Pure Pool™_20140707153303Despite being an extremely popular recreational game, there have been very few video games that try to replicate Snooker. Occasionally we’ll see one though, especially on downloadable platforms, such is the case of Pure Pool, on Xbox Live Arcade, PSN and Steam. Pure Pool does a really good job at mimicking the experience of setting up shots and implementing the proper rules. Although getting used to using the right analog stick to push the pool stick is kind of tricky, it really feels similar to matching the pressure as you do in the real game. The jumping into a game is extremely fluid as soon as the opening titles pass you can play immediately jump into any game. This makes the game extremely easy to pick up.

Pure Pool™_20140707153227The game’s UI and graphics are a mixed bag, while in tutorial mode there are PSN names of people on the games popping up in the corner of the screen. The UI can be confusing and you need to press a button just to prompt it. Also while the table and balls are gorgeously rendered the pool stick and background leave much to be desired. There’s also a dramatic moment every time someone makes the winning shot where the pool stick hits the cue ball it makes an animation where a cloud of chalk dust hits the air. However the cloud animation is very flat and looks extremely out of place. Not only that but since the only thing you can unlock is pool sticks it would be nice if they didn’t look so jagged. It just seems so odd that a game that has some of the best looking set pieces I’ve seen in a long time can have such jarringly bad elements.

Pool is a very social game and would seem great for multiplayer, however I’ve never been able to publicly join a match online. There seems to be a massive connectivity issue and thus cannot review multiplayer. However similar to ghosts in racers, there’s an option to download players DNA to have a CPU act as your friends. The local multiplayer however works very well and just like the real game lets you pass the stick to your friend allowing play with just one controller.

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The game is extremely soothing to play, it’s relaxing and calming and extremely easy to pick up and put down. However the price is a bit steep at $13, without much to unlock there’s not much incentive to just play alone and with multiplayer issues it can be a difficult sell. However the easy to get into pick up and put down gameplay provides an enjoyable experience for any fan of the real game. – 7/10

Note: The Playstation 4 version was played for this review and is the version demonstrated in the screenshots.

In the recent decade especially, there’s been this movement within the media industries to try and write off criticism as something that’s outdated or not needed. While I can agree that many things are flawed with how video game “journalists” in particular review games and how we try to tie them to real life issues (recent example being Tomodachi Life) there are some common criticisms of video game criticism that bug me.

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“Every play through of a video game is different; therefore it can’t really be reviewed.”

This comes from a philosophy that video-games need to be compared to movies, music and other media. One thing to keep in mind is that there are other critics that review similar media such plays or opera, no experience is the same but it usually ties around a similar story, just as video games tie around a similar objective or have a feature set for you to play with. I may not have the same taste as my local restaurant reviewer, that doesn’t make his experience any less valuable.

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“Video-games are products that can be continually updated, improved and their price lowered.”

This makes video game reviews more valuable, not less. Feedback especially from experienced people is necessary to push improvement to appeal to a wider audience. Games as a commodity can achieve even higher sales once things improve, proof of this is in the wild success of the Minecraft game where improvements have continually spiked sales. Similar to how actors and restaurant owners can learn from critiques, so can developers allowing them to deliver a better yield once their product is released. Despite developers getting angry that review scores can affect their salaries, publishers may want to continue this practice as it could lead to better sales.

With glitches some are random enough that the developer may not even know they are there before going gold. Feedback especially from a respected viewpoint is valuable. This helps bring a proper leveling of the “too much balance” and “too much chaos” that plague some games like Call of Duty and Mario Kart; few could argue with the educated assumption that developers didn’t use the criticisms of balance in Mario Kart Wii to benefit Mario Kart 8.

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“You shouldn’t review the technical aspects of a game, they aren’t cars they’re art!”

Technical aspects of games create by virtue some of the more artistic features, and technical limits can have a dramatic effect on the entire gameplay experience. Many say “Graphics don’t matter” but the examples they point to are often stylized games, which still look good. Gamers often invest thousands of dollars making sure their games look good on their expensive TV, sound good on their expensive sound system and feel good on their expensive controllers. Gamers, particularly PC gamers, invest on having the best interactive experience possible. We all know someone with the $1000+ PC gaming rig, if we’re not that person ourselves.

Sound can dramatically effect even how you play a game, when DOOM was ported over to the PS1 the metal inspired soundtrack was removed creating more of a survival horror aspect to it than the balls-to-the-wall action game it was on PC.

Speaking of ports, how well a game translates to different systems matters, many PS3 ports last generation were plagued with issues that weren’t on other platforms. Bethesda games specifically had saving issues that made their games significantly worse on Sony’s console. I couldn’t even recommend some of my favorite games last gen to some people just because of their console choice. This harsh criticism of the PS3 versions of games drove producers to develop better experiences on that console and even drove Sony to release friendly hardware choices with the PS4.

How a game looks, sounds and performs is important, even more so since the purpose of games is to immerse you or make you feel as if you’re in control or question if you really are. How games play with these technical aspects can even toy with our minds on how games are supposed to played like with Bioshock’s “Would you kindly” philosophy, Braid’s “Opps you’re a stalker” twist, or on an even more technical note Eternal Darkness’ psychosis which makes players think their volume is going crazy or that the memory card controller got removed.

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“Reviewers have no real voice and game reviews hardly affect anything.”

There are many examples that prove this wrong, if reviewers didn’t matter and only labels like “IGN” or “Joystiq” did people wouldn’t have flocked to sites like “Rebel FM”, “Giant Bomb”, or “Polygon” just for the voices they knew and trusted. Because “Every play through of a video game is different” people want to follow people they know and trust to get an accurate assessment of whether or not they should purchase the product. It can even work on the flip side, I often read reviews with opinions that differ from mine to see another perspective. Although I didn’t care much for Tomodachi Life I know who love it and have sunk hours into it. Other reviews could give me a explanation as to why, or give me insight on why some of my criticism is wrong.

To the “hardly have any effect” mantra, most reviews do have a reflection of how well a game could sell. If game reviews didn’t matter they wouldn’t be slapped all over the boxes that contain our discs. Also as stated earlier if they didn’t have any effect companies wouldn’t be slashing salaries or fix their games, because then what would be the point? A higher quality deliverable with enough word of mouth can move units. Don’t get me wrong in some cases like Okami sometimes no matter how much good praise a game gets it just can’t get people to buy it.

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“Game reviewers should focus on story telling and the problematic social issues it can endorse.”

The issue with this is that it assumes 2 things, one that story telling are all games’ main objective and that all cultures share a view point or that a view point is superior. Games such as Tetris or Goat simulator do not focus on story, so how would they fit into a story telling based critique? Games like Tetris and even Flappy Bird are considered by some to be some of the most rewarding and funny experiences one could have with a game. When games like Angry Birds, Minecraft, and Words With Friends are some of the most profitable games and don’t have a story it, makes the reviewer’s voice look unimportant in the market.

As for Social issues, games like any art are a reflection of the environment of which they are created in, similar to architecture and food. For example in the mostly catholic mostly Hispanic culture I grew up in, depictions of religious belief are heavily valued, it’s extremely popular for politicians to say “God” and to have Jesus and crosses all over your house, including on candles. So when Call of Duty had some bible quotes when you died it was seen as respectful. However in Islam putting a quote from the Qur’an could be seen as just as offensive as drawing Muhammad; so when Call of Duty 4 had a saying from the Qur’an on one of it’s multiplayer maps this was seen as offensive. It can be ethnocentric to criticize an art form on cultural issues when many of these publishers are international and many of them are just expressing their own viewpoint on the world.

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As an American Editor for a UK website it’s obvious that my views will dramatically differ than the rest of the crew from CrassCast by the mere merit of where I was born, just like food does. While most of the crew is used to fish and chips as a comfort food, Green Chile stew is just as common here. However that doesn’t mean game companies shouldn’t localize to some extent because it may cause controversy or awkwardness. If I was a game maker and included a mantanza (a Southwestern and Mexican/Spanish ceremony where an animal usually a pig is slaughtered in front of friends and family with a rodeo ceremony afterwards) may isolate and even disgust some audiences. This makes me think since same sex marriages are illegal in Japan, current issues of social awkwardness on the rise in Japan and the prude like attitude of Japanese culture made me and western audiences feel less connected with Tomodachi Life.

Different views of different people make reviews interesting; I’ve always found Famitsu fascinating because their writers are from Japan they usually have very different rankings of different games. Their game of the years, and scores dramatically vary compared to those we see out of the Western gaming norm. It’s also why I think most game media being in San Francisco California leads to a very stagnant reviewing culture and may be the source of many people’s frustrations with this.

 

So those are my critiques about critiques of game criticism. Criticise me and let me know in the comments how you feel, feedback is always important to moving society forward this is why we must cherish it.

When Nintendo pitched us Tomodachi Life, they set it up almost like a second Animal Crossing; another portable life simulator this time getting a bit more personal involving your Miis and your own personal friends… Unfortunately, Nintendo once again played it too safe and ended up creating something more socially awkward then a game that’s suppose to teach how life is.

tomodachi-1With Nintendo inviting the comparison; let’s compare Animal Crossing to Tomodachi life. In Animal Crossing you have a mortgage, you’re a mayor so you’re responsible for keeping the town clean and pass ordinances that will help you achieve economic goals, your approval rating depends on how often you help villagers, and you have an obligation to collect fish, insects and fossils for the town’s cultural enrichment.

In Tomodachi Life you’re a Demigod of relationships, food, and clothing. Your only responsibilities are to feed, clothe, and decide whether or not people could be in relationships or friendships. There is also no consequence for not fulfilling your responsibilities. In Animal Crossing if you don’t play the game weeds start to pop up everywhere roaches invade your home and citizens start to move away from your town, if you don’t pay your mortgage your home will soon become to small for all of your items, if you don’t sell or use certain items in a timely manner they may rot or lose value, and if you don’t buy anything the town will never improve in it’s selection making the items you can get stagnant.

There is no consequence for ignoring citizens; citizens rely on you for everything in their life they must ask permission to do anything, and despite having certain personality traits you decide at the beginning of their lives their likes and dislikes don’t matter and the final say is yours. Say a citizen doesn’t like a piece of clothing you give them; they’re forced to wear that as long as you tell them to and they can never leave the island. In terms of a life simulator, Tomodachi Life paints a strange life controlled by a tyrant who’s citizens have very little of their own initiative, where Animal Crossing is much more accurate and a much more positive influence for children.
When it comes to what you can do in the game there isn’t very much. You can make your Miis perform in concerts, feed them, watch their dreams, determine their relationships or play them in mini-games. The mini-games are very basic touch screen based games such as a sumo wrestling game where people are in football uniforms called football, matching tile games, islander trivia, to playing catch. None of these games are challenging and your only reward is money, an item you could only sell, or medicine in case your islander gets sick. The items you can actually use to increase happiness in your islanders aside from food and clothing are earned randomly, such as giving them permission to pursue a friendship and it works out.

tomodachi-2In fact everything in this game is completely random, there is no way of really influencing on which islanders will ask you for permission to pursue a relationship or friendship with. It happens completely at random; I thought the rankings system would at least provide a probability of how things would turn out. However I have a married couple that only had a 10% compatibility rating and two people who are best friends despite a 1% compatibility rating. The only factor that isn’t random is that in order for them to achieve this life they must ask you first, they even must ask you if they want to stop being friends with someone. I must add also that just because they ask you doesn’t mean it will happen, rejections despite being rare can happen.

These factors lead the game to be quite repetitive and random, for example even determining what kind of food or clothes a Mii will like is trial and error, errors only consequence is a decrease in leveling which seems to be completely arbitrary since my Miis that are over level 12 seem to have few differences then my Miis at level 2. The game is suppose to determine life events based on how much you pamper the Miis but my Mii that was married was able to do at level 3, which aside from having a baby is one of the only major events in a Mii’s life. This caused me to lose interest in the game, there’s only so many times I can be amused by random news stories about my Miis or forcing them to sneeze. After 8 hours of gameplay I have done everything there is to do in the game multiple times, and with no goals I really don’t see a need to continue. At least in Animal crossing there are arbitrary goals of maintaining approval rating, collecting everything or building a big house. In Tomodachi Life everything that could be a goal is randomly decided and your only course of action is to approve it or not.

tomodachi-3Despite other gaming media seeing this game’s lack of homosexual relationships being a very problematic social commentary, I say the game has much weirder and creepier social issues. Such as you shouldn’t do anything nice or feed people unless you profit off it, you know what’s best for other people, and other people must be told what to do.  Besides thinking a game that’s so prude that it shies away from the term “Girlfriend” and “Boyfriend” and instead uses “Sweet hearts” and only allows people to live together or have kids if they’re married should give clues that this isn’t a very modern or realistic portrayal of relationships.

Overall Tomodachi Life is an amusing yet simplistic life simulator that you can do everything the game has to offer in a matter of hours. The game’s lack of detail on life paints a very strange and creepy attitude about society that almost feels as if it’s an alien’s portrayal of human interactions. The games lack of activities and repetition make it a very difficult sell at $35, I highly recommend renting it if you’re interested.

5/10

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The biggest and best games upcoming games were showcased in Los Angeles this week at E3 and its now up to the CrassCast crew led by Matt to run you through their thoughts on the highs and lows of one of gaming’s biggest events. What did the guys think of Microsoft’s stance on “games, games, games”? What about their opinions on Sony’s newest reveals including LittleBigPlanet 3 and Uncharted 4? Did Nintendo’s offerings live up to expectations? Find out all that and more here.

To download this episodeclick here.

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Want to hear our “hilarious” zingers and one-liners on the big E3 conferences, as they happen? Probably not, but just in case; we shall be live-tweeting during the big five.

The schedule for the conferences and who’ll be live tweeting on the CrassCast account, are below:

9th, 17:30 (UK Time): Xbox Conference with Owen
9th, 20:00 (UK Time): EA Conference with Owen
9th, 23:00 (UK Time): Ubisoft Conference with Owen

10th, 02:00 (UK Time): Sony Conference with Christian
10th, 17:00 (UK Time): Nintendo Digital Event with John

As there are already many, many websites tweeting the facts as they’re announced, our live tweeting will be less-editoral. See you on our twitter feed; @CrassCast.

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With one of the biggest events of the video game calendar coming up, CrassCast takes a look at what we can expect from E3 2014. Will Microsoft finally forget about Kinect? Will Sony have anything to announce? Will Nintendo reveal something that isn’t Mario or Zelda? Don’t ask us, we haven’t got a clue.

To download this episodeclick here.

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