Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Red Letter Criticism

Plinkett’s review of Star Wars: Episode III went up over at Red Letter Media recently, thus completing the massive critique of the ill-fated Star Wars prequels. For those who have never watched one of these things, they provide in-depth analysis of where the Star Wars prequels failed in regards to storytelling and film making techniques. If you have an extra hour or so, I recommend starting with Episode I. Overall, I find them I find them both entertaining and educational. As someone without any formal training in film criticism, I always come away from a Plinkett review with a deeper understanding of the medium as well as the specific film being reviewed. Here’s a taste of the first part of the Phantom Menace review:

Most of the criticism surrounding these reviews isn’t about the analysis, but rather the shtick. The narrator is portrayed as a fictional serial killer obsessed with murdering women and eating pizza rolls. I share the opinion that it veers too-often into self-indulgence and poor taste, but I see why the deranged nerd bit exists: comedy can liven up potentially dry criticism. After watching the latest review, I reflected thinking about some of my favorite humorous-yet-informative video game critiques.

Last February, Ryan Davis of Giant Bomb, descended into his own personal Hell while trying to review Dante’s Inferno. Watching him fail over and over again without any clear explanation demonstrated the importance of “readability” in games.

The Angry Video Game Nerd sometimes falls into the same trap Plinkett finds himself in regarding shock humor, but his videos are a nice way to remember that the past was not always as magical as we remember it:

Video isn’t the only way critics break free of the old essay format. Mitch Krpata’s “handy” tutorial on Killzone 2’s sniper rifle was short, sweet, and hilarious. Kirk Hamilton’s “Fisher-Fest 2010” illustrated the uninspired dialogue of the latest Splinter Cell game using old-fashioned transcription. My favorite thing about these two pieces is their restraint: without getting overly mean or snarky, they poke fun at problems and provide insightful analysis.

I used to watch Zero Punctuation more often, but lately I feel like it’s crossed over to the Dark Side: while Plinkett’s off-color jokes and wacky editing break up the analysis, it seems like Yahtzee’s jokes are increasingly only about shock value. I have a pretty strong tolerance for blue comedy, but the scatological and sexist humor feels a bit aimless these days. There’s nothing wrong with being filthy or controversial, but there’s a difference between the way Family Guy does it and the way George Carlin did it. Crude humor is funnier if there’s a point being made.

But, to paraphrase the Dude, “that’s just, like, my opinion, man.” I’m always on the lookout for humorous analysis and I’m interested in hearing your favorite examples.


  1. I always thought it was a damn shame that that Star Wars review kept veering off into their 'murdering women is funny' shtick. I enjoyed what little I saw - I just couldn't keep watching after he devoted too much time to expand on the serial killer thing.

    Which is weird, since I can usually stomach the gratuitous bullshit that Yahtzee pulls on the regular. Just not this one.

  2. Hey godsy,

    Thanks for stopping by! Raunchy and outrageous humor is such a subtle science, and there's just no way to please everyone I guess.

    That being said, I have a certain appreciation for folks like Yahtzee who test the limits of taste. Regardless of how you feel about him, he's had an impact.

  3. @ Dante's Inferno: Its nice to see reviewers encounter the problems us "normal gamers" seem to encounter with poorly designed games. Too often you read a review in one of the glossies (Gameinformer, PC Gamer, OXM) and it seems like their experience was completely different from yours.

    As much as I hate to admit it, the Star Wars review cuts to the quick as to the pitfalls of the prequels. Its funny 'cause its true.

    Having said that, you'll die on your knees, like a scientist!