Something about 10/10s, Best and Favorite Games

*This post is something of a follow-up of another one I wrote several months ago on the subject of 10/10 games. That post was from when I still used a .5 rating system, but much of what I said then still applies, so I’ll try not to repeat myself too much.*

I have a weird interest in trying to guess the favorite games (and movies) of people I know based on how fondly and frequently they bring up certain games (and movies). I can tell you from experience that trying to list your own favorites isn’t always easy. As soon as you think you have it figured out, you remember a few others that creep in. This has sparked my aforementioned “weird interest,” as it seems like, based on what people praise the most regularly, that it may take someone else to acknowledge those works as a person’s favorites. Now, obviously this is no exact science (there is no exact science for favorites of anything). But I like to think that the inner indecisiveness can sometimes be filtered out when speaking to others, to some degree anyway (or, I could just be full of BS, which also seems likely).

Anyway, recently this got me talking to a couple of my friends about what our top 10 games are. One of my friends is a big Sonic fan, and naturally had multiple Sonic titles in his top 10: Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Sonic Colors and Sonic Mania. He also had his favorite Zelda game, Majora’s Mask, and a Phoenix Wright title included, as well as Tetris. My other friend’s list featured the likes of Super Mario World, Twilight Princess, Okami, Red Dead Redemption, and BloodBorne (that’s as far as I got with my guestimations on both their lists).

But then, we got around to talking about my favorites, and that brings us to this particular post. One of my friends guessed that Super Mario World and Super Mario 64 were on my list. I agreed that Super Mario World would have a spot, but I questioned that 64 would quite make it into my top 10, as I’d say the Super Mario Galaxy titles and Odyssey are better 3D platformers. But then I got to thinking, with how many times I’ve replayed Super Mario 64, and all the memories I have of it over the years, am I lying to myself by claiming it’s not among my top 10?

Naturally, this brought up the prospect of “favorites” versus “bests” when discussing one’s top 10 of anything. If I’m going by the warm and fuzzy memories, Super Mario 64 pretty much has to be in my top 10. And while it would still find a spot on my list somewhere, if we’re talking games I appreciate by their quality, 64 is bested by a number of titles.

Of course, with my OCD-riddled mind, making big deals about pretty much every thought that passes through my head just kind of happens. And in this case, it means this discussion lead me to thinking about how I score video games I review here on my site, primarily the big 10/10s.

As of this writing, I’ve awarded nine different games a perfect score: Super Mario World, Donkey Kong Country 2, Super Mario RPG, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Super Mario Galaxy 2, Dark Souls, Undertale, Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey. I stand by my giving these games 10s on their own individual merits, but I also started to wonder if all of these games are necessarily my favorites. Like Super Mario 64, they all may rank somewhere on such a hypothetical list of mine, but I’m not sure if they’re all top 10 material.

For example, arguably the game I most regularly praise on this site is Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, which currently sits at a 9/10. Since it was originally released in 2014, I’ve beat it several times over (both in regular and hard mode) and can’t seem to praise it enough. To put it simply, it has as good of a chance at being in my personal top ten games as any game I’ve given a 10/10.

Point being, should that make it a 10/10? As I stated on my prior blog on this subject, one idea I’ve bounced around was to – at this point in time – award a total of ten 10s, to reflect my top 10 (as I stated in the past, I would of course add more 10s should one be released or I discover one from the past I missed out on. But the top 10 would set the precedent). Of course, if I were to go this route, I may have to alter some of my existing scores, if some of my current 10s don’t quite rank in my personal top 10 (should I actually manage to solidify it). I’m not a big fan of altering my scores (although I’ve done it in the past, but not with perfect scores), and again, I stand by my 10s in terms of their quality.

Of course you want to be objective when reviewing anything, but seeing as video games are a creative art form, should my personal taste have a little more influence than I’m giving it? Again, Tropical Freeze (along with Bloodborne, for that matter) is basically a 10 in my heart, so should I really deny it of that because it may not match up to what I’ve designated as a 10 in my head?

Basically, if my top 10 were to be ranked by personal sentiment/enjoyment, there’s no doubt that Super Mario 64, Banjo-Tooie, one of the Super Smash Bros. titles and Tropical Freeze would make my top ten. If I were to go by what I think are the best of the best, my top ten would simply include games I’d award a 10/10. And if I tried to find some middle ground, I could potentially place some 9s in with some 10s. A combination of quality and personal experience, meaning that Tropical Freeze could sneak its way in anyway, seeing as I see it as my ‘uncrowned 10’ (again, along with Bloodborne).

The weird thing is, I don’t feel this same indecisiveness with the films I’ve given 10/10. My perfect scored movies currently sit at only four: Inside Out, Frozen, My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away (yes, all animated so far). I would easily say all four of those films are among my favorites, so there’s no second guessing from me there. But when it comes to my game reviews, I’m pondering if my 10/10s consistently reflect my ‘favorites.’

Essentially, I guess the point of this entire post is to once again display my indecisiveness when trying to concoct my concrete list of favorite games. Perhaps I simply need someone else to point out what games I’ve leaned towards over time. The other point of this post is that it got me to thinking if I should re-evaluate my 10s. Again, I don’t like to change my scores – and on one hand, the idea of altering my 10s makes me cringe – as changing scores seems fickle, and risks devaluing my rating system. At the same time, I’m kind of intrigued at the idea of pulling a Thanos, snapping my fingers and altering the landscape of my 10s.

Now, I don’t want to appear pretentious, and be one of those people who thinks they need to have as minimal perfect scores as humanly possible just because. But at the same time, I don’t want to feel overly generous with my scoring, either. I mentioned how DKC: Tropical Freeze and Bloodborne are akin to my “uncrowned 10s,” and while I have thought about upping their scores to give them perfect grades, the idea that I can award some of my all-time favorites with 9s, I feel, makes my 9s mean something as well as my 10s. I also don’t want to be one of those critics who holds 10s on some pedestal, yet every other score seems interchangeable.

I remember the days when Edge Magazine was pretty conservative when dishing out perfect scores (they still are relative to other magazines, but you can still pretty much guess when they’ll award them these days). Or the (sadly) recently discontinued GamesTM Magazine, which also only awarded so many 10/10s. Again, I don’t want to be stingy for the sake of it, but when those publications give/gave 10s, it meant something (or, at the very least, it tried to). I’ve always kind of wanted to achieve something similar to that. And while I think I have succeeded to some extent, I have to wonder if my flip-flopping of my favorite games should alter my list of 10s.

Yikes, I’m really going off on another tangent, aren’t I? Basically, I guess my point is how difficult it really can be to categorize your favorites of anything in any “official” capacity. Although my taste has remained surprisingly consistent throughout my life, things do fluctuate. Who knows, this entire post may end up being entirely pointless and I won’t change a thing. I already hit a soft reboot when I swapped my ‘.5’ rating system for one consisting of whole numbers, so I’m not sure if tinkering with things at this point alters my site too much. Again, I don’t want my scores to end up feeling pointless and finicky. But at the same time, the benefit of running an independent site is that I can change things to reflect my changing tastes when necessary.

If any of my kind readers have any feedback for how I should approach things going forward, feel free to share.

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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.”

A Little Something About 10 and 9.5 Games

Dark Souls III

Although I like to pride myself as something of a tough (but fair) grader, I realize I may not always come off as being so tough. Since I launched Wizard Dojo on Christmas day of 2014, I have, as of this post, written 124 video game reviews. Of those 124 video game reviews, I’ve awarded four games a perfect 10, and an additional nine games a near perfect score of 9.5. In my defense, I’ve been reviewing games from all generations since this site launched, and been playing sort of a game of catch-up with my personal gaming history. So I’ve reviewed a number of personal favorites and classics of the medium in a relatively short timespan.

So the frequency of which I’ve been writing these more glowing reviews is a relative thing (at least I like to think so). After all, those four 10s I’ve dished out, and those nine 9.5s, are actually a good chunk of the the games that I would award those scores to.

I’m not going to give an exact number of games I would give these top marks to at this time(put the 10s and 9.5s together and it’s somewhere in the “a little over twenty” area). I have a rough idea of which games I’ve played through the years that might be given top honors, but I would like to spread out these reviews a bit. That way it feels less like I’m rushing them out of the gate and emphasizes them as more of a big deal.

You may be aware that, when reviewing retro games, I largely review them based on how well they hold up. So a game that I may have seen as a 9.5 back in its day may not be a 9.5 now (why is it I think of Perfect Dark as I write that?). There are still a few classics I need to replay to see how they stack up by current standards. Not every acclaimed game is a timeless classic, after all.

Modern titles that earn the two highest rankings do so by providing the best of what modern games have to offer. You can’t always tell when a game will become a timeless classic, but the modern games I’ve currently awarded a 9.5 or 10 are ones I feel have a good sporting chance at becoming just that. I myself am pretty surprised at how many games from just the past few years have won me over so strongly, with six games I’ve given a 9.5 score to having been released since 2014. I like to think we’ve simply been seeing some exceptional gaming years.

Also note that games I award a 9.5 are held in a similar regard to those that earn a 10. But whether it be a more notable flaw or (in some cases) just personal preference, they just barely missed out on that perfect score. So don’t feel too bad if your favorite game landed a 9.5 instead of a perfect 10.

Because I have now written a decent number of reviews for 10 and 9.5 rated games, I figured I’d create a sub-page dedicated to them (you can also find this page by highlighting the “Game Reviews” section). It’s not much now, being more of a series of quick links to each review of 10 and 9.5 game than anything else. But hopefully I can expand it in some way in the future.

For quick reference, here are all the games I’ve awarded a perfect 10 so far.

Super Mario Galaxy 2

Super Mario World

Donkey Kong Country 2

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

Symphony of the Night

 

And here are the 9.5s.

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

Super Mario 64

Mega Man 2

Super Mario Bros. 3

Super Mario Maker

Bloodborne

Dark Souls 3

Uncharted 4

Uncharted 4

 

There are still more 10s and 9.5s to review down the road. All in due time. Perhaps the more interesting prospect is what will be the next release to earn these top honors.

I hope you enjoy this (admittedly overblown) rant about my little scoring system. Hopefully, you actually care about my reviews themselves, and not just the silly little numbers.

Again, for anyone interested in my highest scoring games, check out the aforementioned new section dedicated to the 9.5 and 10 games I’ve reviewed.