with it is that the first five numbers right off the bat are usually full of games you should avoid. Even 6 can be dicey. Regardless of whether a game gets a 1 or a 5, you're probably going to want to avoid it.

I aim to give legitimately good games more breathing room by increasing the number of basically positive ratings while still giving lesser games their rightful place. While this slightly different way of thinking can be tricky for longtime video game connoisseurs to get used to (such as myself), I believe that it will ultimately be very helpful. It may be a reasonably small change, but it makes a difference. To top it off, each score is color-coded with its own shade of... well, color. With ridiculously clever analogies and similes, you'll never forget what each number means! So take a look below and see for yourself:

10 [Legendary]

The gold-standard of video games, products with the "Legendary" stamp are nothing short of epic. Very few games will come away with this medal of honor, and those that do are nearly flawless works of art.

9.0-9.5 [Incredible]

Top-tier games that succeed in almost every way usually wind up here. There's room for error, but as a whole, "Incredible" games rocket past most competition and deliver extremely well-made and fun experiences. These games are easily recommendable to almost anyone and well worth spending your greenbacks on.

8.0-8.5 [Excellent]

"Excellent" games aren't quite up to the ridiculous standards as their superior "Incredible" kin, but are nonetheless extremely fun and highly commended. This is an entirely reputable score and shouldn't be taken lightly. As cool as Sonic is blue, these games may have a few stumbling blocks here and there, but nothing bad enough to slow them down.

7.0-7.5 [Great]

These games are "Great." They don't quite contain the level of excellence and polish that the above categories do, but they definitely have enough virtues to stand out. These are the kinds of games that aren't automatic must-buys, but they're strong choices your your collection and are easily worth checking out. Kind of like oranges.

6.0-6.5 [Good]

Much like pink cotton candy, "Good" games are sweet but not exactly filling. Playing through these games can be an enjoyable time, but you can bet there are some faults that hold it back from greatness. Maybe they have too many problems to to quite make it up there with the oranges, or maybe they just don't do anything particularly special. Don't get me wrong, they're good; but for whatever reason, games in this category are recommended, but not wholeheartedly.

5.0-5.5 [So-So]

Once all the other flavors are gone, there are always a few purple Popsicles left at the bottom of the box. Sure, you'll eat them, but only because there's nothing better. I mean, they're all right and all, and there's probably an audience for them, but they're sure not for everyone.

4.0-4.5 [Tolerable]

"Tolerable" games are just kinda okay... I guess. They may not be horrifically bad, but like the color brown, they're pretty unremarkable. Maybe you'll enjoy one of these games if you're really optimistic, but chances are, you'll never pick it up again.

3.0-3.5 [Bad]

"Bad" games are a flashing red alert! You have entered the realm of legitimately bad games! This is the point in which you should really stay away without a really good reason. This category will include buggy, boring, and frustrating titles that are no longer acceptable. You have been warned.

2.0-2.5 [Horrible]

At this point games begin to lose their life-force and start to fade away into nothingness. This grey area holds within it a collection of groan-inducing "Horrible" projects that might have started out decent but were released in an unfinished state of unfortunate awfulness. There's a very slight chance that you'll find something to like about one of these games, but don't bet on it.

1.0-1.5 [Rubbish]

These games are so terrible that they don't deserve a special color. Inexcusably broken gameplay, ugly art, and mind-numbingly dull sequences litter the landscape that is the compost heap of such games, and can only be described as "Rubbish."

The Categories:

Although it doesn't mathematically factor into the total score, I pass judgement on five different categories: Gameplay, visuals, music, sound, and value. I view each of these as extremely important parts of a game's experience, though the gameplay naturally steals the show in most cases.

Gameplay is, quite simply, how the game plays. Tight controls, a nicely-handled camera, engaging combat, and general fun all factor into this very important section. If there's no gameplay, there's no game.

Visuals concern the graphics of the game, from both a technical and artistic viewpoint. If there are glitchy shadows and muddy textures, don't expect high marks. On the other hand, if the game's art design is inspired and beautiful, or if the characters and environments look lifelike or flat out impressive, the results will be much better.

Music is, in my mind, an overlooked aspect of games. Well-constructed orchestral scores, catchy tunes, and all manner of good music can really enrich an otherwise so-so experience. If a game can incorporate music into its gameplay (such as music that adapts to the gameplay, or a rhythm game's involvement of the player), that's even better.

Sound includes voice acting, sound effects, ambiance... all that stuff. They say that the best sound design is the kind that you don't notice, but if you listen carefully you can really tell when work was put into the sound. From gunshots to forest atmosphere, your ears can draw you into a game as much as your eyes (although I must say that playing blind would be difficult).

Value is basically a summary of a game's bang for your buck. If there are lots of modes, a lengthy story, lasting online multiplayer, and other such treats, you can bet that the value score will shoot up. Also of importance, a game's retail price can factor in as well. Even if the game isn't terribly long, it can be of great value for just five bucks! I won't keep adjusting my reviews to keep up with changing prices, but if I get to a game late and its cost has gone down, I'll let the reader know.

What's With the Little Text?

Underneath the five categories you will find a short list of vital information. This is a quick view of information you might want to know about a game. It lists the following:

Publisher: The company that published the game.

Developer: The creative team that made the game.

Multiplayer: The types of multiplayer modes that the game offers. Local means you can play with multiple people in the same room, while online means you can take it, obviously, online. Versus has you competing with other players, while co-op has you working together.

Consoles: The consoles on which the game is available.

Reviewed on: The console on which I played the game. Note that another console's version may differ from the one I used.

ESRB rating: The rating that the Entertainment Software Rating Board assigned the game.

BMR rating: The rating that Blue Mage Reviews assigned the game. I don't always agree with the ESRB, so this is my take on the game's content.

The Good and Not So Good Points:

So you can easily glance at the highlights and low aspects of a game, I have a quick pros and cons list for you to examine. I obviously can't cover every good and bad point of a game here (that's what the full review is for), but the basic yea's and nay's can be found.

And that is how I score my reviews. Fascinating, isn't it? If I missed an important detail that you must know, don't hesitate to ask!