I just thought I would take a break from the photo posts for a moment and talk about how video games have changed since the 1990’s. Almost all my favourite games come from the 1990’s, so does my favourite console, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. For that reason, I tend to talk about the old in video games. Nostalgic about the past, most of the time I prefer the old to the new.
There are, however, some ways in which video gaming was a lot more controlled and a lot less fluid. Today, if you want to try out an older game, you can download an emulator or use the Wii Virtual Console. If you want to try out a new game, you can order it online, buy it in the store, or download it.
But in, say, 1995, that wasn’t so easy, at least not unless the video game critics thought the game was worth playing as much as you did. One such case in which the critics made the decision for the fans, was of the now popular video game Earthbound. Today, it’s a cult hit. As stated in another post, some of Earthbound’s fans were not even born when it was originally released. But in 1995, the game received poor reviews in the United States.
These were not fair reviews.
One such review was that seen in Game Players magazine. Here’s a screen shot:
69%; that’s on the cusp of an F. Did you know that in college courses you can’t even count a grade below 75% as part of your transcripts?
I have an old copy of the issue where this review appears. What you might not know is that there is absolutely zero evidence this clown even managed to play the game past about an 8th of the way through. Every screenshot and reference is from some of the very first scenarios! He also maintained that the game would only appeal to some of the youngest gamers. But the game gets far too dark and disturbing in the second half to appeal to little kids. It also has elements that satirize American culture, so no, this game is better suited to older gamers rather than younger.
Which brings me to my next point: Giygas, the main villain of the game. Ness, the main protagonist, and his friends fight Giygas as a fetus. You read that correctly. The idea behind that is that Giygas is so strong and so wicked that he could only be defeated in his weakest state. This could even be construed to be some sort of reference to abortion politics. The US could deal with a game wielding a theme like this nowadays, but not back in the mid 1990’s.
Here is another pic of an Earthbound review, in which the critic gave the game a more fair assessment:
There’s more evidence in this review that the critic actually played the game out, and he does seem to appreciate the many nuances of the storyline. But the damage from other reviews was done. Earthbound sold poorly in the United States (unlike Japan), and it was not until the early to mid 2000’s, when emulators and ROM’s became all the rage that an interest in Earthbound was rekindled.
Ok, so why does it matter that reviews were bad? Because this was a great game. In the mid 1990’s, you had limited options on how to try a game out, as I mentioned in a post before. You had to either buy a game right then, or rent it. And if you wanted to rent it, you had to find a video store that had it. Good luck with that if the video store doesn’t actually want to carry it, and good luck with that if the critics don’t think it should be carried.
And so, in the case of Earthbound, we had a video game whose greatness was discovered a decade after its release.
Today, you may agree with reviewers like IGN on some games, disagree with them on others, but rest assured, they won’t be deciding for you which video games you will and won’t play.