My early apologies to Loogaroo for what will, no doubt, seem a ripoff of his ratings explanation page. But, if he were here, I'm certain he would be the first to point out that he doesn't hold the patent on self-explanation. He's just that magnanimous and (apparently?) unselfish of a fellow. Still, in the event that he might be a little miffed (which would be out of character), I'm going to here suggest that you visit his Video Game Lair. Anyway, on with the explanation (which, I don't doubt, will ramble and bush-beat to the same degree as this paragraph that precedes it.)
I do not, for certain, know how many of the increasing multitude of NES sites contain reviews of the system's games. However, I would not be selecting an inappropriate vague quantity in saying that "quite a lot" of them do so. In the case of two of that lot, reviewing is the sole purpose of the site -- which is not to imply that they aren't both excellently done (neither Kurt Kalata nor Bryan Cord seem capable or tolerant of anything short of excellence -- why yes, I am feeling sycophantic today.)
My point -- remarkable though it may seem that I have one -- is that NES games have become a much-reviewed medium of entertainment. However, the review, as all evaluations, is subjective in nature.
Since Nintendo Power established the "Nester Awards," it has become common practice to judge a game's merits on the basis of a few widely-accepted criteria -- graphics, sound, play control, challenge, etc. ("plot" did not become a relevant consideration until later on.) As a result, most NES reviewers tend to base their reviews on these criteria. However, the review, as previously stated, is a subjective entity. Even though most modern NES reviewers do compose reviews with those criteria as a salient concern, personal priorities can cause extremely variant responses. A reviewer might value one component of a criterion above the rest. These biases, though a completely valid part of the reviewing process, influence one's evaluation.
Thus, it seems necessary to explain one's biases to those who will read his/her reviews, as I have elected to do here. It is my hope that this action will urge other reviewers, who have not already done so, to do the same. These explanations, though mundane to list, provide a clarity of purpose to one's reviews.
All right, I'll admit that nothing is ever as important as I would have it seem. Still, I urge you to read the following explanations.
Much as I love the NES, in its time, the incorporation of plot into video games was still an imperfected science. To that end, I am willing to be more lenient in dealing with this than any other point of evaluation. So long as the plot is not a blatant cliché, or otherwise completely unoriginal (i.e. strangely similar to that of another game), it will likely receive decent marks (oh hell, I already know that isn't true.)
This criterion is not taken into consideration in the case of most sports, all game show-based, and some action games.
Though some think that simply having this criterion is a contradiction of the creed of the NES Preservationist ("gameplay over graphics") -- though I'm certain it contradicts my prudish assertion that I don't care about the physical world, (I am, however, truthfully as interested in developing a workout regiment as I am in eating wood) I have to admit that graphics are, more often than I'd like, somewhat important to me -- marginally so, if at all, in the case of those games that are good in other capacities, more crucially so in those that really aren't. Besides, "gameplay over graphics" is simply a statement that a game needs to have some other merits to go on, and that graphics alone can't make or break a game. It's not some puritanical edict demanding that all people renounce every game with good graphics, nor does it say that games with "good graphics" are necessarily and intrinsically bad.
8-Bit technology has its limitations, and I do not set my standards outside of those limitations. I'll admit that I'm a perfectionist. I think I have, thus far (October, 1998), given one 10 in one criterion on one occasion, and I'm still not certain that it was really merited. You won't see a lot of 10s in this category, nor many 9.5s, for that matter. However, that doesn't mean I think graphics are invariably the most important aspect of a game. Nothing could be further from the truth. I'm just a perfectionist, and the review is a medium very conducive to perfectionism. I can't stress enough that low ratings -- in graphics or any other category -- do not necessarily mean that I don't have some sentimental connection to the game reviewed. If I didn't love the NES and its games, this site wouldn't exist.
Anyway, as I see it, "graphics" are divided among four principal sub-criteria: detail, color, animation, and background/foreground balance. Thus, rather than ramble endlessly about "grahpics" holistically, I'll simply explain each of those criteria. I should note, however, that I apply them to characters, enemies, and surroundings equally.
Detail - If characters/enemies/landmarks are rendered at too small a size, they tend to resemble nothing so much as a cluttered mass of pixels. Likewise, large characters can seem underdone, and their pixels are often unnecessarily large. In addition, if terrain consists only of large stamps that are used ad nauseam, or pixels are too large in general, the game's overall graphic rating will suffer.
Detail can also be created by using more than one tone of a given color in extensive stretches of said hue, and giving various highlights to that which is large enough to control them (i.e. that which they will not clutter.)
Color - This is probably the easiest of the graphic criteria to satisfy, and yet one of the most often fouled-up. As long as the overall palette is bright when it should be, foreboding when it should be, and does not use too much of the same color, there will be no problem here.
Animation - I'm not looking for lifelike movements here. They simply were not possible to render in the time of the NES. My desire is simply toward fluidity of movement. In other words, I will be disappointed if the character coasts for the equivalent several yards before either of his/her legs move, or if jumping skips over many pixels. However, this criterion is typically not of as great concern to me as any of the other three.
Background/foreground balance - Pretty much what the name implies. This criterion demands that the characters not be too bright for the background, while remaining possible to locate. Likewise, if the background is too clearly rendered (or brightly colored), the characters will tend to get lost in it. Promoting either extreme will be detrimental to the game reviewed.
The entire weight of this point of evaluation is given to the soundtrack. However, since so many forms of music are valid, and "goodness" is highly subjective, the valued facets of the music depend largely upon the case at hand. Notwithstanding that, those rare culprit games in which all the songs sound basically the same will be heavily penalized.
Sound effects (including those used in the music), as I value them, can only hurt a game. However, that will only result if said sounds are particularly annoying. In most cases, they have little impact upon my reaction.
There are so many contributory factors to this aspect of a game that to list them all would be excessive (not to mention that I can't think of them all off hand). But a few of these include the ability to quickly recover from an incurred hit (that is, how fast the player reassumes control of the character), weapon range, midair control, traction, and the simplicity of controls (the scarcity of buttons on NES controllers makes multi-input maneuvers virtually impossible -- up-and-B special maneuvers are about as complex as controls can get without becoming more trouble than they are worth.) Factors which detract from these aspects of control are similarly varied, so each is handled in its own case.
In general, play control matters less in RPGs than most other genres.
As a player who tends not to cling to strategies that do not seem to work, difficulty in playing a given game, for me, stems typically from three problems: poorly designed play control, a flawed difficulty curve, and/or an excess of enemies which may or may not do too much damage (not a consideration in sports/game show-based games.) There are also several less common factors that beget excessive difficulty, but I cannot think of any off-hand.
The event that a game is too easy to retain one's interest typically results from the lack of a difficulty curve (or a very shallow one) and/or a scarcity of enemies.
Sports and game show-based games define their level of challenge in a slightly more individual manner, though play control is often a factor in the case of sports games.
An uncommonly invoked criterion, this refers to any extraneous factor(s) that might affect one's impression of the game at hand ("drudgery" is a common one.) Based upon the relevance of the intangible factor(s) in question, this standard can add or deduct as many as 1.5 points to/from the game's overall Analytic Score (insofar as the score does not become more than 10 or less than 0 as a result.)
This is nothing more than an average of the first five criteria, with intangibles taken into account if necessary.
This measure is applied only to "New Era" reviews (those written on or after July 15, 1998), which I consider typically superior to those of the "Old Era" (before that date.) "My Score," found in pre-July 15th reviews, is the predecessor of "Personal Score."
"Personal Score" is orchestrated as a reflection of the fact that, in some cases, my attraction (or aversion) to a given game stems from something relatively unimportant, or has no logical explanation at all. I am not a person who founds his conduct solely upon logic.
(Panting.) Okay... I think that's about it.
Return to the main page - The NES Enshrined
Return to the review index - Game Reviews