Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Critic's Critic: New Super Mario Brothers Wii

I originally wanted to start this column with movie reviews but I've had it with IGN as a whole and after going there after about a year long absence, I was quickly reminded why I stopped going.

Craig Harris, a reviewer for the Nintendo side of games on IGN got around to reviewing New Super Mario Brothers Wii, and while I'm not saying 8.9 is an incorrect score, I am taking him to task for certain things he pointed out in his review.

First of all he says that NSMBW doesn't take any risks. And says it is a simple platformer. Harris, didn't seem to have a problem with this with New Super Mario Brothers for DS, in which he gave that game a 9.2. If the Wii game was just a port of the DS then his critique would certainly hold true, but it is a brand new game that takes many risks and plays with the players preconceived notion of what makes a Mario game.

"That's the best way to describe New Super Mario Bros. Wii: the game plays it safe. It doesn't go crazy with presentation or options, it simply offers up a basic, decent and acceptable experience with conservative visuals and basic additions. In a sense, it's just a slight letdown when you consider how much Super Mario Galaxy, a 2007 release, completely wowed us with incredible graphics and innovative gameplay mechanics. It even had a crazy over-the-top introduction cutscene that really set the tone. Awesome as it is to play through classic Super Mario Bros. platform designs in a fresh experience, when you look at New Super Mario Bros. Wii from the perspective of a Super Mario Galaxy successor it's hard not to feel like this took a step backwards." - Craig Harris, IGN.com

Compare that with what reviewer Jeremy Parish of 1UP.com said about the same game:

"What makes the game great is the way it recaptures the sense of effortless creativity that the best Mario games have always possessed -- something sorely lacking in the first NSMB -- and the way in which that breezy spirit of invention is presented so accessibly. Here's the final proof that cutting-edge technology isn't necessary to create a fresh and interesting game. Here you see greatness is really all about the ideas, the personality, the playability... and NSMB Wii is an exceptional game that anyone can play. In fact, that's the whole point." - Jeremy Parish, 1UP.com

Parish, is of course correct in his assessment, where Harris is painfully wrong. NSMB DS, while I had a good time with it, was more or less a remake of the original Super Mario Brothers. Everything they learned in Mario 3 and Mario World was ignored in an attempt to bring the series back to it's grass roots.

New Super Mario Brothers Wii is a totally different game. Without even getting into the multiplayer, which presents a brand new twist in the Super Mario formula, the level design and risk/reward system is so beautifully implemented that this game takes it's rightful place snugly behind Super Mario World.

The last line in Harris's review needs to be pointed out, as it is a testament to what is wrong with corporate media review sites like IGN and Gamespot:

"As a gamer I love New Super Mario Bros. Wii, but as a critic I just couldn't let the issues slide."

As much as I wish video games where held in the same category as film and literature, they are not. For one, they don't have a serious awards show on the scale of the "Oscars" or the "Pulitzer Prize", where critic's opinions and thoughful reviews are taken very seriously. Therefore pointing out to your audience that you are reviewing this for critical merit, deflates the entire article that proceeds it.

Game reviewers, though they may consider themselves lofty journalists, are consumer informers. They provide a service to tell their audience if a game is worthy of purchase. If the "gamer" in Craig Harris loves the game, then why do we need to know what his "critic" side even has to say about it. If the issues he stated don't effect the game or the enjoyment of the game, isn't that less critiquing, and more nit picking. If he is pointing out glaring technical issues that effect gameplay then that is one thing, but if his only gripe is something so obtuse that a competing site says the exact opposite and says that is why the game is good, then maybe Harris shouldn't be putting so much weight on the value of his critical opinion.

To be fair I think Harris is one of the few good "journalists" on IGN and I would much rather offer a critique of Hillary Goldstein or Damon Hatfield, but his review of New Super Mario Brothers Wii struck me as innaccurate and he became the first victim of the Critic's Critic.

Reviews used in this article:

New Super Mario Brothers Wii Review by Craig Harris, IGN.com

New Super Mario Brothers Wii Review by Jeremy Parish, 1UP.com