Curmudgeon Gamer
Curmudgeoning all games equally.
17 April 2006
Odama Impressions
The textures are washed out, looking, as reviewers have said, like something from the N64 era.

The character models are simplistic and ugly, and buildings are primitive-looking.

The gameplay is unforgiving, and it's easy to fail a level in the first few seconds.

The player can easily fail moments away from victory.

It is quite possible to succeed on a level, but be so ill-prepared for the next that you need to go back anyway.

The controls are poorly presented, requiring the player read the manual.

It is difficult getting used to all the options available to you at a time.

The ball physics are inaccurate, and the tilt is far more effective than it would be on a real pinball table.

It is easy to screw over your army with a single unfortunate Odama shot.

I have not had this much fun with a video game since Katamari Damacy.

Verdict: thumbs up.



The thing that bugs me most about the many middling reviews Odama has gotten is how they all so utterly miss the point.

  • The game would not work if it had realistic physics. As you play, you eventually end up thankful for the floaty ball and large tilt potential, for they make it much easier to get the ball to roll over the bad guys, and not the good guys they're locked in struggle with. And yet, you'll still crush your army some of the time. They got this exactly right.
  • Of course it fails when viewed as a RTS, because how the hell can it be a good combat game when there's a giant pinball blasting across the battlefield? Pinball is a game that, by itself, absorbs all your attention. Real-time strategy games are the same way. Combine the two, and you have to simplify both or the game is unplayable. The game already contains a large number of elements to master in order to play it effectively.
  • The game is challenging and difficult to master, but that's because it's got an old-school design, where you're intended to practice and master the game instead of go through it once only. The game *is* masterable: on this playthrough, I've so far finished the first five levels without a failure.
I think part of the problem is that reviewers tend to have difficulty grasping a game that is so unlike anything they've seen before. It is true that Katamari Damacy got good scores almost everywhere... but then, the game also had the benefit of a groundswell of pre-existing support across the Internet. Many times reviewers (of other types than gaming, too) fall victim to a kind of peer pressure, where a prior consensus of opinion influences later reviews. And there was little else to compare Katamari to, while Odama seems to obviously be a meld of real-time strategy and pinball, when it actually doesn't seek to be a simulation of either, and will cheerfully throw out aspects of both when they don't suit its purpose.

But there is something I consider especially telling about the blindness of most reviewers towards this game. Most of them admit that the game is fun and addictive. (Example.) The game succeeds in the one measure that games aspire to beyond all else, and yet they give it a middling score.

To me, that illustrates a great sickness in the game review press. If a game is fun, then it is worth playing, and no argument against that can be made. Character models, music, style, level design, and clever writing each can accompany and augment an engaging game, but none of these things produces the impetus to play themselves. Only fun can do that, for having fun is the reason to play in the first place. I don't really think Odama excessively lacks in any of these areas (especially style), but the game is definitely fun to play.

Any reviewer who gives Odama a score under 7.5 yet admits the game is fun should be made to turn in his press card.
--John Harris at 02:23
Comment [ 12 ]

Comments on this post:

I completely agree. The gaming press seems to be made up of 19 year old playstation/xbox fanatics that have never played a "difficult" game in their lives.

I'm not talking about a game that gets harder down the line. No, that is an easy game. I'm talking about the games that are instantly challenging.

I liked your preview. I was skeptical about the game, but now that I know it's just hard and not a lame game. I will be buying it. Thanks!

By Anonymous munroe, at 17 April, 2006 06:28  

So, let me make sure I understand. This game should have gotten a high score just because it is fun, in spite of its shortcomings.

OXM gave Fight Night 3 a really high score because it was fun, even though it had shortcomings, and you call that ridiculous.

If that's not talking out of both sides of your mouth, I don't know what is.

By Blogger SupesDied, at 17 April, 2006 10:01  

Supe: The OXM Fight Night 3 post was by me not JohnH, so it might help if you'd clarify your target.

That aside, JohnH's comment on the OXM post said this:
By that measuring, game[s] that innovate nowhere deserve average scores even if they are technically accomplished, because while they may have no bad points, they also have no good ones.
This is what JohnH is saying about FN3, that while it may be very accomplished, if it's not innovating then it can't deserve the very highest score possible.

On the other hand, Odama appears to be the converse: a game which accomplishes innovation without being accomplished at the technical bits like graphics and tutorials.

What JohnH appears to be saying, tacitly, is that a game which innovates sufficiently can rise above its technical flaws, while technical accomplishments can never raise a game above its standard gameplay. He'll correct me if I'm off base.

The other thing I'd say is that, unless I missed it, he didn't give it a 10. ;^)

By Blogger jvm, at 17 April, 2006 11:09  

JVM, I did notice the two comments came from different people, that's why I didn't name names in my comment. The blog must be taken as some sort of whole.

All of your points are accurate, but they don't have much to do with the key point - both games are fun (to the respective reviewers).

And I'm not making the point that FN should have gotten a 10. What I'm pointing out, more directly this time, is that a GameCube game that is fun will be heartily defended here, and an Xbox game that is fun is cause for a complete revision of the definition of the word.

There's a lot of good commentary on this blog. It would be better if there was some attempt at objectivity regarding some companies over others.

By Blogger SupesDied, at 17 April, 2006 13:28  

My comments on the OXM review have zero to do with Microsoft or the Xbox (360 or otherwise). My issue is review systems. I can honestly say that when I wrote that piece it barely registered with me that it was for the Xbox 360. That was irrelevant to my point.

By Blogger jvm, at 17 April, 2006 13:42  

So, let me make sure I understand. This game should have gotten a high score just because it is fun, in spite of its shortcomings.

High nothing. It should get at least a good score. A 7, these days, is essentially average. I take 7.5 to be the minimum positive score.

Fight Night 3 got a perfect score, which implies that there is nothing the developers could have done to improve it, including make a different game.

And I'd like to leave issues of innovation out of this question. I don't think a game deserves the best possible score without it, but a game that is all over innovation but isn't fun deserves a low score. Odama is innovative, but more importantly it is fun, yet the reviewer admitted that but gave it a 6.6, thus, my disdain. Meanwhile, if Fight Night 3 had gotten a 9.9, I don't think so many people would have complained about it.

The blog must be taken as some sort of whole.

But the people being a blog do not need to be taken as a whole. Why should blogs be held to a higher standard than the opinion page of a newspaper?

What I'm pointing out, more directly this time, is that a GameCube game that is fun will be heartily defended here, and an Xbox game that is fun is cause for a complete revision of the definition of the word.

Ah, a direct charge of fanboyism. And a big "screw you" for you sir.

I will admit, Gamecube games, on the average, are more appealing to me than X-box ones. I would point out that there is much more artistry among them. Just because I tend to like Nintendo's games more doesn't necessarily mean console partisanship.

But Nintendo is by no means perfect. The Mario Party series is WAY past its prime, the Gamecube's excuse for a sports lineup, mostly Mario games and EA Sports games with Mario character cameos, is interesting but ultimately deficient, and I wish Nintendo released things like Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, and Katamari Damacy -- in those, I think there are some developers who may be taking Nintendo's lessons more to heart than Nintendo themselves are doing.

Interesting, though, I can't name any games of that calibur for X-box, except perhaps ToeJam & Earl III. And who even remembers that anymore besides me? It was the game I bought an X-box for, and when I finally got tired of it, I sold the console.

There's a lot of good commentary on this blog. It would be better if there was some attempt at objectivity regarding some companies over others.

A site called "Curmudgeon Gamer" is inherently subjective, wouldn't you think? But aren't you really asking us to be more considerate of looking like we're objective by playing all sides of the field, like "moderate" politicans do?

By Blogger JohnH, at 17 April, 2006 13:55  

That's what's considered an acceptable response to what was - at the outset - a civil conversation? "Screw you?"

Just so you know, moderates make up the vast majority of citizens, and the term does not imply they 'play all sides.'

Regardless, I'm truly sorry I bothered.

And the search for adults on the Internet continues.

By Blogger SupesDied, at 17 April, 2006 14:31  

1Up has recently stated that they will from now on consider 5 the average score. 6 is positive.

By Blogger Mory, at 17 April, 2006 14:34  

Haven't played Odama myself yet - but agree on the fact, that reviews by "professionals" these days can be skipped - the truth (if there ever was any) is out there in all those boards, blogs and whatnot.

It's quite sad, when you think about it...

By Anonymous Aulbath, at 17 April, 2006 17:59  

That's what's considered an acceptable response to what was - at the outset - a civil conversation? "Screw you?"

Well, you did essentially accuse me of fanboyism, of being partisan towards Nintendo, of being what I call a "loudspeaker," an accusation I must admit hit a nerve because I've been examining my opinions regarding video games very closely lately, to make sure I'm an objective as I hope I am. I take the issue seriously.

Perhaps I was a little excessive in my response -- but on the other hand, I was also trying to be playful. Being adult also involves being able to take things like that.

Just so you know, moderates make up the vast majority of citizens, and the term does not imply they 'play all sides.'

I am not sure that being moderate necessarily implies a majority. I think the center is often more defined by the people on each edge, pushing away, than where more people are.

mory: Interesting, I did not know that... although I imagine most readers won't know it either, and considering the expectations of publishers (who I believe are ultimately the reason the grade inflation occured in the first place) I have to wonder how long it'll last. I agree that scores tend to be inflated, and that moving the center back to 5 is a good idea, if the reader is definitely aware of the change.

By Blogger JohnH, at 17 April, 2006 22:27  

There's so many false arguments (that is, arguments which don't really exist) here, I don't know where to begin. So I'll begin with what I thought before I read the comments.

Johnh, this was a frickin' rockin' article, and I couldn't agree more. If the game is fun, but the yardsticks you have to measure a game by all say it comes up short, you need some new yardsticks.

Actually, from a critic's point of view, these are the great moments of self-examination, where you can look inside the experience and try to discover the new thing that makes the game fun that you didn't know about. It is not the time to turn the scoring crank and output a number that has nothing to do with whether you liked playing the game.

Ok, now to jump in the mud pit:
In reply to supesdied's first comment:
Um, I'm not sure you do understand. Johnh's claim is that a game shouldn't be rated below average if it is fun and addictive. Fun is the primary criterion. Jvm's point in fact was that numerical scores don't mean anything, and that writing your opinion out in words "can express a game's greatness just right".

Jvm didn't say it was ridiculous that "OXM gave Fight Night 3 a really high score because it was fun", he said the whole system of reducing a review to a numerical score at all was ridiculous.

If that's talking out of both sides of the blog's mouth, it's over whether you accept the idea of numerical scores (which johnh does and jvm doesn't).

One could rationalize the two reviews as if they were from one point of view (say, "Scores are bad, but if you have them, fun should be the primary criterion"), although I personally like the option of agreeing with some of the posts and disagreeing with others, rather than them all coming from a monolithic point of view I either accept or reject as a whole.

I hope that cleared up any confusion.

Incidentally, I'm terribly curious about supesdied's handle. Are you referring to the famous Death of Superman in the comics several years ago? Are you a firm believer that, in fact, like Paul McCartney, he did die and everything since then has been an elaborate fraud? Is this a broader statement about the loss of idealism, of faith in "Truth, Justice, and the American Way"?

But ho! I see later that there was another "talking out of both sides of your mouth" that you had in mind. So, you are accusing the blog (as a whole) of defending all fun GameCube games, and refusing to accept that any XBox game could be fun? ooh, them's could be fightin' words -- nobody likes it when they're accused of being a shill.

Oops, I see that's how it went down. Now everyone feels offended. And somehow a side comment about pandering politicians -- described in ironic quotes as "moderate" -- has spiraled into some weird controversy over moderateness that seems like some statistical thing, but I'm sure there's some weird undercurrent there, someone tacitly accusing someone else of voting for Nader or something.

Please, let us stop the madness. I contend it's not worth arguing over who crossed the line from "civil conversation"; either we move on, or we stop talking.

Regardless, I'm truly sorry I bothered.

And the search for adults on the Internet continues.


Ah, it seems you have chosen the latter route. Well, on the off chance that you come back to see if anyone childishly refused to let you have the last word, let me offer an observation:

Sooner or later, everyone comes to the conclusion that no one on the internet is as mature or intelligent as oneself.

I sense that you are near this conclusion. The logical consequences are stark: either give up on the internet as the babbling noise of infantile numbskulls, perhaps reluctantly sieving a few useful bits of information from the cacophony, but not bothering to cast your pearls before these swine; or, alternatively, accept the clamor of foolish youth, ignore it as the gabbling of geese it surely is, and patiently once again with honeyed tongue offer up the obvious and rational truth, knowing with the confidence of a kindergarten teacher that sooner or later, despite our obvious imbecility we will come to accept it.

Truly, neither course has much to recommend it over the other. No doubt those few screaming morons you actually do get through to will never thank you for it, and probably won't even realize that it is your font of wisdom from which the few crystals of right-thinking they possess spewed.

But, I cannot help but think, you are wandering this vast web wasteland in search of something. And if the communion of another rational and adult mind is denied you, perhaps the quixotic quest for the enlightenment of the rabble with which you find yourself burdened could pass the time more pleasantly than reading Proust. Or maybe not - it's up to you.

Let me know if you choose the kindergarten teacher route; I want to find out about your handle. It doesn't have to do with the Crash Test Dummies song, does it?

By Blogger Bob, at 18 April, 2006 00:03  

JohnH, nice article. What I find especially tragic about Odama's reception is that few of the reviews I've seen thus far have touched on what the game is trying to say. Saito seems to have been trying to build a more nuanced depiction of the reality of war, while most reviewers complain about how it deviates from the pinball and RTS templates, without apparently considering why Saito would see the chaotic and less deterministic results as important. I imagine the average leader in feudal Japan had rather more difficulty communicating with his troops than I've had with the voice commands. So it goes, I suppose.

By Anonymous mister slim, at 20 April, 2006 20:51  

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