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How To Review Games

Updated on May 9, 2013

Who Should Review Video Games

Upon analysis of a game review posted by G4 of the upcoming "New Super Mario Bros. 2" for the Nintendo DS, you can firstly see that the reviewer is trying to persuade the reader whether to buy the game or not. This is ultimately what the game review comes down to, it should be clear if the person recommends buying the game or not. Sometimes there may be a grey area where the game only appeals to certain people etc... But usually the review should be general.

The aforementioned game is reviewed by Alex Rubens, someone who is qualified enough to write a review for the well-known G4 site and is labeled as a staff member. Already, before even reading the review, the reader knows that this person’s opinion counts. As such, a person must have some sort of a reputation if their review is to be taken seriously. Casual reviews are important too and can help in building a foundation for your credentials as a reviewer. In most cases however, the reader should already know that the person writing the review is well versed with games (of that genre anyway). As such, he establishes himself to be a part of the same group as the reader, so the reader can trust his opinion.

What a Game Review Should Contain

Throughout this article I will be using Alex Rubens review of Super Mario Bros. 2 Nintendo DS as an example, since I believe this to be a prime example of a game review.

Alex identifies with the reader in pointing out his knowledge of past Mario games, as well as what he expected with this game. He identifies the areas in his early paragraphs where the game met his expectations and where it didn't. By doing this, the reader further identifies with Alex if they had similar expectations for the game, and they get to read what came of those expectations. Overall, it's clear that Alex knows a thing or two about Mario games, and so anyone reading this review will readily accept his opinion about the game. Even if this review wasn't posted on a popular site like G4, the reviewer would still have to prove their knowledge about the background of the Mario series, as well as the major expectations for the game, before any reader would identify with the reviewer and accept his or her opinion.

So it's clear that Alex is qualified to write this review, as such he has established ethos; the reader knows that the review writer is credible. Now, as with any sort of persuasive writing, evidence must be provided. Alex mentions a lot of things about the game that work for it and work against it, but this is all his opinion. In order for him to back it up, he must provide empirical facts so that the reader can see where Alex's judgment is coming from. If for example, Alex simply wrote that" the new Super Mario Bros. 2 is 2D platforming at its finest" the reader would be left with a lot of questions.

Using Weaver's dialectic I will analyze if Alex was able to answer said questions. Weaver's dialectic has three levels, the first is the basic statement, the second verifies the first statement, and the third justifies the relevance of the second. Sticking with the initial example, the first level statement would be that "The new Super Mario Bros. 2 is 2D platforming at its finest." The level 2 statement would have to answer the how and why of the first. Alex provides these answers by stating that "navigating the levels as Mario feels just as it should," comparing the games to the older 2D Super Mario platform games.

Now, the level 3 statement is where most people go wrong, they don't connect the first two statements by explaining their significance to each other, often rendering their arguments useless. In this case, with the level 2 statement the reader may wonder how exactly 2D platformers should feel before they actually agree with the reviewer about it. Unfortunately, it seems Alex doesn't really provide a level 3 statement and simply goes on to say, "...everything handled just as I expected, the controls are extremely tight...”

Essentially, Alex is saying that this a fine example of 2D platforming because the navigation feels just as it should, but he doesn't elaborate on what the navigation should feel like. He comments that the controls are tight, but doesn't explain the significance of it. My guess is that he's referring to common control issues where Mario would easily die because he wouldn't run or jump properly in previous installments of the game. It seems pretty straightforward, but to leave something like that out of the review wastes the credibility of his argument. Granted Mario is a well-known enough franchise for it to be self-explanatory to most people, but in terms of Weaver's dialectic it still fails.

To compare this to the example that Weaver gives, it would be like saying that the weather is going to be cold tomorrow (level 1) because of cold fronts moving in (level 2) but not explaining what causes cold fronts (level 3). In most cases, that level 3 information isn't necessary, but if the whole point of the argument was to convince the audience why it was going to be cold, that last piece of information is pivotal. Likewise, in the case of this review, the reader may be left wondering about the controls.

I'll analyze another example of where Alex successfully provides statements of all 3 levels for his argument. For his level 1 statement, he states that"...[the] camera style works much better on home consoles, not handhelds." For the level 2 statement, he elaborates that "It leads to much confusion between players as they must be on the same area of the screen..." Finally, for his level 3 statement he explains that "in two-player co-op... One player is designated as the leader and the camera will only follow that character." In this example, he is essentially saying that the camera style for this game is not fitting for handhelds because it leads to confusion, and it leads to confusion because it only follows one character while playing multiplayer. By covering all three levels of the argument, he's managed to inform the reader about his opinion on the camera style and explain why he holds that opinion.

Now that it's established that the reviewer, Alex Rubens is credible enough to write this article and provides reasonable backing for most of his arguments, I will analyze the kinds of arguments he uses. According to Weaver, there are four types of arguments, which are by definition, cause and effect, comparison, and authoritative speaker. Since this is a review and the majority of the arguments presented in it are opinion based, there aren't any arguments used with Alex's authority as a backing. Though Alex may be considered an "expert" in his field of gaming and writing reviews, he simply cannot state things as fact as opposed to say a Tornado expert would be able to say about Tornados. This leaves just the prior three kinds of arguments, and it seems that all three types are made use of in this review.

For the first kind of argument, definition, Alex chooses to define this game as a classic Super Mario Bros. game. He explains that a classic game Super Mario game has the elements of running across a 2D plane, trying to rescue the princess, falling to your death and jumping to kill your enemies, etc... By defining the game as such, the reader instantly has an idea of what to expect from the game. If Alex defined the game as a first person shooter, the reader would expect Mario to have a gun where you go around shooting people from your perspective. Had he chosen to define the game as an RPG, the reader would expect to be immersed in a captivating storyline and take the role of Mario or any other characters.

In terms of gaming, definitions are really important. All games are defined by their genres, and people who like a game usually seek out other similar games to play based on its genre, i.e. its core definition. Simply stating that this game is a "Mario" game would not be enough, as there are many subgenres within that, such as the Mario Kart racing games, Mario Party mini-games, Super Mario Galaxy adventure games. This sort of argument is fairly strong, as you can't really go against it. Essentially, it is what it is.

The second kind of argument is the cause and effect. The previous example about the camera angle fits into this type of argument since it explains the camera angles are confusing because they only focus on one character. More importantly, game time and play is all explained through this type of argument. Alex mentions that if you plan on playing only the core part of the game, you'll only be playing for about 6 hours. However, to complete all of the objectives in the game takes upwards of 100 hours or more. Nonetheless, he comments that "[he] can’t imagine what kind of reward would be worth playing through the game that many times to unlock..." adding his opinion into it and saying that while the core game is exciting it isn't really worth the time to spend the extra time doing the side missions.

Another major part of his review that focuses on cause and effect is the 3D aspect of the game, and how it fits into the 2D gameplay. His overall opinion is the 3D isn't really good for anything except "washing out the beautiful environments." He also mentions that since the game follows the traditional Mario pattern, it doesn't really offer much of a challenge. In terms of connecting to the reader, the cause and effect arguments work best for setting the reader up for what to except from the game. For instance, if they get the game, they shouldn't expect much of a challenge and they should expect the 3D to take away from the visual rather than add to it. These arguments are also generally backed up with Weaver's dialectic as well.

The most important kind of argument for this review, and for any game review really, is the comparison. Since most people would expect the game to be similar to Super Mario 3D Land, he uses that as a comparative point and discusses the differences between the games. His overall opinion in terms of that comparison is "while it might not be as innovative as Super Mario 3D Land... it is a wonderful sequel to New Super Mario Bros." Of course, after mentioning what the game is not, he also has to mention what distinguishes it from the rest of the Mario games released to date, to which he says that "the solo play campaign is fully playable in two-player co-op as well, making it the first handheld Mario title to do so."

By stating what the game doesn't have as opposed to many of the other Mario games available out there, he clears up any misconceptions people may have about the game. At the same time, by stating what the game has that other games don't, he gives the reader reasons as to why they may choose to buy this game. For this reason, the comparison is the most important part of the game review because it focuses on the game as opposed to all of the other games out there, and what it has to offer above all of the other ones.

By using all three of the applicable kinds of arguments, the reviewers successfully managed to showcase what the game was, what the players should expect from playing it, and how it stand out above the rest of the games. He also managed to apply Weaver's dialectic for most of these arguments and provide successful backing for them. His opinions were informative and credible because of the Burkean identification, which was present due to his position at G4 as well as his knowledge about prior Mario games. According to my rhetorical analysis, I would say this review did a good job at showcasing the game and expressing the reviewers opinions about it.


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