This week on Extra Punctuation, Yahtzee discusses The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, rabid fanboys being protective of and/or hostile to review scores, and the subjective, sometimes meaningless nature of reviews. Additionally, check out our beautiful, brand new Adventure Is Nigh! dice, including a set themed after Yahtzee’s Mortimer, available to buy now at Dice Envy!
Extra Punctuation Transcript
So you might not have heard, but a new Zelda came out recently, and a lot of people seem to like it. In fact, some people are very very passionate about how much they like it. To the point that they send death threats and downvote bombs to any media outlet that gives it anything below 10 out of 10. Not just the lukewarm reviews – 8 and 9 out of 10s as well, very strong recommends in game review parlance.
And if I could address them all collectively, I’d ask the people doing that if they seriously think Tears of the Kingdom is perfect and couldn’t be improved upon. ‘Cos I can think of a few ways. It could’ve had an engaging story and characters like what Majora’s Mask had. Or a main character who’s actually expressive and loveable, like what Wind Waker had. And maybe the much beloved new sandbox physics mechanics could have been a touch sandier.
Not to reiterate my whole ZP review, but I felt oddly disappointed by the weapon fusion mechanic. In contrast to the physics object fusing that has fueled so many hilarious penis robots on Youtube in recent weeks, the weapon fusing just lets you add a few points of damage to your sword by gluing a pinecone to the end. And I suppose, having had time to think, I’ve realised what I actually wanted from the weapon fusing: I wanted Link to have the ability to use literally anything as a melee weapon.
Imagine if one of the special physics objects you could manipulate and stick to things was some kind of hilt or handle, and anything you stuck it to Link would pick up by wherever you put the hilt and try to swing. Then anything that got in the way of any part of it would take damage in accordance with its weight and how fast it was moving. Including Link himself. So you could make an improvised flail out of a stick, a bit of a rope and a dining room chair and watch Link give himself a concussion with it.
I’m sure eventually the creative spark would fade and you’d gravitate to whatever weapon build proved the most efficient every time, just as in the existing game you eventually stop trying to make fancy vehicles and just scotch tape two fans to a steering column whenever you need to get somewhere. But this degree of freedom to experiment sells itself. Imagine the hilarious Youtube potential of watching Link charge into battle waving six feet of picket fence with a screaming Korok stuck to the end.
So there you go, that’s just one way a hypothetical sequel to Tears of the Kingdom could build upon it. And if one ever comes along, won’t you feel bloody stupid for demanding perfect review scores for the original.
Spoiler warning: they will not feel stupid about it. Fanboys kicking up a stink about the big new Zelda game being denigrated with mere 9s out of 10s has happened reliably enough to be a running joke in the reviewing world. This video’s opening paragraph could easily have been talking about the response to Breath of the Wild. Or Twilight Princess. Or Wind Waker. Or Ocarina of Time. Although that far back the phrase “downvote bombs” might’ve confused people. This could be something worth analysing.
I’m not prepared to dismiss it as just Zelda fanboys being fanboys. It doesn’t match up with the kind of passion other properties engender. I’m thinking, of course, of Sonic the Hedgehog. Sonic fans are as passionate as they come and grousing about 8 out of 10 scores has never been standard practice for them. Let’s face it, most of them would be overjoyed by an 8, these days. So whence the passion for Zelda, which is just a stock fantasy adventure about a voiceless twink? With none of the specific mix of teenage angst and furry humanoid nudity that causes certain people to get overly attached to Sonic during their awkward years of sexual awakening.
Then I think of the way gamers have historically become overprotective of whichever brand of games machine they grew up with because it was easier than admitting they’d blown their birthday money on an inferior platform. Nintendo have certainly benefited from that effect over the years, but I don’t know if that fully explains it, either. Mario’s the far more visible Nintendo franchise, and I don’t think Mario games attract rabid metacritic score protectionism the way Zelda games do.
But then Mario has always been the silly, more commercial franchise, and Zelda has more of an air of prestige about it. It’s too dignified to be milked for kart racing spinoffs and typing tutors the way Mario is. And I think I’m getting warmer when I think of the word “prestigious.” I think the combination of its long history, its sheer number of high quality instalments, and the lofty, epic tone of its story and presentation, make Zelda something of an exemplar for all of video gaming.
I think these people have gotten it into their heads that Zelda is gaming’s representative, its ambassador, and anything less than a perfect score is somehow denigrating the entire medium. If Zelda isn’t setting the highest standard then what does that say for everything else that doesn’t have its resources or foundation? Well, that’s my bluesky theory, anyway, and whether or not Zelda is the embodiment of all gaming isn’t something I care to argue. The point I wanted to make is that you shouldn’t care if it gets perfect scores or not because review scores are completely sodding meaningless.
Yeah, I’m banging this drum again. Maybe a five star rating could be justified as giving a broad sense of the reviewer’s enthusiasm, but ten point ratings, or god forbid percentages, no review of a purely subjective experience calls for that degree of exactitude. And if a reviewer gave a game 10 out of 10, what does that even mean? That they really like the game? What if another game comes out that they like more? They haven’t given themselves the room to express that numerically. Or does it mean they literally think the game is perfect and absolutely nothing could have been done to improve upon it? ‘Cos that smacks of a failure of imagination on their part.
For these and other reasons, most reviewers would be understandably cagey about giving anything a perfect score because they must always give themselves wiggle room, but if you can’t cite an example of what would be a 100% game – or indeed what would be a 0% game – then there’s no frame of reference. It’s all meaningless. Yes, congratulations to all you geniuses out there who already figured that out.
I know of only one case of a media outlet awarding a game a 100% score. Mayhem in Monsterland on the Commodore 64 was awarded one by the print magazine Commodore Format. This was well after the end of the Commodore 64’s peak, so my cynical side feels this was more about trying to prop up an ailing system and its magazines with some headlines. Or maybe they genuinely did think Mayhem in Monsterland was the best game that could possibly be made for the Commodore 64. I guess the standards could’ve been low enough.
But that’s my point. The general standards at the time of the review or for the platform is just one example of the kind of context that a numerical score can never provide. And if I were to feed the review data into Metacritic, it would go around telling everyone that Mayhem in Monsterland was a better game than Red Dead Redemption 2. Imagine that. A game without a single shitting horse.