The video game industry is occasionally susceptible to heavy discussion on cultural impact – whether it be the portrayal of violence in turn making gamers violent or the sexualisation of women having a negative impact on gamers’ own view of women. Sometimes we’re lucky enough to have different questions brought forward. One of those which we’re seeing again is this: should critics and those covering the video games be good at them?
Thanks to a recent gameplay preview of Studio MDHR’s Cuphead, this topic is once again ripe for discussion. First brought to light with Polygon’s gameplay of DOOM in 2016, it appears people want to know if those who write about video games should be good at them. Polygon’s video instantly became the laughing stock of the internet. More recently, Dean Takahashi of VentureBeat covers Cuphead, and he sucks at it. Like, he is painfully bad. First he is hilariously bad, but then he is painfully, frustratingly bad. He struggles on the second step of the tutorial, and he doesn’t even finish the first level in his 26 minutes of game time. So once again, should those who are paid to write about video games actually be skilled at them?
In short, I believe the answer is no, but they should definitely be competent. In these gameplay preview videos, viewers are expected to see an accurate representation of the game. Viewers are entitled to a solid amount of content without revealing too much. The highlight of the video is always meant to be in the game, not the person fortunate enough to be playing it. It is an unfair representation of the game. It is still publicity and coverage for the game and the journalist, but for the wrong reasons. The journalist will be mocked, and the game is shown only partially, and in a different light – total incompetence. While not just the individual journalist receives backlash and negative comments (which I will provide plenty, don’t worry) as a collective, video game journalists will receive negative comments.
One of the many instances where Takahashi died.
Granted, everyone who has been following Cuphead knew that it was a challenging game, like any ridiculous run and gun. Takahashi knew that it was challenging, but then labels it as “difficult” – these two words, while very similar, have a different meaning and again are slightly unfair to Cuphead. I, like most other video game journalists (hopefully) have been playing games since I was young. Takahashi himself has been writing about games for EIGHTEEN years. Surely in that time, and after writing two books on the Xbox, he would have some general level of ability across every video game genre. It seems as if the man has never used a controller. Totally misjudging enemies and jumps is forgivable, particularly on your first try. But to constantly have his misjudgement on sensitivity and length of jumps in the tutorial and the first level is embarrassing. Cuphead is a game in the run and gun genre, but Takahashi does hardly any running, or gunning.
“I didn’t realize for quite a long time that you don’t accomplish anything by jumping on top of an enemy, like in the Mario games. Rather, you lose a life. It took me a reminder as well that you can change the type of shot.”
How can you honestly be this bad, immediately after the tutorial? How can you forget about a core mechanic and try to kill enemies by not gunning them down but squashing them instead? An attempt is surely valid, but how do you not learn from your mistakes? Any other player would realise that Cuphead doesn’t have the mass to kill. It would make a far better video if we laughed at Takahashi doing a piss-poor job in the tutorial, then seeing him subvert expectations in completing a few levels. Except this doesn’t happen. Takahashi is constantly backtracking, trying to kill everything, not understanding the end goal of the type of game Cuphead is. You’re meant to run, and also gun.
Now, Takahashi understands that he sucks at Cuphead. He asks you to “laugh your heart out”, and calls his own gameplay shameful. This is brave. Honestly, if I was this bad, I would not have uploaded a video at all. So kudos to Takahashi for actually uploading it, but this is about the only thing he did right. His article even made the mistake of claiming that Cuphead was developed by the same team as Super Meat Boy. When it wasn’t. It was Team Meat. Takahashi displays not only incompetence in playing a simple-premised video game, but also writing about one, and ever so basic research. Surely it is a requirement to have an understanding of video games. If I was suddenly required to write about jazz music for the next eighteen years, I would listen and research as much as I could. Takahashi strikes me as a man who has had to write about games, at least about parts he has no interest in. His interest in video games lies elsewhere. It’s not in the gameplay, the culture, or the enjoyment. It’s in the technology side, the market side – as displayed by his two books, both about the Xbox and its role in the “entertainment revolution“.
So, to reiterate. Takahashi is not good at Cuphead, and he acknowledges that. This is a brave move, but would have been mocked whether he mentioned it or not. Gaming journalism should not require you to be a wizard at every game and genre you play, and it doesn’t. But you should have prior knowledge, competence and experience. Moments like this cause not only the game to be unfairly represented, but also video game journalists with a true passion for their content.
Cuphead comes out September 29th on Windows 10 and Xbox One.