This week Bastion came out on Xbox Live. The previews and early game journalist reviews for the game were crazy positive, but among my friends it isn’t quite as popular. Some of them like it (I personally like it a lot) and some of them don’t. There’s nothing all that unusual about that; but the ‘pros’ seem to be pretty universal in their love for the game.
This reminded me of a conversation from many years ago. Back in the olden times, when we had to use a donkey-wheel to power our computers, I was one of the editors at Strategy Plus Magazine. My fellow editors and I were talking about the disconnect between us and the readers when it came to unusual games. What we decided (or at least, what I remember us deciding… this was 15 years or so ago) was this:
Game journalists look at a ton of games. Some they play for a bit, some they preview, some they just see over the shoulder of their co-workers, and a very few they actually review, but every month they get exposed to dozens of games. And let’s face it, a lot of games aren’t all that original. One military FPS is pretty much like another. Not for hard core enthusiasts who’ll drill into details and demonstrate why his or her favorite is better, but from a casual observer (like the journalist who isn’t assigned to the game) they can all start to feel the same.
So when a quirky or unusual game comes along, it really stands out. Since it stands out, a lot of journalists will check it out; they’ll make time to play it even if it isn’t in their beat. And since it’s something different, they’re going to tend to like it, assuming it is at least a decent game. For them, it’s a breath of fresh air. It’s a sweet crunchy apple handed to them in the middle of the annual Doritos Tasting Marathon. Everyone loves Doritos but if you’ve been eating nothing but Doritos for a long time, an apple is going to seem amazing to you.
For those of us shelling out $50-$60 for every game we play, and who play 4-5 games a month, we might not feel like these games are ‘generic’ at all. If you only play Call of Duty you might not realize that most military FPS are brown, y’know? So we might see a lot more games as being unique than the journalist who looked at 25 games this month does.
And this is why I think Bastion is getting so many rave reviews from the journalists. It doesn’t take a lot to make a game stand out. In this case, it takes a gravelly voiced narrator and a colorful art style. I do really like Bastion a lot, but the actual gameplay isn’t really all that unique, is it? The aesthetics feel fresh and unique, and that has been enough to get the journalist’s attention and to stimulate different parts of their gaming taste buds.
There’s nothing nefarious going on; game journalists are people too, y’know. But I do think this is why so many of us wind up basing purchases on word of mouth, or ‘amateur’ bloggers who have gaming habits more along the lines of those of us who only see a few games every month.
And I think you can apply the same theory to movie reviews, too, but in all honesty I almost never read movie reviews so I may be off base.
One more time: I like Bastion a lot. This isn’t an anti-Bastion post. I’m using Bastion as a tool to talk about the occasional disconnect between people who’re given games to look at as their jobs, and those of us who have jobs so we can buy games to look at.