In Defense of Shitty Games

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A few weeks ago my girlfriend left town to attend her sister’s graduation from GW in DC. Aside from being excited to write out two double-lettered acronyms in the same sentence, I found myself kinda bummed and at a loss for how to fill my time. She and I are basically inseparable, so the prospect of having six days on my hands with nothing to fill the void of her absence left me feeling empty. That lasted for a couple of hours until I realized that I’m a gamer and I would have the next six days to shower at will, eat all the shitty foods and candy I wanted while staying up until 3am playing video games. Because I know how to 34-year-old properly. 

I should preface the rest of this post by saying that I consider myself a Very Informed Gamer. I think my taste in games is a carefully selected mix of AAA blockbuster games and nerdy RPG faire peppered with indie darlings and quirky, twitchy, reflex/rythym-based games. Essentially, I have my lanes and I stay in them because gaming is a time and money-intensive habit. Taking a risk on a $60 game I end up hating is a financial hit I literally can’t afford. So when there’s a drought of games that interest me, coupled with a lot of solo time I decided to drive outside my gaming lanes and experiment with a game Levi would never play. 

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Kiryu is a better father figure than Kratos.

Around Friday evening I finished the Yakuza 6 campaign. It was good-not-great. I still had 5 days and 4 hours to fill until I had to return to the land of caring about things. Unless I wanted to boot up my 2-year-old Witcher 3 save and try to remember why I’m looking for the white-haired girl again, I was gameless. And I wasn’t about to restart a game I already sunk 60 hours into* The alternative scenario was to go out and be social.  So I went Nintendo e-shopping instead. 

Hyrule Warriors for the Switch came out on this same day. This was in no way, shape or form exciting for me. But it was the only “big,” “new” game release at the time and I was feeling positive about my Switch after finishing both Bayonetta games (which, Bayonetta 2…pure action game perfection…holy shit it’s amazing). So I bought “Dynasty Warriors Zelda” impulsively, at full price, having never played it. As I watched the download bar creep across my Switch’s dashboard I immediately began to second-guess my purchase. Pulling out the phone, I thumbed through some reviews of the Wii U version and saw that it had a metacritic average of 76. At that point I wished Nintendo had a nifty refund program like Steam, but I was stuck with my choice. 

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Metacritic needs to be burned to the ground.

Not expecting much, I fired the game up and was quickly dispatching 1000’s of Moblins as The Green Tunic and hearing all kinds of classic Zelda sound effects from rupees to chests, along with celebratory tunes from my childhood. Of special note are the distinctly Japanese rock guitar infused versions of classic Zelda music. Ten minutes into my first mindless battle, I was dumbly smiling like a tourist who doesn’t understand a language.

If Hyrule Warriors is bad, then Dynasty Warriors 9 is the GOP.

Review scores told me I should hate this game. My own gaming preferences told me I should hate this game. It is a base experience, repetitive and not exactly an eye-popper. Yet, a month later, I’m still playing it daily on my lunch breaks and during bathroom breaks (shits) at home. I found out I don’t mind the mindless repetitiveness of “travel to blinking dot on map, kill bunch of dudes, travel to other blinking dot on map, kill more dudes” loop on every stage. I can understand why some people might be turned off by that or expect more from the game, but as what’s widely considered to be a “not great” game, I’m returning to it with a regularity I haven’t exercised since the first few weeks of Destiny 2.

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Dynasty Warriors 9 is ugly and devoid of polish, but fucktons of mindless fun.

Here’s where it gets really fun, though. After a weekend of draining my Switch’s battery I wanted more Dynasty Warriors-style gameplay so I bought (full price again), Dynasty Warriors 9. If Hyrule Warriors is bad, then Dynasty Warriors 9 is the GOP. It’s one of the shittiest games released this year, in fact, according to review scores. The framerate is atrocious, the graphics look like they came from a console generation that never existed, but would fit in between the PS2 and PS3 cycles. It’s bad. The music is repetitive (but really catchy), the gameplay is repetitive, the combos are repetitive, the architecture is repetitive, the repetition is even repetitive. Your character somehow lumbers and floats at the same time and the voice acting rivals some OG Resident Evil badness. 

Still, I’ve played it for over 20 hours and I will continue to play it when I just need some candy gaming. 

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Hyrule Warriors has hundreds of hours of gameplay, much of it lacks variation, but I continue to pick it up.

Here are two games, totally out of my wheelhouse that, to me, barely registered as video games, much less video games I would buy, that I spent more time with than the universally praised God of War. Why is that?

I think there’s an itch that “shitty” games scratch that just doesn’t exist with “great” games. My theory is that it has to do with expectation. I think if I spent more than 10 seconds thinking about or anticipating either of these titles, I would have set myself up for disappointment. With games like these — the mindless, unpolished, tap-buttons-to-make-numbers-go-up games — the developers aren’t trying to pull the wool over your eyes. They’re not hiding the fact that these are just video games. Nothing more, nothing less. They’re not going to revolutionize the industry, they’re not going to spark a debate between woke gamers and incels over on Kotaku, and the Giant Bomb crew aren’t going to spend 30 minutes discussing the finer points of play on the Bombcast. They’re there for you to consume at your leisure, they require no online connection, you can pause them and if you lose a save state it’s not like you have to go over any section you don’t want to do again, because it’s all the same loop. There’s something inherently refreshing about not having to direct your undivided attention to a game rather than requiring a three hour block uninterrupted so you can immerse yourself in the terafloppy glory of AAA gaming and storytelling. These games don’t owe you anything and you don’t owe them anything — they just exist to digest as you see fit. That kind of low-stakes gaming is a refreshing departure from the rush to play the biggest, the best, the newest games. 

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Mobile games are like the kings of shitty games — yet I’ve been playing this one pictured above every day for almost three years.

I’m sure I wouldn’t be saying this if either of these very similar games were fundamentally flawed or unplayable — that’s another situation entirely. What I’ve always believed and now know is that rating systems for games are useless. They’re one person’s perspective on their very limited time with a game, many times before it’s fully live and all the features are in place. And while some games don’t ever reach critical acclaim, it doesn’t mean they’re actually shitty games. Especially in a time when video game creators’ bonuses are often based around whether or not they receive a high metacritic score, a numerical and objective decisiveness about the experience a game provides is unbalanced and unfair to the hundreds of people who sacrifice their lives to make them.

I remember receiving eye rolls from friends when I told them I thought Star Wars Battlefront 2 was one of my favorite games of 2017. Fuck them. I enjoyed my time with the game and that’s all that matters. Don’t be afraid to like games others don’t appreciate. Sometimes its worth the financial hit to take a risk on a wildcard game. Sure, you may load up a dud every once in a while, but you might also discover a genre of game you never knew you loved. 

*Um, I literally restarted the Witcher 3 last week…  Because I’m an idiot who doesn’t ever want to see sunlight?

 

 


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