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Perfect Game ≠ Flawless Game
Editorial by 
July 21, 2011, 09:24:28
Every single gaming editorial publication is asked this at least once in their lifetime. Why did you give a perfect score to to a game with flaws? I was recently asked this question in my latest review for The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D. It's a fair question and, in order to answer it, I need to get a little bit technical and philosophical at the same time.

A perfect game is not a flawless game. Negative World, like some other sites, has a review scale that goes from 0-10. If there is a game that is so terrible with absolutely no redeeming qualities (not even one), then I think it should deserve a big fat zero. However, if there is a game out there that does absolutely everything right, with maybe one or two meaningless wrinkles that are wholly overshadowed by the rest of the positives, then I don't see why I should deny the rarely given and elusive "Perfect Score." Like Anthony Burch once wrote (yes THAT Anthony Burch), "Perfection is an ideal, never to be practically reached by any art form at any time. That's just the way it works. With that in mind, why would you waste an entire point on the 1-10 grading scale by devoting it to something that can, by definition, never truly exist? Instead of calling 10/10 "perfect," why not just call it "will cure cancer"? They're both equally likely to happen within our lifetimes. To hold the 10/10 score back as an ideal for the perfect game, just in case it ever exists, is to degrade the entire 1-10 system into a 1-9.9 scale."

I feel that a "Perfect" game comes out maybe 1-2 times per system (sometimes 3 if we are lucky) , if that system has a lifetime of 4+ years. Let me list how many "perfect" scores there are per system, in my opinion.

NES: 1
Game Boy: 0
Game Boy Color: 0 For now. There are 4 games I want to play before making my final judgment.
Game Boy Advance: 1
SNES: 5 I find that the SNES constitutes the Golden Era of gaming.
N64: 2 And you already know one of them.
Game Cube: 1 and it's not Wind Waker or Super Mario Sunshine
DS: 2 and they are both remakes.
Wii: 1 I have to finish another game to see if it is worthy of a 10, but I'm not playing it soon.
3DS: 1 for now.

Game Gear: 0
Genesis: 0

PS1: 2
PS2: 0
PS3: 3
PSP: 0

XBOX 360: 2

If you look at other sites, you will see that, even though they have perfect scores in their review scales, they all agree that there is no such thing as a perfect game. I leave you with some examples:

10.0: PrimeThis exceedingly rare score refers to a game that is as perfect as a game can aspire to be at its time of release. Obviously, the constantly changing standards for technology and gameplay will probably make this game obsolete some day, but at its time of release, a game earning this score could not have been improved upon in any meaningful way.

Nintendo World Report:
10 - We don't believe any game can actually be "perfect." But some can get pretty close. We give our highest grade to games which are the best of the best. Games that aren't necessarily "generation-defining" can still be given top marks for this reason; if a game is all it can be and stands out among those like it, it can get high marks, too.

Game Informer:
Outstanding: A truly elite title that is nearly perfect in every way. The score is given out rarely and and indicates a game that cannot be missed.

And my favorite definition of a "Perfect Game" goes to IGN:

10.0 - Masterpiece
The pinnacle of gaming, a masterpiece may not be flawless, but it is so exceptional that it is hard to imagine a game being better. At the time of its release, this game is the not just the best the system can offer, but better than we could have expected.

Example: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

I would like to conclude the same way I began, just to hammer the point. A perfect game is not a flawless game.

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Posted: 07/21/11, 09:24:28  - Edited by 
 on: 07/21/11, 23:10:02    
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There are more "10-worthy" games in the Gameboy line than you are giving credit for here. I am disappoint. Maybe you haven't played them?

Anyway, I agree with your stance overall though. 10 should not equal perfect - just as close to perfect as a game could get.

Having said that, Chrono Trigger is PERFECT and completely deserves all the 10's in the world!

Posted by 
 on: 07/21/11, 14:38:43
It's odd that you suggest that a perfect game is not about perfection and then claim that PS2, Xbox, 360, etc. have no perfect games.

Posted by 
 on: 07/21/11, 16:40:07
GameDadGrant said:
There are more "10-worthy" games in the Gameboy line than you are giving credit for here. I am disappoint. Maybe you haven't played them?

Anyway, I agree with your stance overall though. 10 should not equal perfect - just as close to perfect as a game could get.

Having said that, Chrono Trigger is PERFECT and completely deserves all the 10's in the world!

Link's Awakening and Donkey Kong '94 are both 10-worthy perfect games IMO.

Posted by 
 on: 07/21/11, 16:57:47
I see your reasoning, but it didn't really explain why some of those games got a 10. I don't think 10 means flawless, but it is as close to perfection as it can get. Rather than arguing about individual games on various systems, I would like to concentrate only on the latest game that got a perfect score, OOT 3D. Let's see some of my check marks to ensure that the game deserves a 10:

1. Near perfect gameplay.
Sure, if this was 1998. The Zelda formula has evolved a lot since OOT, starting from the basic Link actions, to NPC interaction, camera control, 1:1 sword fighting etc. OOT 3D doesn't have any of it therefore the gameplay still feels 20th century.

2. Flawless execution.
As well put together as the game is, it still has issues like gyro sensors for first person view which kills the 3D effect off, not to mention that you look like an idiot in the process. And let's face it, the game wasn't built for touch screen or the 3DS button layout and it shows.

3. Best graphics in its class.
A big fat no. While the game takes advantage of the 3D capabilities of the handheld, graphics leave a lot to be desired. Compare that to say Resident Evil: Revelations and it's easy to see who's actually taking advantage of the 3DS power between the two games. And before someone screams "art style", I would ponder the question "does the game's art style take full advantage of the system capabilities"? I'd say, no, it doesn't.

4. Best sound in its class.
Not even close. While the game features some of the best compositions ever made, Nintendo's ultra conservative (read: cheap) stance on production values in the majority of their games is hurting them in a big way. MIDI is so '80s. OOT soundtrack deserves to be heard in full orchestration glory, but alas no, let's forget that this is a remake and treat it as a 13 years old port instead.

5. Value.
In a vacuum, OOT 3D is a fully packed game and one of the best on 3DS to date which says a lot about the system's state at the moment. Unfortunately, OOT 3D doesn't exist in a vacuum. A worse looking and arguably better playing version of OOT has been around since 1998, then re-released in 2003, and than again in 2006, and it's available for only $10. Here, you're spending $40 to get a better looking, not necessarily better playing game, which turned to be just an enhanced port of an enhanced port. I see no reason why I should buy a 3DS just for this game, while new gamers may find it hard to justify spending $290 + tax to play this game for the first time, when much cheaper alternatives exist elsewhere. So yeah, it's hard to see value in the game, even with all the extras like the Master Quest, Boss Rush Mode, etc. Nintendo didn't even think about returning players since they force you to play through the game once before unlocking the Master Quest. For people like me and millions of others who have played the original game to death, the main quest in OOT isn't that enticing. I would have started right on the Master Quest and leave it at that.

Conclusion: OOT 3D doesn't deserve a 10. IMO, not a single enhanced port of a previously released game, no matter how great the original was, deserves a perfect score.

Posted by 
 on: 07/21/11, 17:10:11  - Edited by 
 on: 07/21/11, 17:27:24
Arguing about the flaws or merits of the game itself isn't what a score should be to begin with, in my opinion. The purpose of a review is 95% "This is why I think you should play this game." and 5% "Hey, developers, this is what I personally would like changed or carried over in the future."

Simply having it for some arbitrary "scoring" system is archaic, silly and mostly for personal gratification. Make your score how much you want to emphasize to me your love of this game and how much you think I should buy it. Think of a 10/10 your ultimate recommendation, not the pinnacle of perfection in every aspect of every game. Different games can get a "perfect" score simply by being masterpieces of their work. Persona 4, I feel, is a bit claustrophobic in terms of exploration, the combat, while interesting and suitable, is nothing special... But I'd give it a 10 out of 10 because that's how much I feel everyone should experience the game. It's a masterwork, the pinnacle of the genre and truly an experience to be savored. That doesn't mean it does everything absolutely perfectly, but who gives a fuck if it does? That's what the text is for.

Text should be everything, from objective facts such as framerate, graphical issues, etc, as well as subjective views such as what you felt the game did right, how it made you feel, what could be improved upon in the future, and the like. A "score" should be nothing more than "Yes, you should abso-fucking-lutely buy this" or "Man, this sucks." or "Perhaps if they put more effort into the next one it could be workable." But in a number form for quick reference. I don't think we need to do away with numbers, I just think people reviewing games should use those numbers more responsibly and less as a focus of quality on every aspect of the game, which can be discussed separately from an overall opinion. I think Chrono Trigger's character interactions are almost laughably scarce, but I'd still recommend the game fully to anyone who's ever gotten any joy out of an RPG.

The idea that a 10 is "perfect" is a childish notion that is almost sad. "But what if the next one's better?!" then give that one a fucking 10 as well if it still holds up to your idea of a great game, quick worrying about the future. Worry about what this game is right now.

Posted by 
 on: 07/21/11, 17:22:17  - Edited by 
 on: 07/21/11, 17:23:39

Great post, man.

Posted by 
 on: 07/21/11, 17:25:02
@New Forms My only regret is over-swearing, but I can't help it after 10+ years of IGN's "No swearing, children!" policy! It makes me feel bad when I do it, but I feel so freeeee!

Posted by 
 on: 07/21/11, 17:30:57
That Gamecube game better be Melee...

Posted by 
 on: 07/21/11, 17:32:19
Great editorial, and...

Fantastic post.

Posted by 
 on: 07/21/11, 18:21:00  - Edited by 
 on: 07/21/11, 18:21:49
@gencid I was going to answer your post but then @Xbob42 beat me to it and answered it better than I was going to. I totally agree with him. A 10 is your most personal recommendation. Like he said: "It's a masterwork, the pinnacle of the genre and truly an experience to be savored. That doesn't mean it does everything absolutely perfectly, but who gives a fuck if it does? That's what the text is for."

gencid said:
OOT 3D doesn't deserve a 10. IMO, not a single enhanced port of a previously released game, no matter how great the original was, deserves a perfect score.

I used to agree with you there. If the port just has better graphics and sound then it doesn't deserve a 10, no matter how good the game was. However, if enough care is taken to make the game better and to add more value to the package, such as with OOT3D then I will give it to them.

@GameDadGrant The fact that I have no perfect scores for some systems means that I haven't played every game for those systems or I have not played them enough. For example, I have not finished playing Link's Awakening, the Oracle games, or Donkey Kong, so I cannot form a fair decision until I do. That number is ever changing, though. And Link's Awakening and Donkey Kong are well on their way to becoming 10s for me. By the way, Chrono Trigger is perfect.

@Jargon Yes, yes it is. In fact I think it's better than brawl.

kriswright said:
Great editorial, and...

Fantastic post.
Thanks. I give @Xbob42's post a 10/10.

Posted by 
 on: 07/21/11, 19:59:39  - Edited by 
 on: 07/21/11, 20:08:48
gencid said:
Conclusion: OOT 3D doesn't deserve a 10. IMO, not a single enhanced port of a previously released game, no matter how great the original was, deserves a perfect score.

I don't agree with this, anyway. But, then, the way some people hate ports has always perplexed me. A great game is a great game is a great game, surely. Yes, if it's a port of a game that hasn't aged well, or if it doesn't suit the control scheme or they botch it in some way, then crack its neck as far as I'm concerned. But I'm not going to pretend that, say, Super Mario All-Stars is anything less than stunning just because those games were all previously released in some form. Why on Earth should that matter?

Posted by 
 on: 07/21/11, 20:10:46  - Edited by 
 on: 07/21/11, 20:11:22
For me, a 10 only goes to a game that I love just as much as Ocarina of Time. That hasn't happened yet, although Portal 2 is the closest anything has gotten.

Posted by 
 on: 07/21/11, 20:15:38
New Forms said:
It's odd that you suggest that a perfect game is not about perfection and then claim that PS2, Xbox, 360, etc. have no perfect games.

Like I said before. I just haven't played any games which have struck me as 10s. I have played some 9s and 9.5s, though. For example, the original Devil May Cry is a 9.5 for me (I haven't played the sequels even though I have them). Metal Gear Solid 3 Subsistence is also a 9.5 for me. I find it to be amazing, but it still has some issues which detract from the overall experience. For example, I hate the food and medical system. And the neck-breaking is difficult to perform because the guards become alert to easily, to the point of interfering greatly with the way I play my Metal Gear Solid games. Thankfully, these issues were corrected for Metal Gear Solid 4, another perfect game for me. By the way, the PS3 has at least 2 perfect games. I'll correct that in my OP soon.

I actually would like to invite @New Forms and everyone else to name some games you consider perfect so that me an everyone else can try them out. And people, don't feel ofdended if others don't share your sentiments for some of these games. Afterall, we are all entitled to our different opinions and tastes.

Posted by 
 on: 07/21/11, 20:21:27
I think Jeff Gerstmann of Giant Bomb vocalized best his idea of a meaningful review in the day zero E3 podcast, to paraphrase quite loosely; "The reason we inject so much of our personalities into every aspect of our site is so that by the time someone has watched several Quick Looks, read articles and the like, when they finally get to a review by one of us they know exactly what we like and don't like. My ideal review is where a reader comes in, reads a review of a game I have scored low, reads the text, and decides based on that that this game is absolutely for them."

I think it's a completely awesome direction for reviews. Present the experience as it is, and don't try to hide your bias. Your bias is always there. When everyone knows your bias, and you present a good enough review, they can make a decision to purchase your game even when your review stated how much you personally disliked the game.

Although they also try to fit reviews to people who are most familiar with the genre, so that you don't go in making a lot of ignorant statements about types of games you may not grasp due to inexperience.

Posted by 
 on: 07/21/11, 20:21:54
I agree with that, with one caveat: That all that talk about "know my biases" and "injecting our personalities" isn't a cover story for a reviewer who just wants to talk too much about himself.

There's a fantastic quote from the late great David Foster Wallace about personal memoirs that I think could also apply to review sites, particularly ones that are overly concerned with the personalities of their reviewers (like, say, Ain't It Cool News, at least back in the day, when Harry Knowles was saying stuff about how we needed to know what he did that day to know why he liked a movie).

"There is probably a sound, serious argument to be made about the popularity of confessional memoirs as a symptom of something especially sick and narcissistic/voyeuristic about U.S. culture right now... The sense I get from a lot of contemporary memoirs is that they have an unconscious and unacknowledged project, which is to make the memoirist seem as endlessly fascinating and important to the reader as they are to themselves."
-David Foster Wallace

I haven't checked out Giant Bomb in any serious way, so this is not a judgement on them. Maybe they get it right. But I'm only interested in a reviewer's biases and gaming history to a certain degree. If a guy grew up playing Sonic the Hedgehog, there's nothing wrong with hearing a little about his history with the franchise in his review of Sonic Colors. Or maybe he never liked Sonic - that's worth knowing, too. But there are some reviews I've read - oh, this is so, so, sooooo true about music critics, in particular - where you start to wonder if they're actually interested more in themselves or the thing they're supposed to be reviewing.

Posted by 
 on: 07/21/11, 20:51:43  - Edited by 
 on: 07/21/11, 20:52:55
By "injecting" their personalities I was more referring to non-review articles. Particurlarly their Quick Looks, where they play 20+ minutes of a game with at least one other person on the team, and they talk about it as they go along, getting generally first-impressions and speaking to us about them. They don't write diaries of their own preferences or anything, you just grow to love these dudes as you spend more and more time on their site. Their Quick Looks are not only genuinely insightful (Most of the time!) but also absolutely hilarious most of the time as well. Occasionally they're clearly not grasping the concept of the game, but that's kind of the point. They're going in blind, or as you or I might go in.

I'd say IGN has about the worst narcissism I've seen, and at the same time the absolute least amount of personality.

Posted by 
 on: 07/21/11, 20:57:13
@Xbob42 I agree. There is no way to review anything without bias. That's why I started the review stating that OOT is my favorite game of all time. That way, everyone is aware from the beginning and I'm not hiding anything.

Posted by 
 on: 07/21/11, 20:57:32
I don't think a better discussion here would be how we could improve the reviews system.

Posted by 
 on: 07/21/11, 21:00:10
Yeah, that sounds good to me. Like I said, I've never spent much time on Giant Bomb so I don't have any opinion on how they do things, positive or negative. Probably I'm just grinding my usual anti-narcissism-in-reviews axe.

But that's because when I was a small boy... (insert long narcissistic story about when I was a small boy.)

Posted by 
 on: 07/21/11, 21:03:05

I think lists are less important than the reasoning behind giving a 10 as described by Xbob. I don't subscribe to the, "No game is a perfect 10." school of thought or, "A perfect 10 game only comes around once or twice in a generation." for that matter.

To me, a 10 game is something that impacts you in such a way that it becomes one of your favorite games of all time. The game doesn't have to be perfect technically to be 10-worthy. It doesn't need to break new ground. It just needs to have that spark that makes me realize that I'm playing something truly special.

What fires that spark is going to be different for everyone. I could easily rattle off "10" games I've enjoyed this gen. like BioShock, Batman: AA, AC2, Portal 2, MK9, Pac-Man: CE/DX, RDR, and more. Many people may even agree with some of those.

But what happens when I legitimately give a game like Deadly Premonition a perfect 10? You know, the game IGN scored a 2.0. That's where the whole numbers game starts to fall apart. IMO, DP is easily a perfect 10, blemishes and all. It will easily go down as one of my highlights from this gen. Yet critical reception is all over the map for this game (including so perfect 10 scores, ironically).

Ultimately it comes down the value of our experience. That’s not a cold, hard, measurable thing. Sure, things like framerate, load-times, etc. measure into it, but that’s such a small thing in comparison to how a game can affect us overall.

In the end I think people who fetishize perfect 10 scores are strange. It’s such a subjective thing to obsess over that I wonder over energy some put in to propping up or tearing down individual titles worthy of the moniker of a “Perfect 10”.

Posted by 
 on: 07/21/11, 21:03:26
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