Why Nintendo Power Had the Best Reviews

How Nintendo Power unknowingly set the bar for how to review a game properly.

By PostMesmrc, Posted 31 Aug 2013


The Volume 168, May 2003 issue of Nintendo Power is a very important piece of gaming literature to me. While it showed me a ton of awesome games like Golden Sun: The Lost AgePokemon Ruby and Sapphire and Ikaruga, that coverage is not why the issue is so important to me. On Page 10 in the Players Pulse reader fan mail section, there is one submission from a reader that connects deeply with me.


That email is actually from me. I sent this email into Nintendo Power when I was but a mere youngster of 13. I was still in middle school and I had just gotten into reading Nintendo Power, but already I was taking reviews incredibly seriously. I was beginning to compare different outlets' verdicts on certain games. During this time, I noticed video game reviews in my local town's newspaper in addition to those on the TechTV show Extended Play, the Adam Sessler-hosted precursor toX-Play.

That was ten years ago. Right now, though, I am rather embarrassed at how ignorant I was in this email. I seemed to consider Nintendo Power's review scores to be the true and absolute of the scores, with anything disagreeing with them being simply wrong. If any other publication was different, they were instantly considered inferior. The line "I still think you guys are the top in reviews" is probably the part that I'm most ashamed of today. My bias is clear as day.

critical mass

But the staff at Nintendo Power responded to my question with a great answer, saying that they've been surprised at other publications' scores, but also directing me to their Critical Mass section of the magazine. In case you're unfamiliar, Critical Mass is a display of each review staff member's preferred genres ranked from favorite to least favorite. While some love adventure games, others love RPGs. Some hate shooters, others hate sports games.

What makes this so important is that the Nintendo Power staff is citing their bias. They are not hiding behind anonymity and are clearly and publicly saying "some of us dont like these kinds of games." This is also essential in the Now Playingsection, Nintendo Power's review section. Let's look at this review of Ikaruga for Gamecube:


Note that, instead of a single reviewer, there are five reviewers looking overIkaruga. While some reviewers are clearly in love with the game, others found problems with it. In addition to each reviewer giving the game a score out of 5, there are also comments from some of the reviewers, briefly explaining why they gave the game that score. When combined with the Critical Mass section detailing each reviewer's preferences, it becomes incredibly easy to get an opinion from a number of different backgrounds and histories.


This is the best review system that Ive ever seen in my entire gaming life. Nintendo Power cracked the code in making a comprehensive evaluation of a game from a group of people with varied gaming preferences and histories. They also have the opportunity to explain their verdict in tune with their Critical Mass biases.

Now, Nintendo Power changed their review system around the time the Wii was announced, moving into a single score from a single reviewer representing the magazine's verdict on a game. I can't say I was happy with this decision, but with an evolving medium in gaming journalism on the rise, it seems that having a single grade was more efficient than having a discussion between gamers with multiple different gaming backgrounds.

But that's why the five-reviewer system worked so well. It wasn't a single standing verdict; it was a discussion.


It's also why modern gaming review systems are so flawed. You're having a single person represent an entire publication or website's opinion on a game. One bit of bias (a bias that isn't even clearly expressed like Nintendo Power'Critical Mass) can drive users' opinions of the site as a whole. Take the now infamous review ofThe Last of Us from Tom McShea. Now, I'm not going to bash Tom; he was doing his job, which was articulating his opinion on a game. But when that 8.0 score appeared on the page, the entire Gamespot community went completely mental. The users were not only denouncing Tom, but also the website itself, claiming that Microsoft paid off Gamespot to give their competitor Sony's first-party blockbuster a lower-than-expected score. What happened with that review was the complete indistinguishing of Tom as an individual and Gamespot as a whole. Now, Tom is an employee at Gamespot, so he is representing them as such, but this indistinguishing of Tom and Gamespot completely neglected to mention any sort of opinion from any of the other reviewers on staff like Kevin VanOrd or Chris Watters. What if they didn't agree with Tom's score? If they had other views, why vilify Gamespot as a whole as the problem?

The online ecosystem that we have today does allow for a discussion to arise, but it's spread across many different websites instead being used internally in a single one. Since these websites are competing with each other for traffic, the discussion doesn't become a discussion. It becomes a debate. It becomes someone trying to prove themselves right instead of exploring why others disagree with them.

And I think this all goes back to my teenage attitude in my email to Nintendo Power. I really thought Nintendo Power was the all-knowing Truth in the review world, and today, I'm still seeing people online who function the way I did back then. Gamespot doesn't give a game a score they want/expect; Gamespot is instantly labeled as "untalented" or "crap." They're playing favorites to validate their own beliefs; they dont want to be wrong, so instead of letting their opinion be their opinion, they vilify those who disagree with them.

The closest thing nowadays to a Nintendo Power review system are "second opinion" sections in publications, usually small blurbs from another staff member stating their views on a game, but these other staff members are not given a chance to explain their bias, they're not even given much room to write and sometimes they just agree with everything the first reviewer said. So, pretty much these second opinions are useless. You're just getting a random writer composing a very condensed agreement with the first guy.


When all is said and done, I think (despite some users opinions) that we are grouping these reviewers in very messy ways, treating them as representative sentinels instead of a varied collective of a greater whole. I can guarantee that Tom's verdict is not universal to the entire staff, yet the community treats it as such. I want Gamespot and all gaming journalism outlets to be open to discussion within their staff. I want them to have the courage to say "I dont like shooters," even when offering coverage on the next Call of Duty game. Say "I've loved Sonic the Hedgehog games for a long time" when reviewing Sonic: Lost World. Say "I prefer the PS3 controller to the Xbox 360's" when playing a multi-platform game. Stop hiding behind the internet anonymity; start making your own journalism forum into a more organic and free-form one similar to any old message board.

Don't treat this like a machine; give respect and importance to every individual part, no matter how big or how small.

And to everyone supporting that online petition to get Tom McShea fired from reviewing, quit wasting your time and grow up. Seriously.

Take care everyone!

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  • avatar RON
    What you’re asking is easier said than done. When video games are no longer considered as leisure pursuits instead a lifestyle which people like you and me wants to pit on. There’s been a massive growth of this industry throughout last decade, and diversity is way suppler now than how things were during our childhood. Companies could afford a collective approach rating a game when there weren’t many titles to follow, but at this current gen, both time and resource make this practice awfully taxing. And this example of Tom’s rating on The Last of Us is nothing but a proof of it. Consequently, I’m afraid that the opinion that you think are hiding behind the wall will remain this way unless a whole new system is invented or the gamers rigorously group themselves based on similar preferences. When business matters more than opinion, it’s difficult for the representatives to be conclusive. It’s easier for them to let the followers fight through their opinions and get settled with whatever satisfy them. There’s no shame in accepting this reality, because this ‘s the reason why more and more people are popping up with smaller groups just like us and trying to give a message to this enormously growing community?

    Excelled read btw. While reading, deep down inside, I wished that your words would come true.
    Posted Aug 31, 2013
  • Nice article! I enjoyed the read :)
    Posted Sep 04, 2013

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