It's been over a week since I've posted anything to this blog, and any time I do that I begin to feel like I'm neglecting it. But of course, I am running two other blogs at the moment, and sometimes I just need to give them all of the attention. In any case, today's write-up is a sort of on the spot article on a topic that I have been giving some thought to lately.
It all started when I made a birthday purchase for myself of Sonic and Sega All Stars Racing. I chose the game because I happen to like frantic multiplayer with roommates and friends, and a cart racer usually fits that bill perfectly. I say usually because even though I own a copy of Mario Kart Wii, we almost never, ever play it. In any case, as I usually do before purchasing a game, I tried the demo and concluded that it held some pormise. I then checked Metacritic and saw that they games average review score was 75/100, which is the indicator of an average game but nothing more. Reading through many of the reviews, I noticed that a common trait was to compare the game to Mario Kart and almost every review rated the game poorly and declared Mario Kart the better series.
So I bit the bullet and purchased the game anyways. When it finally arrived, I set it up on our big screen TV, grabbed my roommates, and tested it myself. After a four hour marathon of endless kart action where we tested everything from battle to race to capture the chao, played on every course we could unlock and get our hands on, and tried every character we could before settling on favorites, each member of the group voiced their opinions on the game, and we were all unanimous in agreeing that it had improved upon Mario Kart in every way and was indeed a superior game. This has some merit, as every one of us had grown up playing Mario Kart, each and every title.
So, if there are reasons that everyone I've spoken to who has played this game enjoys it more then Mario Kart (and amazingly enough, the distinction is large enough that most can instantly pinpoint what about the game they see as improved, review coming soon) why is it that every review inevitably compares it to Mario Kart and declares SaSASR in second place? Unfortunately, I believe that the problem we have here is a problem that has appeared lately in the gaming industry: the problem of rose tinted lenses and popular titles.
With the Mario Kart comparison we have the perfect example of this type of review. There is no arguing that Mario is a recognizable figure, and most games he gets come released with some serious spit and polish. The problem is that Mario has become such a recognizable figure with such a background of being good, that reviewers have placed him on a pedestal. This culminates in his games being well reviewed and recieved even if the game itself isn't that good, because the mental mindset is that the game must be a success because it is Mario.
As a side affect of this though process, any other game that arises that is a similar title can automatically be given a lesser chance because it starts out at ground level while its competitor is raised above all in the mind of the reviewer. This trait has gradually become worse and worse as the years have gone by: were once games were matched up point for point against their competitors (a reviewer would give several in game, easily observable reasons why say....Half-Life was better then another FPS game released at that time) nowadays game reviewers simply declare one title superior to another without reason. Do any of you remember the Halo phenomenon? When the first Halo was released, any FPS title for any system (except PC) that came out was instantly compared against Halo. As the years have moved by these comparisons have grown weaker and weaker, to the point now when most reviewers simply state which title is superior and leave it at that.
As this tendency has increased, so has the tendency of game reviewers to see these titles on a pedestal through increasingly rose-tinted glasses. Take for instance the comparison of Sonic and Sega racing to Mario Kart. While the Kart racing genre may not be known for its originality and indeed Sonic and Sega does not take too much liberty in that regard, it does focus on improving a better experience. Game reviewers who hold that Mario Kart is a superior title need to go back and experience the frustration and lack of balance that has been plaguing the late Mario Kart titles before they rule that one is superior to another. Many of the reviews I read seemed to hold that Mario Kart was a perfect title, and anything less then perfect deserved a lower score by comparison.
This mentality makes many of the reviews that I read up on concerning Sonic and Sega racing effectively worthless, because when placed side by side Sega's offering is a well matched competitor very deserving of the time and money that anyone who enjoys kart racers can provide. Many of these reviews simply issue Sonic and Sega a low score on the basis that it is not the perfection that is Mario Kart. Again, anyone who writes that clearly hasn't played Mario Kart, with all it's glitches, infuriating lack of balance and severe rubber banding issues, in quite some time.
This stretches beyond Mario Kart however, it seems that every game these days is compared to a "pedestal" title that is held as a "perfect game". Guess what, there is no such thing. There probably never will be. Look at Bad Company 2's reviews. What did almost every one of them have in common? "It's not Modern Warfare 2". Unsurprisingly, it also received lower scores then MW2, which is a great example of a Pedestal title. MW2 is not that great of a game, its actually a broken, shoddy mess (my opinion, but I'll support it if needed), but between it's heavy marketing and sequel to a favorite status, it's handed a free Golden ticket that allowsit to lower the reviews of any game that might compete with it until some other game comes along with a bigger pedestal.
So what do we do? We take the reviews we read with a big grain of salt. If I hadn't decided to take my own gut initiative with Sega All Stars Racing, I'd have missed out on a great title. Not a perfect one, but a great one that was well deserving of my time and money. And I would have been stuck with a game (Mario Kart Wii) that so far seems to be loosing quite heavily in the popularity department around here.
Look for a full review soon, along with a comparison battle that seems so desired by many but as yet unexecuted: Mario Kart VS Sonic and Sega All Stars Racing!