What Makes a Game a 10?

*The following blog owes credit to the many banters between me and Red Metal of Extra Life Reviews*

Since I launched Wizard Dojo on Christmas Day of 2014, I’ve reviewed nearly 300 different video games. Of that lot, I’ve awarded six games a perfect score of 10/10 as of this writing, and I plan on reviewing the remaining such games soon. But what makes a game deserving of such top honors? Well, that’s a question that will of course elicit different answers depending on the individual you ask. But if we’re going by my personal ratings, there are a few different ways to look at it.

The easiest answer is simply that a 10 represents the absolute best I think gaming has to offer. The shortest way to describe what makes games 10s is that they are games that not only define their genre’s, but execute everything they do so greatly that whatever missteps they may have are entirely inconsequential.

During the 2000s decade, there seemed to be an utterly batty mindset amongst many gamers on the internet that, because nothing is technically perfect, that no game deserves a perfect score. That is, of course, a load of BS. If you have no plans on using a rating system, why the hell do you have a rating system? As long as you have a rating system, you should use it to its fullest, if even only on occasion.

What’s funny is that things have seemed to have taken a complete 180 turn during the 2010s, with many sites and gamers dishing out perfect scores left and right, if the hype is strong enough. Now, not everyone has to be stingy when giving out perfect scores (different rating systems will work differently, of course), but I can’t help but feel a lot of people are just trying to make up for lost time for how stingy they were during the 2000s.

The way I see it, the 10s I award can be separated into two primary categories: contemporary masterpieces that I believe showcase the pinnacle of modern gaming through both staggering quality and invention, and classics from yesteryear that have defied the aging process, and can still go toe-to-toe with the best of modern gaming.

Of course, because video games are a medium that evolves so quickly, many games of the past can quickly begin to feel outdated. As such, a game that has endured through the years and can still claim to be among the best is a pretty rare thing. Because of that added achievement, I do think the number of retro games that I would award a 10/10 would ever-so-slightly outnumber my more contemporary 10s. But for those same reasons, my near-perfect score of 9.5 would probably be housed more by modern titles than old-school ones. Obviously, the overall quality of the game itself determines how highly I’d rate a game, but that added “test of time” could be what edges one game over the 9.5 category and into the realm of the perfect 10.

This also leads me to some hypocritical territory, as I have trouble thinking of a game released during the 2000s decade that I can safely say I’d award a 10/10. Now, the difference between me and others who never awarded perfect scores during the 2000s is that, if one were to ask my past self during the 2000s the games I’d give top honors to, I probably would have listed a few games from those years. But because I started this site in 2014, I am primarily looking at things retroactively by modern standards. So most of the games I’d award 10s to can claim to be either A) the most exceptional titles from the 2010s or B) the rare 1990s game that still feels like it gets everything right.

That’s not ruling out the possibility of a “perfect” game from the 2000s decade, of course. Just that I can’t think of one right off the bat like I can for the decades immediately before and after it. Namely because I feel that many of the best games from the 2000s have been bettered by similar experiences from the 2010s, and since I’m doing things retroactively, they can’t help but be compared to each other. The original Super Mario Galaxy from 2007, for example, is a 10 for all intents and purposes, as the issues the game does have are incredibly minimal. But if/when I get around to reviewing it, I may award it a 9.5, because I feel its 2010 sequel (which I have reviewed and gave a 10) polishes the experience all the more. And since both games are relatively similar experiences, the edge goes to the latter.

Had you asked me back in 2005 some of the games I’d say deserve top marks, I might have listed The Wind Waker and Shadow of the Colossus among them. While I still think incredibly highly of both of those titles, I think their shortcomings are a little more obvious to modern eyes. Again, those are still among my favorite games, but I’d be lying if I said they felt as technically sound as something like Breath of the Wild.

Does that mean that my modern 10s will one day fall short of future standards? While I suppose that’s possible in some cases, I do think 3D gaming has finally reached a level of quality that I think will hold up strongly down the road, much like 2D gaming did when it reached the SNES days. And once again, I don’t give out perfect scores freely, so I try to make sure that when I do dish them out, it’s to games that I can see still being regarded as classics down the road. Or at the very least, that I can see myself still obsessing over down the road.

Again, it’s because we can’t peak into the future and I can’t say for sure what will hold up the best why modern masterpieces often get the 9.5 treatment from me, whereas the timeless classics get that extra .5 to make it a perfect 10 (though of course there are exceptions in both categories). I can only give my best shot and predicting the future. But I do think gaming is at a point where it becomes apparent how a game will hold up relatively quickly.

This now brings me to a little bit of a dilemma in my potential future 10s. Of course, people’s opinions change (if even slightly), and one’s criteria may change over time. Though one’s favorites tend to endure, they can also fluctuate. I’m even thinking about reviewing subsequent releases of some of my 9.5 games (such as the PS4 version of Undertale and the upcoming Switch port of DKC: Tropical Freeze) to see if they go that extra mile, now that they’ve had time to marinate in my mind.

My “dilemma” stems from the fact that some of my criteria has fluctuated since Christmas of 2014. Not by a whole lot, mind you, but enough that it has dictated two possible outcomes for my ultimate amount of 10s I would currently grade to the video game world.

When I first launched Wizard Dojo, I knew I wanted to make sure that awarding a perfect score would feel special. But of course there are different ways of going about that. Again, the quality of the game is what ultimately dictates the score, but there was always the question as to what should define that quality. As stated, a game like Super Mario Galaxy puts up an argument for that elusive 10, so did I give 10s based on that quality alone, or did I go the route of comparing games with similar titles and allowing personal preference to tip the scale in favor of the game I feel is superior?

In the end, I went with the latter method, partly as a means of limiting the number of 10s I give to make them feel more special (which is admittedly a wee bit pretentious on my part), but it’s also a nice way to let personal taste come into play to better define which ones are my all-time favorites, given the retroactive nature of many of my reviews (As much as I try to be professional and objective with reviews, when it comes to reviewing what I think are the best of the best, why not let my personal take tip the scales a little? Despite having more objective traits than many other forms of media, video games still provide more than enough room for subjectivity).

With that said, I still find myself somewhat at war with these two methods of awarding 10s to games even today, as this balancing act of objectivity and subjectivity allows my list of 10s to continue down two different directions. Again, I’ve currently awarded six different games a perfect score. The way I see it at this point, I could either continue reviewing the remainder of my shortlist of potential 10s, and should they hold up, my total number of 10s might be around double what they are now. But the other way to go about things is to allow my perfect 10s to solidify my top ten all-time favorite games. So ten 10s to define my favorites.

Now, some might argue that the latter method would pigeonholed my perfect scores. But I’m not saying those would be the only 10s I’d ever award (there’s always going to be another one down the road, and I could always discover one from the past that I originally missed out on). I’m just saying that – with my reviews so often being retroactive – making my 10s and my personal top ten favorites one and the same at this point would set the standard for any future (or retroactive) 10s thereafter. The former method is obviously less confined for the time being, but neither way prevents the possibility of more perfect scores.

By this point you’re probably thinking I’m just way other-thinking all of this, and you’d be absolutely right. Of course I’m other-thinking this, these scores are after all not an exact science or mathematic. Rather, they’re just a vague way to sum up what I feel are the greatest works in a creative, artistic medium. Creative mediums aren’t so exact, which is one of the reasons I love them so much (with all due respect to science and math, I could never love them the way I love the arts). Plus, I have OCD, so over-thinking things is just how I am.

Wow, this has really gone off-the-rails now. I only wanted to give a little bit of an insight as to why I give some games a perfect 10/10, while other games that are on a similar level receive the “near-perfect” 9.5/10. But now I’m rambling about solidifying my favorites and whatnot. Again, these scores are, in the end, little numbers that we try to use to sum up our feelings to what we’re reviewing. Hopefully the people who read my reviews actually care about the words that lead up to that number, and not just the number itself.

So whatever route I ultimately decide to take – whether it be basing my favorite games around my perfect scores or my perfect scores around my favorite games – I hope you enjoy the reviews I write, and look forward to my eventual list of favorites, and whatever else I write down the road.

Oh, and one more note. Although I technically “broke” my scale in the past to dish out a couple of 0/10s, a means to showcase the works so bad they don’t even count, I will not be breaking the positive end of my reviewing spectrum. Awarding anything higher than the highest score is just wonky; even when people mean it as a joke it doesn’t make sense.

“Sorry Eleven, no 11s here.”
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Author: themancalledscott

Born of cold and winter air and mountain rain combining, the man called Scott is an ancient sorcerer from a long-forgotten realm. He’s more machine now than man, twisted and evil. Or, you know, he could just be some guy who loves video games, animations and cinema who just wanted to write about such things.

5 thoughts on “What Makes a Game a 10?”

  1. You know, I kind of wonder if Roger Ebert’s now-infamous screed on why video games could never be art had something to do with that radical shift in how critics approached their craft. To be honest, I don’t recall exactly how the critical circle operated back in the 2000s, but I do know that in the 2010s, they and the industry at large seemed to have one goal: prove Mr. Ebert and his ilk wrong at all costs. Hardcore fans dismissed the screed, yet I think it secretly took a major, long-term toll on the medium’s self-confidence. That’s why I think of the unanimous glowing critical praise of Limbo as a turning point for gaming criticism – and not in a good way; in my mind, it was the first time they critics were willing to earnestly promote a game that placed an emphasis on style over substance. What’s especially disappointing about this development is that critics, for all of their faults, were really good at avoiding that mistake up until then. I heard so many people say graphics don’t make the game, yet they ended up going against that very ethos when they praised Limbo. One could argue they did that with Braid, but it at least had a reasonably innovative concept (indeed, I have to say that if were twice as long and had no or little story, I would’ve given it a higher score), so rating it highly was at least somewhat justifiable – even if it is a decision that hasn’t held up well with time.

    Interestingly, in stark contrast to most people in the critical circle, the 2000s actually has more of my 10/10s than any other decade, though once the 2010s got its act together, the results have been incredible, and I have to say it’s not far behind.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I would not be surprised if people let Roger Ebert’s words get to them. Shame that a man who could word his appreciation for movies so beautifully was so ignorant when it came to video games (though as I mentioned before, the one game he did review he absolutely loved. Sweet irony).

      I can understand why someone would love games from the 2000s the most. I just have my own way about me where I think the 90s saw the refinement of 2D gaming, and the modern generation is seeing the medium perfecting what the 2000s started. But that’s just me.

      Liked by 1 person

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