Thursday, September 26, 2013

When reviews are objectively wrong, or Just try the demo

at 8:43 PM
It's kind of a mystery to me that people take reviewers' word for anything when demos these days are so widespread that half the time you can try-before-you-buy - in the case of download-only titles, particularly on XBLA, you ALWAYS get a trial.  I personally only read reviews before buying if I'm extremely suspect of a game (and I take them with a grain of salt bigger than Carl Weathers' biceps) - otherwise I usually wait til after playing to see what the community reaction has been. Even when there's no demo, many simple questions can be answered by YouTubing a walkthough or (god forbid) Let's Play of the game.

Take, for instance, this month's release of Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse. I grabbed the demo, liked it, and put it on my to-buy shelf behind a few other games. After voicing my positive opinion to Greg L., he was taken aback, having heard about the game's "terrible" and "laggy" controls. Not having read the reviews myself, this puzzled me - the game doesn't have laggy controls. They're as immediately responsive as DuckTales: Remastered or Super Meat Boy. Say what you will about the game's physics, any insinuation that the controls are unresponsive is flat out incorrect. We could get out a lazer-stopwatch and measure the scant microseconds that elapse between depressing the A button and seeing Mickey jump onscreen.
Investigating the complaints more, it appears that the purported control delay is an actual bug in the PC version of the game, which was released before the PS3 and 360 versions. Bizarrely (or predictably), review outlets apparently either disingenuously cross-posted their PC reviews, or were influenced by the early feedback on the game and cognitive dissonanced themselves into believing there was lag. Or the bug was specific to review copies, and I don't even think review "copies" of downloadable games exist, so that seems farfetch'd. Or the bug was patched out day one, which I also find difficult to accept, as the 360 always notifies the user when a patch is downloaded, and I saw no such notice.

What it comes down to is simple: if there's a demo, play it. See for yourself. There are certain objective qualities to games that are often inaccurately reported because of weird review circumstances or the influence of a reviewer's predisposition - that is to say, a reviewer who hated a game overall is more likely to accuse it of having an intolerable framerate or unbearable loading times. There's no reason to take anyone's word for these things.

It's truly disappointing that such a small non-issue has tainted the debut of Castle of Illusion, as I fear the tepid critical response (a 69 Metacritic average verges on outright condemnation in the 70-90 world) may dull the enthusiasm for a sequel to this lovingly crafted and beautifully executed game. There's no question that we've given the critical community too much power in deciding games' fate. I scoff at the notion that the press is in the pocket of publishers, as the correspondence between glowing reviews and high sales has a much simpler explanation - gamers are scared to make decisions for themselves.

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