Canon Fodder: Taking a Little Off the Top
We here at Crispy Gamer are always looking for ideas. So when we stumbled on The Second Pass' list of well regarded books that should be "Fired from the Canon," we thought, "Hey, why not do the same thing for games?"
The discussion among the Game Trust quickly got off track -- as most discussions among game journalists do. First there was widespread disagreement over what games actually belong in the gaming "canon" (the Library of Congress' limited efforts to settle the matter notwithstanding). Can recent, heavily hyped games count, or does a title have to stand the test of time first? What about older games that were important when released, but have since been surpassed by more advanced fare? Is a game like Super Mario Sunshine part of the canon, even though it's generally considered one of the weakest Mario games? Is something so formal as a videogame canon even a valid concept in the first place?
Of course, once people actually got past these semantic arguments and picked some games, the disagreements began anew. Each pick brought animosity and long-squelched resentment to the surface. One person would say they hated a game, only to have another say they'd played it through five times, each more enjoyable than the last. Factions would develop around single picks, with one side arguing to the death for a title's historical importance and timelessness, and the other side arguing that the game just stinks. Heated words were exchanged. Threats were issued. Extortion and blackmail came into play. It wasn't pretty.
After all this, the list we generated amounts to a motley collection of games that at least one member of our group doesn't think deserves praise. We hope it'll get you thinking and arguing just as much as it did for us.
Kyle Orland: GoldenEye 007
Original release: Nintendo 64, 1997
I will admit, GoldenEye 007 was much better than the grand total of zero decent first-person shooters on consoles at the time. But looking back now, the largely empty environments, blocky, grainy graphics and lack of a second analog stick make the game seem almost prehistoric. And while it's still fun enough to run around shooting your friends in multiplayer, PC contemporaries like Quake II have much more robust multiplayer competition. Take away the nostalgia factor and GoldenEye 007 is just an average console FPS that has been left behind by the passage of time.
Troy Goodfellow: Dungeon Keeper
Original release: PC, 1997
Though still a charming and funny game in many respects, the only thing Dungeon Keeper really had going for it was that it let you play "evil" characters. The design itself gets dreary and repetitive long before you've seen everything interesting or original. There was also a lot more household management than there was beating back the assaults of heroes -- what is this, Dungeon Keeper or House Keeper?
Gus Mastrapa: Metal Gear Solid (series)
Original release: PlayStation, 1998
In my own experience I've found that I just don't understand the appeal of some games -- the Metal Gear Solid series is a perfect example. I want to like those games. I know there are really mind-blowing things that happen in them, but I just don't have the patience or will to put up with Kojima's foolishness long enough to get there. I could reduce those who pray at the altar of Kojima as tasteless anime nerds, but I know that claim would be off-base. There's obviously something interesting going on with those games; I'm just not built to appreciate them.
Evan Narcisse: Assassin's Creed
Original release: Xbox 360/PS3, 2007
Maybe it's too recent, but I really hated all the high hosannas sung for Assassin's Creed. The cool concepts that came off as fresh early on became annoyingly repetitive later on. The last few levels pretty much cast aside many of the mechanics that the first two-thirds of the game spent teaching you. Sneak around, pickpocket, eavesdrop ... then forget all that and have a bunch of crappy swordfights with our lame combat engine! Its narrative flaws couldn't hide behind the great looks and ambitious structure, either. Assassin's Creed ?- the first game, anyway ?- isn't a modern-day classic and it doesn't deserve entry into any videogame canon.
John Teti: Final Fantasy VII
Original release: PlayStation, 1997
The PlayStation era of the Final Fantasy series is fascinating. FF7 was an entire generation's introduction to Final Fantasy, and to role-playing games in general. FF8, easily the strongest Final Fantasy on the original PlayStation, uprooted the traditional RPG mechanics with the draw system. The game sold well, but the backlash among fans who wanted more of FF7 played a part, I think, in the back-to-basics blandness of the game mechanics in FF9.
FF9 stinks. FF7 doesn't. It's a very good game, just not God's gift to gamers. It doesn't deserve the endless remakes and adulation that it continues to receive, especially when the games immediately before and after it in the series are deeper and more ambitious.
Chris Buecheler: Duke Nukem 3D
Original release: PC, 1996
In light of the recent cancellation of the most overhyped piece of vaporware of all time, Duke Nukem Forever, let's take a look back at the original: Duke Nukem 3D. I've never understood the adoration this game received. From a tech perspective, the Build Engine added the ability to look up and down to the world of first-person shooters but was otherwise unremarkable. The game's story was maybe a slight step above that of DOOM, but when compared against anything from its era other than basic shooters it was still laughably shallow. The game's vaunted "interactivity" consisted of being able to flush toilets and hand dollar bills to strippers. Lastly, the character himself was obnoxious, juvenile, misogynistic and not particularly funny for anyone whose sense of humor continued to evolve after the sixth grade.
This was the game for which a sequel had us waiting in breathless anticipation, publishing more than a decade's worth of previews, screenshots and speculation? Really? Considering this, the question isn't so much "what happened to Duke Nukem Forever?" but rather, "Who cares?"
Paul Semel: Rock Band 2
Original release: Xbox 360/PS3/Wii, 2008
It's been touted as the best game of the year, the best music game of the year, the best music game of all time, but the more I played Rock Band 2 the more I wanted to slap anyone and everyone who worked on it.
Its open-ended structure gives you no sense of progression or accomplishment. It forces you to play at a higher skill level whether you want to or not. You're also forced to play the same songs repeatedly, with no option to swap them out. Don't want to play that Journey song again? If you want to finish the game, you're playing it again. The concept of "random" setlists is also broken -- I not only got stuck playing "Eye of the Tiger" over and over, but once got the same Pearl Jam song twice in the same set.
None of which wouldn't have been so bad if Rock Band 2's setlist had been any good. It flat-out has the worst songs of any music game. Even Konami's low-rent rip-off had a better setlist, and all of its songs were crap covers. Maybe the songs in Rock Band 2 work if you use the game as a de facto karaoke machine. But I don't. I came to rock, and this game has very few songs that do that.
While I know you can buy some good songs from the store, I shouldn't have to. I've never felt the need to buy any songs for a Guitar Hero game, so why do I have to start now?
Steve Kent: Tomb Raider
Original release: Saturn/PlayStation/PC, 1996
In a market so prone to hyperbole, Tomb Raider stands out as the most overhyped of the historic games. Not because it was a bad game that was hyped as good, or even a good game that was pushed as great. Tomb Raider was a B+/A- effort that was hyped as one of the greatest games ever. Giving credit where credit is due, Tomb Raider had a wide variety of amazing 3-D worlds; but it came out at the same time as Super Mario 64, which also had lush 3-D worlds and far less camera angles. Personally, I thought Mario made better use of its silicon. Both games were hard, but Tomb Raider featured far more challenges of the "jump across the chasm and die if you if you don't hit the right pixel" variety.
Both Super Mario 64 and Tomb Raider were pushed as "best games ever." In the case of Super Mario 64, the claims were accurate.
Jason McMaster: Portal
Original release: Xbox 360/PS3/PC, 2007
It's a super-cool concept with some funny writing from Erik Wolpaw. But it's not the greatest game ever. In fact, if you look at what was included with Portal in The Orange Box, you'll see Team Fortress 2 and Half-Life 2: Episode 2 -- both of which apparently live in Portal's shadow. Both have provided me with many more hours of entertainment, so why don't they make the list?
Ryan Kuo: Every game
Original release: Every system, all time
Gamers lavish such hyperbole upon classic videogames like Super Mario 64, Final Fantasy VII and Halo that you'd be amazed the rest of the world isn't already playing videogames 24/7. Google the phrase "one of the greatest games ever" and you'll find it being tossed around like a rare, delicate bird shackled to the back of a pickup truck. And the only other search results are for sports wins. Coincidence? I think not.
Gamers are almost as susceptible to mass hysteria as sports fans. Each year's new games are inevitably heralded as "quite possibly the best game I have ever played/of all time." So what if it is? Do you see moviegoers whipping themselves into a furor over such apparently earth-shattering developments?
Look, games obviously have as much to offer as any other medium. But the scales in gaming critique are completely overcalibrated. Many gamers seem to weigh games only against each other, instead of against culture at large. That makes most "greatest games ever" lists read like a circle-jerk. No games deserve that much hype.
If that rant is unusable, my vote is for Half-Life 2, which was big and bloated and boring. If I have to push another blue barrel around in the water, I will eat a headcrab.
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