Flaw #2 with review scores: bashing

For the second entry in my series on why modern video game review scores are flawed, I’d like to discuss bashing.  The term “bashing,” as it is commonly used, refers to insults or other criticism levied against someone or something, often unnecessarily and/or inappropriately.  In the context of review scores, I consider bashing to be any deduction that is not the direct result of one or more of a game’s demerits.

There are two main types of bashing that affect review scores – sequel bashing and bashing for attention.  I’ll start with sequel bashing since it’s the more common offense, especially among the major review sites.  Sequel bashing affects all games that are not the first in their respective series.  Reviewers seem to feel that a sequel must completely blow away its predecessor if it is to receive a score at least as high as the predecessor’s.  Never mind that a sequel is fundamentally better than its predecessor – if it doesn’t reinvent or revolutionize every single aspect of the original game, it’s doomed to get a lower score simply because of this flawed interpretation of what a sequel should be.  Admittedly, there are some sequels that manage to muck things up (e.g., Devil May Cry 2, Rayman Raving Rabbids 2, Suikoden IV, etc.), but I do not deny that those games do deserve lower scores.  In general, however, if a sequel manages to improve upon its predecessor in several noteworthy ways, it deserves a higher score.

But what about series that go stale?  In other words, what can we say about sequels that are neither better nor worse than their predecessors?  I argue that there’s no reason to sequel bash these games either.  Sure, if a sequel suffers from outdated visuals or unimproved sound quality then it is entitled to a lower score because the standards for all games go up as time progresses, but if the core gameplay remains unchanged, there’s really no further reason to deduct from the score.  Consider the following remark from Matt Cassamassina’s review of Mario Party 8 on IGN:

In spite of our issues with the game, people who loved Mario Party 7 will probably enjoy Mario Party 8, too, but we’ve chosen not to reward Nintendo with an undeserved high score for a copy/paste sequel.

So scoring MP8 1.8/10 lower than MP7 is deserved for being of roughly the same caliber?  What if I’m new to the Mario Party series and I’m looking for somewhere to start?  Going by the review scores, I’ll probably gravitate away from MP8, even though it is referred to as a “copy/paste sequel” with no severe flaws that distinguish it from the other Mario Party games.  That’s not right.

The other main type of bashing is bashing for attention, and while this is less common than sequel bashing, it is still a problem.  Bashing for attention occurs when one reviewer takes issue with a game that is consistently well received by other reviewers, and that reviewer gives the game an undeservedly low score in order to set his or her review apart from the others.  See if you can find the reviewers guilty of bashing for attention in the following examples:

Example #1, Example #2, Example #3

I’m not saying that a reviewer cannot find fault with a game unless the other reviewers also find the same fault, but you must really be missing something if your score for a game is 40-50% lower than everyone else’s.  Even though reviews are subjective by nature, there still must be an objective component to accurately weight the merits and demerits of the game.  Otherwise, cheap tactics like bashing for attention only serve to undermine the regard given to review scores.

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