My favorite video game of all time is Rakugaki Showtime, which intentionally looks like the graphics were drawn by a 10-year-old with too much sugar and a box of crayons. Lately I’ve fallen in love with Rhythm Tengoku and many of the games in the bit Generations series, both of which have extremely simple, minimalist graphics. A fan emailed me about my audio-only game In the Pit declaring “well, this certainly settles the whole ‘gameplay versus graphics’ argument” (can you smell the hubris????). And yet still, to this day, the first thing I look for in any new game I hear about is screenshots.
That’s not to say that screenshots haven’t served me well so far; screenshots and gameplay movies sold me on Shadow of the Colossus, God of War, Ninja Gaiden, and Gekisou Tomarunner, all of which are great-looking games that also happen to have excellent gameplay. But screenshots and gameplay movies actually drove me away from Rhythm Tengoku and bit Generations, until tons of positive reviews from friends and on message boards convinced me to check them out. It took me a long time to discover Warioware, DDR, and Cave Story, simply because I couldn’t “get it” from the screenshots and gameplay movies I saw, but now they’re among my favorite games (seriously, would this screenshot convince you that Cave Story is one of the best games ever made for the PC?). And I won’t even begin to list the mountain of games that I bought solely on the screenshots, only to discover that the gameplay was utterly horrible.
What I’m saying here is that it’s time for a paradigm shift. Slowly but surely, I need to hammer into the tiny reptilian part of my brain that responds excitedly to pretty pictures and un-well to simplistic pictures that screenshots are not the final word on a game’s quality. Unfortunately, screenshots are the quickest word on a game’s quality, and I always glance over at a game’s screenshot before reading the text of a review or preview, coloring my judgement before I actually know anything about the game. Gamespot’s video reviews are a good compromise, reporting the text of the review over gameplay videos so I can simultaneously satiate my pretty-colors-hungry reptilian brain and the analytical rest of my brain that actually has to play the game if I get it, but even then if the screenshots didn’t interest me I’m unlikely to check out the video review in the first place, and Gamespot can only afford to do video reviews of so many games anyway.
The first step is going to be forcing myself to check out games that have been recommended to me, or praised by people whose opinions I respect, even if the screenshots look absolutely awful. Granted, I’ve played a lot of ugly games with horrible gameplay, but I’ve played just as many beautiful games with horrible gameplay and know (consciously, at least) that simplistic graphics and awful gameplay don’t necessarily go together. The next step is going to be to do away with screenshots and gameplay movies entirely, or at least sever all of my connections between a gameplay’s screenshots and my expectations of its quality, and play games I’ve never seen before based entirely on what people say about them. I’ll let you know how that works out; in the best possible situation, I’m expecting to find a lot of missed gems (which I’ll subsequently share with you here on Inverted Castle) while also whittling down whose opinions on games I most agree with, and who’s been pumping themselves full of magic monkey juice and taking a trip to space land.
Any other suggestions, either on visually-unimpressive games I need to check out, or ways in which I can break my screenshot-habit (besides gouging out my own eyes, please), are very welcome.
Special thanks to Broco for the awesome animated gif of the “onion plucking” level from Rhythm Tengoku.