I’ve been spending what precious little “free” playing time I have at the moment playing Jeff Minter’s mildly trippy — no, make that acid-drenched-in-a-bucket-full-of-Neon-Paint-And-Magic-Mushrooms-trippy — but above all quite difficult Space Giraffe. It’s currently only available on Xbox Live at a cost of 400 “points” — that’s about $6.60 Australian at current rates. And I’m really quite bad at it. Mark that — I’m enjoying it, but it’s kicking my skinny white backside left, right and centre. Doesn’t matter that I’m losing, but just that I’m enjoying it.
Now, XBL Arcade games aren’t something that I can really review for my regular monthly Netguide gig (more’s the pity), but having shot down a few too many psychedelic flowers, screaming bullets and strange (very strange) geometric shapes, I was willing to bet that the huddled masses of online journalists would have, and what’s more, that some of them will have solidly misjudged the game.
First stop was my old employers, GameSpot. To their credit, in their review they pretty much nailed it — this is a tough, old-school, score obssessed twitch game that’s not for everybody, most noticeably epileptics. I’ll certainly never play it in front of my stepmother, that’s for sure.
Heading over to rivals IGN reveals a different state of play, with a much more personal and less objective review. Or to put it mildly, this review flat out sucks. There’s a place for personal comment, and certainly I’ve been guilty of it from time to time, but it should be tempered against your audience — and when you’re writing for a general games audience, you can’t just assume that they’ll share your exact views and values.
To borrow a few choice quotes:
“once you sink your teeth into Space Giraffe and witness the glory of what J Allard’s face would have looked like if you were dosing on acid, ecstasy and heroine, all at once, you’ll soon be thinking back to the 2D days of the primary colored Tempest. “
Heroine, eh? Must be bloody hard getting those wenches to melt on the spoon and into the needle…
“All of those negatives and we haven’t even mentioned the intrinsic boredom that comes with a 2D side-scroller where all you do is bombard the attacking enemy with bombs, shots, or knocking them off the map.”
Wow. It’s just a guess, but perhaps the reviewer wasn’t the best person to give this particular task to. Why not, and it’s just a crazy idea here, give it to someone who likes shmup games? And can appreciate their subtleties and differences?
“Maybe if the gameplay were more endearing to the casual gamer, or if the visuals didn’t make half of the people who play the game foam at the mouth, or perhaps if the levels weren’t designed to cheat the player..”
So, in order, a hardcore Shmup gamer’s game — of exactly the type of variety that XBL needs — isn’t designed for casual gamers, and that’s an automatic fail? Guess those same casual gamers will never make it through, say, Gears Of War, or Oblivion, or Bioshock either, but I’ll bet they got a better reception at IGN regardless of how non-casual they really are.  I’ll give them the trippy visuals, but then again it’s part of the challenge anyway. The last one reveals exactly how much gameplay time the reviewer (who’s clearly not cut out for reviews of harder titles to begin with) really gave it. Yes, the game is tough, and yes, it does take some time before you use the visual and sound cues the game gives you to best effect — something I’m still in the process of doing — but that’s not the same as “cheating” the player. It’s not even close to “cheating” the player.
Hmm. Don’t think I’ll be getting too many job offers from IGN after that little diatribe. C’est la vie.

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