I have always found that reading reviews is a hit or miss proposition. Especially reading reviews about creative endeavors. Reviews of products are generally more informative. No one is trying to be super witty when writing about a vacuum cleaner or ink jet printer.

I was on a website and they just hired a writer to review the art world. The writer’s angle is that he is no expert. He is just a guy that likes some art occasionally. Guess he’s too busy keeping it real. I’ve seen this angle before and it always seems to crop up in relation to art. After all, who could imagine a book reviewer saying that his strength is that he doesn’t know much about reading but read a book once. The review was mostly about the writer’s day out and had zero insight into the the art. This is why so many reviewers fail. They make the review about themselves and not whatever they happen to be reviewing. I don’t care about the writer’s story about how cool he is.

Video game reviews can be exceptionally deceiving. Some magazines and sites give good reviews to almost every game because they depend on ad money from those games. A lot of eights are given out to games that deserve sixes. It is also tricky to give ratings to video game sequels. A new, exciting, and innovative game can get a nine out of ten and then the sequel, a year later, gets a seven. The sequel can be equally as good but since the first one was “innovative”, and it can be the smallest thing that makes it so, the second has a good shot at being disappointing to reviewers. They can really love the slo-mo “bullet time” game play in December and be bored with it by May.

My least favorite video game reviews are the sports ones. Reviewing sports games is tough because video game makers can’t reinvent football every year. A sports game is given updated rosters and tweaked a little bit here and there. Features are added and taken away only to reappear another year to give the illusion of “upgrading” the game. As a result there are three reviews for sports games: 1) The “This is the worst game ever” review. Believe them. A sports game has to be genuinely bad to get this review. 2) The “This is the best game ever” review. This usually happens when a “major” upgrade happens to a game such as when a new system like the PS3 or XBox 360 comes out. It is the first game on a next generation system and everything looks shinny and new. It could also be the second game on a new system where they really tap into the new graphics power. The games are usually good but take the reviews with a grain of salt because they inevitably lead to: 3) The “This is good but not as good as last year’s game” review. This review is totally based on last year’s review. You can’t have two “best football game ever” years in a row. It is never a bad review. Its a “we were more excited last year when everything was shinny and new” review.

I do like all the new internet sites that I can go to for reviews from average people. They are not quite average because they have taken time out of their lives to write a review of something for free so maybe they are above average people. They generally want to inform and have their opinions heard so there is a genuineness to the reviews. They are definitely a positive addition to the world of reviewing.

I often say that I don’t like reviews when they are all about trying to be clever. That is when the review stops being about the work and starts being about the reviewer. This does happen but upon reflection I realize that I don’t mind if the reviewer is being clever. I mind it when the reviewer fails at being clever. Then he is just wasting my time.

My all time favorite clever line from a review comes from way back in 1988 or so. I don’t remember who wrote it or what movie it was referring to but I remember the line. “If a million monkeys at a million typewriters would write the complete works of William Shakespeare than this movie was written by three monkeys over a long weekend.” I love that line.

I had an idea the other day for different concept in reviewing. Go back in time and examine the mediocre. Most people who go back and review stuff from years ago examine only the really good stuff or really bad stuff. It’s the most entertaining. The mediocre stuff gets forgotten. The comic book “The Human Fly” came to mind. It was from the late 70’s, had 19 issues and even as a kid I knew it was mediocre. Sure you can find some retro-reviews of it on the internet but they really only deal with the first issue or two. No one examines the whole series. What did the series as a whole have to offer us? That is when I realized the flaw in my concept. I’d have to suffer through that crap. I still have The Human Fly 1-19 on my shelf but I haven’t read them since 1978. Why would I? They’re mediocre. I still have them for sentimental reasons, but really, read them?. With all the good comics out there why would I read mediocre ones? Even really bad ones are more fun. That is why the mediocre never gets examined. It is too painful. If there is something to be learned from the mediocre it is up to a stronger man than me to find it.

This week I got three comics. Ex-Machina Special 2 (of 2), Fear Agent 5, and Local 5. Not a big week but all the books are solid. I also picked up another cheap video game, the first Buffy game for XBox. It got good reviews when in came out in ’02 and was only $5.38 tax included. No more cutting edge for me.

I have a bunch of jumbled thoughts today. The first being about the TV show “The Sopranos”. Every time a season ends I hear people complain that the final show wasn’t that good because nothing happened. I point out that most of the “end of season” action happens in the second to last episode of the Sopranos. The last episode is reserved for follow up to the drama. That has been the pattern but a lot of folks don’t notice. History repeats.

Season ending cliffhangers for TV shows bother me in general. Why do they even exist? Is a cliffhanger supposed to get me to tune into next season’s opener? If I liked this season I’ll probably watch next season if there is a cliffhanger or not. Next season is always three or four months away so I don’t even remember what happened in last season’s cliffhanger anyway. It discourages me from watching repeats too. I know everything is just going to wind up in one big “too be continued” so I grow disinterested until it is actually continued. I like a season ender to wrap up a season. End it y’know.

I pulled out last year’s “Bigfoot” comic series from IDW to give it another read. It has art by Richard Corben. I was never a big fan of Corben’s work back in the 80’s but I never disliked it either. In his stories there were usually lots of naked people with really round body parts who were intent on doing each other harm. Not really my cup of tea but not bad either. Generally his work just left me cold. Not anymore. Corben is an absolute master storyteller now. I’m on board with everything he does. The first of his new work I saw was “Cage” from Marvel back in 2002. I didn’t like the writing by Azzarello and the story was a mess but it was masterfully told by Corben. Some comic book art looks good but when you read the comic the art fails to get the point across. The story just dies. Other comic book art comes alive as you read and it engulfs you in the story. This is storytelling. This is what Corben does so well. Check out “Bigfoot”. It is a horror book that will make you scared of this hairy legend who has been made into a not so frightening clown in so many other mediums. And Corben kills on it.

One more thing to add about last weeks video game blog. I never ever want to spend time in video games looking for a key to a door. I want that bit of hackneyed game play would go away. It’s always the same. My character is standing there strapped with every weapon imaginable including a gun that shoots A-bombs and can kill 900 bad guys at once but I can’t get through a locked door. I gotta go search for a key. Oh boy, what fun! I hate med kits too.

My bicycle helmet is an old fashioned thing (as bicycle helmets go). I got it about ten years ago and it was never as elegant or streamlined as today’s helmets. After a recent crash in which said helmet saved my noggin’ I decided to get a new one. The first thing I noticed while shopping online is that bike helmets have years. This year’s mode is full price, last year’s is discounted and the model from the year before was discounted even further. Who knew? What are they cars? I bought last year’s model. It is comfortable and allows a lot of air to flow through it. Though as I rode off on my bike I had to take the visor off of it. I couldn’t see. The visor was so low over my eyes I had to tilt my head way back to see forward. Who designed that thing? My Old helmet has no visor. Now my new one doesn’t either.

One last thing, I have finally found my limit when it comes to the price of a comic book. I have always been a purchaser of small press black and white comics which tend to be more expensive than mainstream Marvel and DC stuff so I’m no stranger to high prices. But four dollars for a 22 page comic is too high. The aforementioned “Bigfoot” comic cost that much and it was the last book I bought at that price. I notice a lot the new color small press books are coming out at $3.99 and I just can’t plunk down that much cash for one. $2.99 for black and white is fine $3.99 for color and I’m out of there. Ditch the color and drop the dollar is what I say.

This week I bought four comics. Walking Dead 28 and Jonah Hex 8 are regulars. Jonah Hex has a new artist this month so I’ll have to see if the quality holds up. Plus I got the second issue (of four) of the Black Coat, a Revolutionary War story. Lastly I bought Zed 7. I purchased issue one a while ago and haven’t seen another until now. Zed is a comical little alien who has adventures. At least as far as I can remember.
Apocolypse Nerd 3 that I got last week was a highlight. Not only is the lead story funny but Bagge does backup tales of historical Revolutionary War figures that are very funny. Check it out.

I bought a new video game this weekend. It was my favorite kind. Cheap. I decided a long time ago that almost no video game was worth fifty dollars. I used to be one of those who loved to play the latest and greatest video games but somewhere around the time of the first Tomb Raider game that all ended.

The Sony Playstation was in a large part responsible for cooling my enthusiasm. When it first came out everybody loved the Playstation. Everybody but me. I didn’t have anything against it. I wasn’t inherently bad or anything it was just that, in those days, any game that was in 3D was considered impressive. You could make a game about two guys walking down some stairs and if it was in 3D people would rave about it. Game play actually went backward for a couple of years as the technology went forward. I would point out to friends that the new game they loved had horrible game play and their answer was always the same, “But it’s in 3D”.

Lots of bad fifty dollar but in 3D video games broke me of wanting the latest and greatest games available. It is not a good feeling spending fifty bucks on a game, getting home, popping it in the console and trying to like it. That is what I would do. I would try to like it. My friends would ask me how it was and I’d say, “It’s not so bad” or “It’s pretty good” with little enthusiasm. My friends would have that same reaction after buying a bad game. It took about a week to admit to ourselves that we wasted our money on a game. A week of forcing ourselves to play the game as the inevitable realization sank in. We were video game fans and read all the gaming magazines (this was before the internet) so the anticipation for the latest and greatest game was always high. The crash of disappointment was just as low but it took a while to sink in.

I also used to be an early adopter of systems in general. Home consoles and hand helds I had them all. I learned my lesson with the Playstation in this regard too. I never bought a PS2 and got an XBox only a couple of years ago. Until then I was having a good time with the Sega Dreamcast and its stable of cheap last generation games and peripherals. That is the thing I insist on when getting a new system. A solid stable of under twenty dollar games to choose from. This means I am not getting a PS3 or XBox 360 any time soon. A small stable of fifty dollar games doesn’t do the job.

The exception to this twenty dollar rule is the killer ap. It is possible that one really good game can get me to buy a system. I bought a Nintendo DS just because Advance Wars 3 came out for it. A used DS and the game cost me under $150 so price had something to do with it too. I am unlikely to drop $600 on a PS3 or XBox 360 for just one game. As pretty as the Playstation Portable is $200 for the system plus fifty dollars a game is steep. Especially since most of the games are ports and can be found on other systems for half the price or less. And don’t get me started on Sony memory sticks. Still, it is a pretty thing.

The game that I bought this weekend? It is “Deus Ex Invivible War” for the XBox. It got great reviews when it came out in 2003. It was originally fifty bucks but I bought it used for $4.20 tax included. Yes, that is how fast video games become nearly worthless. Does anything lose its value faster than a video game? I can’t think of any other pop culture entertainment that sells for eight percent of its original retail price just three years later. You can’t get a fifty dollar DVD set for four dollars. Even last year’s issues of Aquaman go for more than eight percent of their cover price. And no one wants Aquaman comics.

I have yet another video game rule that keeps me from liking a lot of modern games. I think a game should be able to be played for twenty minutes and then put down. I often only have twenty minutes to play so it is a practical rule but also a philosophical one. I want a game with my video game. So often video games are about something other than an actual game. They are about being in an environment or being dragged through a story. If I stop playing a game for a week or two and then come back to it I should be able to pick it up no problem. That is not the case with a lot of games. In some if you forget what you were doing you will be lost and have to start over. You are really just following one specific trail and if you lose its scent the game is pointless. As a matter of fact there is no game just a path to walk.

I also hate cut scenes though they are hard to avoid these days. I don’t want a story. I want a game. Movies, books and comics are better at telling stories than video games ever will be. I want my game to be a game not a fourth rate movie.

I’m not interested in any game that can’t be saved on the fly. I don’t want to find a check point in order to save. I don’t want to spend twenty minutes going through a level only to die and then having to spend twenty minutes going through the same level to get back to where I was. Saving should not be part of the “challenge” of the game.

Yes, I have a lot of demands of my video games. You can see why I don’t play them as often as I once did.