Flawed Masterpieces – Why do I love games that are so broken?
I’ve come to realize that many of the games I hold in highest regard are often in some way flawed. I’m aware that no game can ever achieve perfection, so what I mean is flawed in some obvious way, like a broken camera system or annoying glitches. Sonic Adventure for instance is one of my all-time favorite games, but is hampered by both a bad camera and glitches, as well as poorly conceived fishing sections. Actually, a lot of the examples I’m about to use will be SEGA games, predominantly Dreamcast games. It’s strange to think that the console and the games on it that I love above all others are often hampered in some way that makes them unattractive to a whole lot of people. What is it that these games possess that means I am able to overcome their drawbacks?
This realization dawned on me last year, following the HD re-releases of Jet Set Radio and Nights into Dreams. I very much believed that both these games were sure to do well critically. I was convinced that these two games, which in my mind were masterpieces, would review favorably. However, the reactions to both were mixed. I was genuinely surprised but reading the reviews I began to understand. Jet Set Radio does have an awkward camera, it can control less than brilliantly, and the tag battle’s, particularly the early one against the Poison Jam, can be a huge frustration. To many these issues are deal breakers; they ruin the experience. To me however they are minor flaws in one of the best games I’ve ever played. For whatever reason I just assumed everyone would feel the same way.
I stand by that too, I re-played Jet Set Radio to completion in its HD form and had as much fun as I ever have done. It’s utterly unique and magical; it has possibly the best soundtrack and art direction ever and plays like nothing else ever created. It was exactly the way I remembered it, right down to the flaws already mentioned. Some may argue that with time, these issues become more accentuated, but I can’t agree. I feel that it is certainly true of games like Resident Evil and Tomb Raider, games made right at the beginning of 3D gaming, that they certainly show their age. In Jet Set Radio’s case I feel that the issues are the same nuisances they always were. The camera and control problems are just as obvious and problematic upon it’s original release. To me though it’s a game that embodies SEGA at their creative peak, it is a game that is charming, bizarre and energetic. It’s a game that you feel the developers put everything into, and that they were allowed the freedom to do what they wanted.
I feel this is typical of a lot of the output of SEGA on the Dreamcast. I already mentioned Sonic Adventure, but take Ecco The Dolphin; another great example of a love/hate game. It’s large areas are designed to be explored and played with and the game can be vague about what it wants you to do. It’s that vague and open nature that appeals to me so much, yet to many it’s completely off-putting. Then there’s Seaman which is about as obscure as a videogame can get. Essentially it’s about raising a weird Tamagothci-like talking fish-man, some adore it and others are simply confused by it. Then there’s Yu Suzuki’s Shenmue series, which is widely considered one of the best videogames ever created, but if it were re-released in HD now I would fear for how critics would grade it. The game could be accused of having clunky controls, the voice-overs are often sub-standard, and when you get far enough in the game you have to spend a whole lot of time moving crates around on your forklift. In fact I think the games overall slow pace would prove bothersome to some and the general reception would be once again, mixed. However for many others and myself Shenmue is undoubtedly among the best videogames ever and the games slow pacing is one of main reasons why.
So what is it that is so attractive about these cracked gems? I believe it is because there is always something about these games that makes them unique. There is always so much passion put into the games, and something about the way the game feels that makes it stand out from all others. It seems that with this level of ambition and creative freedom there is an inevitability there is going to be some elements that will appear somewhat broken. Just take the Elder Scrolls games as an example, they’re always made on such an epic scale that a large amount of glitches is simply expected from them. Any of the games in that series are amazingly popular, yet are repeatedly so ‘broken’ upon their release they require multiple updates to fix all the bugs.
The most suitably modern example though is probably Deadly Premonition. A game that is often described as broken but has become a cult hit and is a game that I love. It has visuals that are below what you’d expect from this generation, it often controls awkwardly, and the voice acting is often broken up by strange and unnaturally long pauses. There is much that is ‘wrong’ with this game but its proven to be quite the underground hit, why? Again, this game is made in a way that it feels like absolutely nothing else, even with its obvious Twin Peaks inspirations. It has a brilliantly realized world and has a story that sucks you in so deep that the obvious flaws become invisible. When it came out it was exactly what I was looking for in a game, I didn’t want to put it down. You can tell that the developers put everything theu could into this game; you can feel their creativity as you play. It’s a perfect modern example of a flawed masterpiece; it has many issues that will put off a whole lot of players. Those who aren’t put off will experience a game that will live with them forever.
That’s pretty much the crux of it, if the gamer feels drawn and attached to the world the game creates they will probably overcome camera and control obstacles. I would suggest that it comes down to how much it breaks the immersion of that particular player. If that issue proves so prominent that it removes you from, rather than immerses you in that particular game, then you are unlikely to want to continue playing. For me I guess I have a high tolerance for that sort of thing, because it turns out many of my favorite games have glaring flaws in them. Those Dreamcast games are just brilliant in ways I find hard to describe, and it was reassuring to see Jet Set Radio popping up in top downloaded game charts so often, because it means I’m not so alone. Hopefully developers too will notice and know that they can take risks with their games, that if they can make a game that’s unique and interesting then people will value that more than an uninspired but polished product.