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GamePro Has Serious Control Issues
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on January 22, 2010   |   Episode 168 (Show Archive)  

   

Funny, I don't see anything on this old school GamePro cover about full-motion video games!
How do you measure good gameplay? As a game critic, I often ask myself what it is that makes a game's control good or bad. Is it the way you can control your jumping in Super Mario Bros.? Or maybe it's how easy it is to pull off complicated moves and combos in Street Fighter II? Perhaps good control means that you really feel like Master Chief when you're playing Halo 3. Well, if you're working at GamePro in the 1990s, then good gameplay has nothing to do with how easy it is to control your on-screen character. No, instead the gameplay score hinges on how close the graphics are to resembling your favorite TV show.

Even before they instituted actual review scores, GamePro magazine was showering Dragon's Lair with unwarranted praise. This classic 1983 laserdisc game showed us a future we couldn't get enough of, full of animation so good it looked

Digital Leisure is going to make sure that Dragon's Lair will outlast us all!
like a cartoon with characters that actually talked. Who wouldn't want a piece of this massive advancement in video game technology? Unfortunately this leap into the future came with one giant downside: The user has very little actual control over the action on screen.

It's true, not even Don Bluth himself can say that Dragon's Lair has good controls. Instead of actually controlling a character, you're reacting to the action and then moving the joystick in the direction you think the game is asking for. Early full-motion video games didn't give you a heads up when to push the button, so playing a game like Dragon's Lair was an exercise in memorization. Loyal fans of the

... And that goes for Space Ace, too!
game would play it a few times, memorize the input commands and then rush through it with a bunch of people around. This was possible thanks in large part to the game's length, which was no more than a half hour.

Despite not actually being in control of any of the action, GamePro still showered Dragon's Lair with high praise. And it didn't stop at Don Bluth's 1983 hit, this gushing over full-motion video games continued well into the 1990s.

Thanks in large part to the invent of the Sega CD and TurboGrafx-CD, gamers were finally able to experience a lot of these arcade laserdisc-based games. When the editors at GamePro received the first batch of these arcade ports they were head over heels

The Road Avenger box has what is easily the most exciting cover art of the 16-bit era!
in love. Not only were these games good looking (a huge improvement over the traditional 8- and 16-bit sprites), but GamePro seemed to think they were some of the best playing games around. Both of these games scored high scores for their gameplay/control, even though neither review actually goes into detail about the quick time-style of control.

As newer full-motion video games hit the scene, GamePro started to address the concerns of the control. For example, when the editors reviewed Road Avenger (a Team Wolf developed Sega CD game) they barely had enough room to fit all of the gushing. ""As with most laserdisc games, the controls are almost out of your control," GamePro acknowledges. "Unlike other types of driving games, you don't really control the on-screen action as much as you react to

This Night Trap box is about as interactive as the actual game inside!
it. Since the game animation moves constantly in real-time, this road warrior doesn't stop until you reach the end of the level, or you crash." Despite what they said, GamePro gave the game a 4.5 for control. That's only half a point away from their top score, which is considerably higher than most racing games. If the controls are that good, then why can't you actually control the car?

Their inconsistent scoring wasn't exclusive to the animated full-motion video games; they also had nothing but kind words to say about Night Trap. Here's a game where the entire gameplay mechanic is set up around you switching channels on a TV. Oh sure, every so often you have to push a button to trap a "vampire," but as far as gameplay goes this is about as thrilling as watching regular television. Even though you don't actually have any control over what happens in the game, GamePro showered Night Trap with praise, saying that "The game's controls are a snap to use." Of course they are, the controls are nothing more than a glorified TV remote control. They gave Night Trap a perfect score, a 5.0 out of 5.0.
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