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Don’t judge a game by its cover

It’s a long standing theory that graphics do not make the game. Sure, good graphics help but it’s just one of many factors that make a game good or bad. But if you ask Nintendo, this era of ultra-realistic graphics isn’t helping anyone, especially them.

East versus west

The article over at Kotaku has Nintendo king Satoru Iwata saying that “because the expressions in games are becoming more and more photo-realistic, I imagine that the cultural differences in acceptance have started to be reflected more clearly.”

I can certainly believe this despite Nintendo selling millions upon millions of games that bunk that trend. Nintendo’s built their empire on non-realistic graphics. Of course, it helps that their games play well and tell a great stories too so people know they’ll get quality, but I see it happen too often that games with otherwise poor graphics don’t get beyond an extremely niche audience.

Always read the first chapter

It’s hard to fight the Shiny Graphics Trap but if you can yourself passed that mindset, you’ll find a treasure trove of games. I used to judge a lot of games by its cover, but in recent years I’ve thought about what types games I really enjoy and try them when I see them, even when they visually look no-so-good. Many games have cutesy characters and often odd, non-human characters, and because we are trying to translate what we’re seeing we lose sight of what the game is. In other words, we’re thinking too hard about it. Just play and enjoy.

For example, I recently found an Xbox Live Indie title that I can’t even read because it’s in Japanese. The graphics look pretty weak and include things like flying foxes and spinning mushrooms that shoot roses at you…not exactly “realistic” concepts, but it looked like a type of game I would enjoy so I tried the demo. Turns out it is a fantastic (and incredibly difficult) dual-stick shooter and it was a dollar well spent.


Cheap graphics aren’t just for cheap games

The first argument to all of this is, of course, context. My example is an arcade game with simple rules, simple goals and not a lot of complexity. However, games like Call of Duty that require quick decisions and micro-management need to be more detailed, right? I don’t think so. Look back at some of the best games of all time…Doom, Gran Turismo, Metal Gear, Goldeneye…yeah, they looked good for their time but even today they’ve maintained a lot of their replay value because they’re just fun to play. And the classics like Pac-Man and Mario are barely worth noting because it’s too obvious.

I think what Iwata has highlighted is what is contributing to the slow death of the arcade game. And when I say “arcade” I don’t mean the real cabinets at the pizza parlor, I’m talking about simple, fun games that aren’t based on any specific reality…which are pretty much the only games Nintendo sells. I know I’m pretty hard on Nintendo because I’m not a fan of their core franchises, but they do know how to make simple, fun games and it makes me wish other developers would dip their toes into the less-graphical waters and try to put out more simple, fun and challenging games.

It’s unfortunate that a shiny exterior is all it takes because gamers are missing a lot of good games. And before you start citing all the crap games that look like crap, think about all the games you’ve played that look good but really suck.

What’s your favorite “ugly” game?