Sunday, February 28, 2010

Finding reliable game reviews online…


Yes, your old friend The Hawg has wasted many, many hours playing video games.

I started off with an Atari 2600 back when I was 12-years-old and I’ve gotten worse sense then. I’ve still got over 200 Atari games around here and, over the years, have added almost more systems to my collection than I can count.

Ah, but I’ll try. Let’s see – I’ve also got a Nintendo Entertainment System (top loader, no less!), Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Sega Genesis (with the Sega CD attachment), Nintendo Gameboy SP, Sega Game Gear, PlayStation 1, Nintendo GameCube, Sega Dreamcast, Atari Lynx, Atari 7800, Nintendo Wii, a Microsoft Xbox 360 and a couple of hardwired Pong clones.

I used to have a ColecoVision but it blew up one day (there was literally some smoke when that one gave up the ghost). I also had a Magnavox Odyssey 2 but I got rid of it because I never used and I dumped my Atari Jaguar because it was such a horrible system that looking at it literally made me angry.

Is there a point here? Well, yes. Most video games are garbage. Let’s face it – there are a few gems associated with any system but the bulk of the slop inflicted on the public sucks. Where can you go to find reliable information about games? A lot of the junk out there is pure marketing. Atari may have pioneered the practice of pretending that marketing material is actually news, but Nintendo, Sega, Sony and Microsoft have perfected the system so that most of those “official” sites on the Internet and magazine describe even the worst waste of programming on the planet as if it’s the greatest games made.

Running searches on the Internet for good reviews is often frustrating because some clever SEO techniques often route you to “official” reviews, bought-and-paid-for junk from publishers trying to act like they’re independent or junk.

Ah, but I’ve found at least three sites that offer up great, independent game reviews that can steer you away from the junk and to the good stuff. Of course, all these sites are free and feature quality content. So here’s the convenient, can’t miss list:

1. The Video Game Critic. Whenever I want to know if a game is good or not, this is the first place I visit. Why? That cat knows what he’s talking about and features bite-sized reviews that spare no punches. You can find games and hardware reviews on everything from the Atari 2600 to the Nintendo Wii over there. If you’re looking for both quality and quantity, this is the place to go.

What’s more, you’ll find some great advice for collectors. Which systems are great to collect for and which ones are not? Systems are graded along those lines and you’ll find more than a bit of history, too.

I don’t know if The Critic gets paid a dime for the great work he’s done over there, but I do hope he’s found a way to make running that site for years worthwhile. I honestly can’t say enough good things about the site.

2. Atari Age. Here’s another site worthy of a few superlatives. In addition to the sheer amount of history over there (Atari cartridge rarity, screenshots, etc.), you can also buy brand new games for a lot of classic systems there. And when I say new, I don’t mean games from 1980 that were never opened – I’m talking about games that were programmed by enthusiasts over the past few years. A lot of those games simply push the old Atari, ColecoVision, etc. to the limit and are nothing short of phenomenal.

Oh, and the forums are a blessing for those of us who love both classic and modern games. Ask a question about a game or system and you’ll likely receive an answer from someone with some expertise. The forums are very active and filled with people who are as enthusiastic about their old systems as I was about my Atari when I first got it for Christmas all those years ago.

Is that new handheld that plays Super NES carts any good? Where can I find some people to play with on Xbox Live? What are the latest Atari homebrew projects? All those questions and more can be answered through the forums.

Ah, and then there’s the news section. Find out about classic gaming conventions in your area, new publications and a whole lot more. It’s an impressive site, for sure and certain. Here’s a word of advice – don’t bash the Atari Jaguar in the forums or you’ll get jumped.

3. allgame. Yes, you do have too many press releases and there is a clear shortage of information on games for 8-bit computers, but you’ll also find a lot of screenshots, some instructions from time to time and some very in-depth reviews.

The reviews for more obscure classic games are hard to come by, but the more current ones are certainly covered. One thing I do appreciate is that looking up one game will result in suggestions for similar ones you might like. That’s a great touch and I find myself looking for reviews at allgame quite a bit.

So, there’s the list. Have fun!