Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Wii Games: the Choosing

Today's post is part of a 2 part series on choosing Wii games. Today I'm going to talk about how I pick games I think I would like. On Friday I'll share my Wii wish list.

Game reviews are a gamer's best friend when it comes to choosing games to buy. In the olden days before the Internet, I was a regular reader of GamePro magazine. In more recent times I've turned to Gamespot's reviews, and I enjoy watching X-Play when the opportunity presents itself. My very favorite site for video game reviews however is Metacritic earns my top prize by combining ratings from many other sources into a composite ratings score. I regularly visit Metacritic's Wii page and check out the ratings of recent Wii games.

Metacritic uses a 0-100 point ratings scale. Higher scores mean more critics liked the game. Lower scores mean the game did not get favorable reviews. They also color code the scores for quick interpretation. Games getting a score of 75 or better are green, 50 or better is denoted by yellow, and any score under 50 is red. When I'm browsing, I will stick to the yellow and green scored games. I only venture into the red zone when I am curious about a specific game.

Traditionally games are reviewed on elements such as game play, graphics, controls, sound, and story. Your own review experience will be significantly enhanced if you can determine which of those elements are important to you. One way to do that is by reading reviews of some games which you already play and enjoy. Look for things in the reviews that remind you of how much you enjoy the game. That will give you some hints at to what to look for in future reviews. I focus on game play most of all. I love it when a game I'm playing looks spectacular, but I wouldn't play a spectacular looking game if I didn't also enjoy the game play. Controls can also make or break a game playing experience for me. I look for controls which are intuitive and highly responsive.

Another important point is game genre. My first love is RPGs. I grew up devouring every RPG I could get my hands on. I don't have quite as much gaming time now, but I still love a good RPG. I also play action games (Super Mario Galaxy), and keep a party game or two hanging around (Mario Party 8) hanging around for our Wii parties.

Once you have some idea of what kinds of games you like and what kinds of review information to look for, there are two great ways to use Metacritic. The first is to look up specific games you have seen in the store or on TV. I was looking at the game Baroque in a store one day. On the surface it looked like a game I would enjoy, an RPG variant. I decided to wait until I'd checked out Metacritic before pulling the trigger, and I'm very glad that I did. Metacritic gave it a score of 50, pretty low. Reviews suggested that the strength of Baroque is in the story. The game play is repetitive and difficult. Story is never enough to keep me interested in a game. I decided to pass on this one.

The second way to use Metacritic is to go down the list and read reviews of various games. That's how I found out about Zack & Wiki Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure. Zack and Wiki got an 87 on Metacritic. That puts it in the top 10 games today, but it was top 3 at the time I read the review. Reviewers describe it as a puzzle game, which makes excellent use of the Wiimote. At a time when game publishers were struggling to do anything new and inventive with the Wiimote, here comes this little known game which did all sorts of interesting things with it. Most other comments were favorable as well. I was intrigued and got a copy of the game. I have had a blast with it! The puzzles are challenging enough to make the game interesting, but not impossible. The story is cute. And the reviewers were right about the Wiimote usage: it really makes the game! I never would've found that one without Metacritic. It did not get much publicity, and the title/box was not one that made me pick it up in the store.

If reading reviews still leaves you on the fence, then try to rent the game before buying it. Just make sure when you do the rental that you'll have time during the rental period to spend at least a few hours with a game. I always like to get past the "intro" period before I decide if I like a game or not. Intros keep getting longer though, so that could be a couple of hours of game play. If a game is complicated, it could also take me that long to learn the basics and get comfortable with it.

On Friday I'll be back with my Wii game wishlist, the games I'm interested in but haven't gotten to play yet! :)