Omega Four Point Oh
After being squeezed out of 1UP, beginning SCROLL, getting a full-time gig at GamePro, and most recently, the news of Hudson probably-maybe canceling their 3DS projects, I thought now would be a good time to talk about something I'd been wanting to for quite a while; a particular episode in my career that wasn't as revolutionary in the long run as this long-winded post will make it sound, but it did kick my butt in a sense. It's the only review I've felt regret about, but probably not entirely in the way you think.
That would be my January '08 review of Omega Five, the Xbox Live Arcade shooter from Hudson. A few years prior, I had developed a renewed appreciation for arcade shoot-em-ups. I always loved the classics, like Gradius and Blazing Lazers, but I used to think the late-'90s rise of the "bullet hell" style was practically pornographic in nature; a twisted sort of puzzle game that had lost its way. Eventually, I simply realized that this is where the genre is now, and really, the games aren't any less enjoyable. Shooters still represent good, clean, simple fun that had endured since the invention of video games themselves. They may go a little overboard with repetition, but still offer the best bursts of fun in a pinch.
But anyway -- Omega Five. I was intrigued when it was announced, for sure. Hudson and Natsume, two old favorites of mine, putting out a great-looking XBLA shooter that was from the Holy Land of Nippon through-and-through!? But then I saw and tried the game months before it came out at a Hudson press event, and didn't like it. When it finally came out and I took the review, I got to spend more time with it. I still didn't like it, and wrote a negative review with a 4.0 (now "D") rating, sort of expecting to be just one of a few reviewers from the other mainstream sites who felt the same.
What I did not expect was that I'd be the only person on the planet who didn't like Omega Five. Everybody downloading it was loving it, other reviews were praising it, and their ratings were barely dipping under the average. Throw in a link to my review, and you have a perfectly balanced shitstorm.
The eye of it was GAF, as it usually is. The review went up the same day the game did, so as people were getting high off the game in the forum's Omega Five thread, they were rudely startled once my review showed up. Immediately, the accusations, insults, and thoughts on game journalism flooded in. Including the inarguable fact that because it was a negative review, it was therefore terribly-written (that one's always a favorite). Now, I wasn't a total newbie at this job, and I knew people on the internet are generally not nice, but still, when you're in the moment; when the signal-to-noise ratio is so imbalanced against you, it doesn't matter if you started writing reviews last week or for 15 years. To some degree, you're going to feel your world crumbling. I was enemy of the state for a day, but I just had to let it go. And I have -- but for a moment, I wanted to say a couple of things about the review.
First: It definitely could have been written better. Thinking 1UP's audience was bigger than it was/is, I aimed the text towards a more general audience; the folks who didn't care about shooters that weren't Geometry Wars. But, oops, this was 1UP, a place with a solid history of great interviews with Japanese game makers, and other respectable coverage about Japanese game stuff that people visited and loved us for. For god's sake, it's what I loved them for. Instead, the tone of the review was excessively acidic. Normally, I'd say being harsh with one's words is acceptable for a review of what the writer thinks is a bad game, but with Omega Five I cranked it up to where it simply overshadowed whatever I thought was good about the game (there were things), and in turn, it irked people way more than it should have, based simply on attitude. Both the opening and closing paragraphs didn't help, as that's what most people scrolled down to first (or quoted in the forum posts).
But the second thing I have to say is that, regardless of the text, I have no qualms about the rating and core criticisms I gave the game. Those criticisms were A) the characters were too big, and B) the bullets interfered too much with the background. Well, what's "too much," you ask? Any shooter is going to have a curtain of bullets jetting toward the player at any given moment, right? That's the point, right? Right, but, that stuff is usually thought about very carefully. I didn't catch that with Omega Five; if anything, it seemed to me like the designers were trying too hard (or not enough) to balance the bullet volume with the character sizes, and I quickly reached points in the levels where I simply lost track of what I was doing, and the damn thing just got going. I can't say that about my time with, say, Deathsmiles, another horizontal shooter on 360, because Deathsmiles hardly has that problem when I play it. Deathsmiles was made by people who know how to make shooters.
And I like to think that I understand shooters, then and now. Probably not in all the ways that everybody else understands them (I'm not the 1cc type, so, sorry if that's all that matters to you), but I've played, and played, and reviewed, and reviewed tons of games over the years in a variety of genres, so I think I've earned the belief to know what works for me, and what usually works for a game of a certain type, and consider what may work for someone else. Maybe I'll treat a game a little worse or a little better than the other guy, and maybe I'll make a kneejerk reaction to something before it's out (y'know, like everybody), but when it comes to putting nose to grindstone, I'm always fair. Fair enough to take a game as it is; fair enough to compare, contrast, and contextualize, and fair enough to reserve some optimism if I'm disappointed. Yes, really -- I honestly could not wait for the 3DS Omega Five, and hopefully it still pops up.
Like I said, I was no stranger to assholes on the internet, and in GAF and GAF's spin-offs' cases, several of those people are so devoted to their shtick that it's no wonder they go kamikaze in response to the tiniest pinprick of opposition. And if I learned anything (hoo boy), it was that I should just be myself. Mindfully targeting an audience is one thing, but when you're so far off the target of another -- one that you yourself identify with -- the backfire is deafening and destructive. Yeah, no shit.
As much as the jerky responses made me upset at the time, nothing terrible occurred as a result of the review. No one gave me a talking-to. Hudson did not complain (as far as I know). I kept my job, for a couple years anyway. In fact, it was a few months later when Hudson brought by Takahashi Meijin, and I got to have fun with him, and generally end up with a good experience and a perfectly normal relationship with the company. Yes, a happy ending -- because, really, Omega Five was an XBLA shooter with an impact on video game history as strong as a raindrop. I'm glad you liked it, but I didn't, and maybe we can find something else to agree on. Oh yeah, well... three months later, I gave Ikaruga an A, and no one said jack about it, me, or Omega Five. At least one side had their expectations met that time.