A few months ago, I wrote in another venue about a number of truly horrible games which I enjoyed quite a bit in spite of their glaring shortcomings. I have no problem admitting my fondness for games like Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel and Draconus: Cult of the Wyrm; conversely, neither do I skitter into the crumb-filled crevice between the counter and the stove when the light of slavish adoration for all things Nintendo hits me squarely between the antennae. While I acknowledge that Super Mario Sunshine Galaxy 64 World Bros. and its various multi-genre spawn are – technically and aesthetically – very good games, I’d rather stab myself in the face with a frozen Koopa turd than play any of them for longer than three minutes.
Since most game reviewers are survivors of public-funded, government-run education (and to those who draw themselves up in haughty indignation, proclaiming “well I went to public school and I turned out okay”; get over yourselves – I went to public school too, and am only now recovering), it comes as no surprise that most reviewers have never been taught how to think objectively. Most hold the subjective as their standard of criticism, subscribing to a philosophy of intellectual hedonism which proclaims “I like it, therefore it is Good,” as opposed to the objective “it is good, therefore I like it.”
The nature of objectivity demands that consideration be given only to what an object is, not to what it is not or what the observer wishes it to be. It demands that evaluation must be gleaned from the attributes of the entity to be judged, from the object of thought (the game) rather than from the subject of thought (the reviewer).
So why does it surprise me when I read a review for Super Stardust Portable from a professional outlet which amounts to nothing more than a 700-word rant about how much the game is unlike its PS3 counterpart? I should know better by now, so I guess I’m just stupid, but I downloaded the game anyway for no other reason than to invalidate the reviewer’s illogically subjective premise.
The key to objective evaluation lies in the ability to think in terms of essentials. At its core, Super Stardust Portable – like Super Stardust HD – is an arcade shooter, an homage of sorts to Asteroids, Galaga, Centipede, and Defender, with a dash of Geometry Wars Galaxies thrown in for flavor. It employs two very basic strategies – shoot stuff, don’t die – with various sub-strategies rounding out what happens to be a very satisfying experience on both platforms. The fact that the PSP’s design necessarily changes the gameplay should have little or no influence on the determination of SSP’s overall value, provided that the game’s essentials survive the translation, and they do, with one caveat.
Firing with the face buttons is not ideal, but it works well with some minor adaptation by the user; the hardware cannot adapt to the game, after all, so Finnish developer Housemarque did a rather commendable job of adapting the game to the hardware as best as could possibly be done. The rest is up to the player, who will either enjoy himself or not, but to accept the Big Media Outlet reviewer’s assertion that the game is not ideal and therefore should not exist in its PSP iteration is a brand of elitist perfectionism that can only be advocated by someone who does not (and perhaps cannot) create anything.
I see no value in assigning an arbitrary score to a game (which is I why I stopped doing it here), so when I read a review from an outfit I trust(ed), what I’m looking for is a broad assessment of design elements and fundamental mechanics. When a reviewer can only tell me “well, it’s not as good as the version on the $499 console, so if you like that version, don’t buy this one” I must hoist a skeptical eyebrow and silence the blaring bullshit detector. Adoring a game on a particular platform – or a previous game in a series, for that matter – does not warrant performing a subjective hatchet job of the same game on another, decidedly less capable platform, provided that the game in question is fundamentally (aesthetically and technically) sound. In other words, with complete disregard for the source material – if Super Stardust HD didn’t exist – what would be your evaluation of Super Stardust Portable? That is the foundation of objectivity.
When judged as it should be (on its own merit) Super Stardust Portable is fast-paced, good-looking, and loads of fun, and it succeeds in spite of some severe platform limitations. If flashy arcade shooters are your thing, and you’re not averse to a slight mechanical learning curve by firing with the face buttons, it’s well worth the $10 PSN price tag.