Now, if you’re looking for a balanced and thoughtful critique of the game, then what the f*** are you doing here? ~ Yahtzee Croshaw, 2014
A few weeks ago, when discussing my reviews, a gamer friend of mine described me as a “Yahtzee Fanboy.”
While that phrase itself probably makes Yahtzee Croshaw real over in disgust, I can’t really deny that I probably am his fanboy. I’ve watched his channel religiously every week for years, I quote him in normal conversation and I rewatch my favourite videos and laugh at the same moments. I feel that Zero Punctuation has had a bigger influence on some developers than we realize and perhaps it’s something only a true fanboy would have recognised.
The Zero Punctuation Point
First of all, the reason why I think Yahtzee’s show is so important is because it shouldn’t be taken seriously. The videos aren’t just game reviews; it’s overall a comedy show, designed to make people laugh! But it’s also honest. Sometimes Yahtzee has completely torn apart a game I have loved, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t laugh at the video. More often than not I’ll agree with everything he’s said about the games faults, but I’ll still enjoy the game afterwards, because I won’t be able to disagree with him! Even games he reviews well will get dragged through barbed wire for the sake of comedy and honesty. I think Yahtzee summed this up himself in 2011 when he admitted on Reddit: “Certainly I focus on the bad, because I reckon plenty of sources focus on the good already. Happily, the bad is also easier to make funny.”
This is why my least favourite episode is the Mailbag Showdown episode. It seems unbelievable to me that someone out there would request someone, known for tearing games apart and pointing out all the gritty details for comic affect, to review their favourite game and expect them to just praise it to high heaven! Then cry when they don’t! (It was also disappointing to see Yahtzee just sneering at people who were mean to him.)
But if you’ve watched Zero Punctuation as much as I have, you may notice some patterns between what he says and the actions of game developers.
A Fable Of Unrequited Love
Before I start I would like to declare that I love Fable! Its original and fun, with a unique Gameworld, flexible storyline, beautiful artwork and interesting characters (plus I enjoy any scenario where I can have Stephen Fry’s warm velvety voice gracing my earholes.) But as I said before, it doesn’t mean that Zero Punctuation wasn’t spot on with its criticisms of the game. Fable: The Lost Chapters was one of the first games Yahtzee ever reviewed, over ten years ago now! The review wasn’t necessarily a negative review of the game, describing it as “a fairly decent action RPG”, but commenting on how little your choices seem to really affect the game world, the flawed combat options and lack of motivation to do the side quests.
Even so when it came to review Fable II, Yahtzee claims that Peter Molyneux contacted him, hoping that the sequel would met his “unreasonable standards.” It was at this point I began to suspect that Peter Molyneux actually held a great deal of affection for Yahtzee and just wanted to be his friend! Judging by Yahtzee’s attitude towards Molyneux during the review, the affection was not returned.
So, when Fable III came along, I noticed that Molyneux still seemed to be taking notes from Zero Punctuation, expanding the game world and adding in a more original storyline that differed from the first two games. Again, while Yahtzee commented on the good elements of the game, he also made the very valid comment that your “good and evil” decisions are meaningless since the evil decisions are just to stop your people from being killed by sentient slime and it’s ridiculous that your character can’t explain that! He also made the bold, but again valid point that the game is essentially fascist, since only a member of the attractive, white royal family is good enough to rule the land of Albion and ‘heroism’ is seen as an inherited trait rather than a personal trait that anyone can aspire to.
And lo, came Fable: The Journey, with a new premise that “heroes are no longer born, they must be made” and a new hero that is not descended from the pure linage of the first three games. After Yahtzee didn’t review this, maybe Molyneux got the message that he doesn’t want to be his friend and he cancelled the getaway vacation on a private island for two, along with Fable Legends.
Zero Punctuation vs Nintendo
Yahtzee has a reputation for reviewing Nintendo games badly, such as his infamous review of Super Smash Bros Brawl, which received enough hate mail to warrant a mailbag sequel. However, while Yahtzee has reviewed Nintendo games badly, he hasn’t reviewed them any more unfairly than he has other games. He reviewed Super Mario Galaxy favourably after all, describing it as “fun”, and praised Zelda: Windwaker highly (by his standards.) His good reviews may have been hidden by his usual ranty styles and hard-core Nintendo gamers might not have the goggles to see through it.
What Yahtzee was really the first to call out on was that Nintendo is the only game company we allow to release the same games over and over again! He first made this point in his Phantom Hourglass review stating: “Imagine if Valve released Half Life then a few years later release Half Life again, with exactly the same plot but with better graphics, different level design and maybe one new gun!”
I read Nintendo reviews a lot more than I’m willing to admit and it always amazes me that no-one is ever willing to call Nintendo out on its repetitiveness. The Zero Punctuation review for The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, took an interesting turn when, rather than ranting about the sameness of all Zelda games, Yahtzee addressed Nintendo on their issues, but still congratulated them on creating a console that “remains a games console.”
Unlike the Fable series, I do appreciate the awkward position Nintendo are in. In one hand, they have a ranty games critic telling them to stop remaking the same old game and hard-core fans in the other that will start weeping if they don’t spit out a new Zelda at least once per console, and they don’t need anyone to tell them which hand is going to cough up the most money!
If, and that’s a far bigger ‘if’ than anything I’ve said about Fable, Yahtzee had any influence on Nintendo development, it could have been their change of attitude towards reusing their old concepts. Nintendo games for the Switch are a vast improvement on games prior, most notably Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which behind the swearing and ranting, received a positive Zero Punctuation review (“While a bit emotionally cold, a broadly absorbing open world that offers something for every lunatic Nintendo Fanboy”.) They’ve also seemed to make an effort to introduce new concepts to their console, such as the Splatoon games (I’ll gloss over the fact that they’ve already released Splatoon 2, due to the Wii U’s failure.)
If I am a Yahtzee Fanboy, and I understand that this is nothing but a full-length confirmation of that accusation, then that might be because it’s nice to see someone say everything that needs to be said about a game, even when what needs to be said is scathing. Sometimes even the greatest gaming giants need a sharp dose of brutal criticism now and again, and Yahtzee is great at providing it. No improvements to games can really be directly linked to him, except for perhaps Fable II, but then again perhaps that would just lead to game developers weeping into their favourite pillows and wondering what they’ve done with their life. That and if games were suddenly without sin then Zero Punctuation wouldn’t be funny anymore and I’d have to find something better to do for five minutes on a Wednesday.