Review-pocalypse: On Writing Criticism

Reviews: Good or Bad?

There’s an art to writing reviews on bad stuff—an obnoxious one at that. It’s also quite fun—at least at first—to tear a bad game or movie apart by using metaphors and hyperbole to describe their badness. But as it usually is with objectifying subjective experiences, there is also such a thing as a badly written review. It neither offers connects the dots nor solutions to problems and only serves to insult the creator(s) without subtlety or any careful consideration.

As always, context is everything. Eviscerating something like the Star Wars prequel trilogy is no longer relevant, while ripping the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens may see you torn asunder by those who think otherwise (by the time it premieres). The timing and other variables involved are important considerations if the review is to be taken with any measure of seriousness, even if it’s mostly humorous.

DISCLAIMER: The following statements and opinions are that of the author alone, given through mostly observation and conjecture. Reader discretion is advised.

Different Tiers of Reviewing

I would like to propose my own theory on reviews of bad stuff, whether it’s a game, a movie, a book, or so on. The Internet is full of such reviews, all with varying degrees of effectiveness in showing how bad their subjects are. What I have in mind here is a three-tier guideline that categorizes each level of criticism that is common with most negative reviews. I could be wrong, but it’s how I see reviewing in a somewhat systematic way.

Tier 1: Nitpicking

This part is full of traps and pitfalls that many a reviewer have fallen into time and time again, and it won’t change anytime soon. The thing about nitpicking is that it’s pretty much a necessary evil for the most part because small things add up to the whole, so minor faults are still worth looking at.

While many would say it’s a bad thing, being able to rag on the little details has always been a part of reviewing. Sifting through every part of a creative product is like being a detective searching for clues to solve a mystery. Oddities, novelties, and outright mistakes found here and there eventually paint the picture of what makes something good, bad, mediocre, or just interesting for some reason.

But when a reviewer starts obsessing over details in various ways without getting to the conclusion when evidence gathered becomes sufficient, then it’s nitpicking that may be doing one of two things—distracting from the big picture or mistaking the collection of those details as the big picture. While neither are completely wrong, they can still make you miss the real point.

Despite that, nitpicking can be really fun and tempting, especially if the review is done at least partially for the purposes of comedy. That comprises most of the fun in writing scathing reviews, but it’s also easy to go too far with it, which can then take away from the integrity of the whole review. But that also depends on how serious the review is; reviews done specifically for comedy can go nuts with it.

Tier 2: Comparisons and Parallels

Admittedly, this is the foundation upon which many of the articles posted in this website are built upon. Being able to compare the fuck-up in a newer thing with a similar fuck-up from an older thing is a pretty good device for hitting home why something sucks, the differences between old and new, and so on. You can also do vice-versa, or something from one medium with a different one.

The difficulty here is that you need to make sure that you’re not wasting your time comparing apples to oranges in an entirely wrong context. Apple-orange comparison is unavoidable in this case; it happens all the time, and it’s alright if the reviewer does get a good point across by doing that. However, there are times when some do fall flat in doing so.

While it’s an effective technique for reviewing media, it’s certainly not the be-all-end-all method—far from it. Same thing goes for contrasts, differentiating something bad from something good to see where the former went wrong and/or how it could have been fixed by following a principle from the latter. As always, the two subjects must have some relevance with each other… and context is still everything.

Tier 3: Summation (Getting to the Real Point)

The ever-elusive desired final state of a review that few seem to actually yield consistently. But the thing is there’s no one method to doing this, and the previous two tiers may also be needed to reach this point. Getting to the summation without looking at the little details first or how the subject compares to its counterparts may make the review flat and without justification for its conclusion.

Many reviews don’t reach this point, too consumed by nitpicking and/or comparing and/or not enough focus on actually getting to the primary reason why their subjects are sub-par. But then again, there could also be not just one major reason why something is bad; it’s usually a collection of flaws that drag it down.

In this case, reviewing becomes a juggling act that requires one to find the balance between these three tiers in order to reach the best possible conclusion. If there is even an iota of an attempt to prove any sort of point, then you have to get to this part to make sure that you’ve hit it home for the most part.

Mind you, it’s not certain that everyone will agree even when you’ve done your homework diligently (it never is). But by properly summing up what you think is the main cause for concern (and actually understanding it), you should be able to defend your point if ever forced to a corner.


To be honest, I’m not sure where I’m really going with this as I myself have a long way to go with reviews, even if I’ve spent years writing them in other publications (I need to post more of them here). But maybe I’ll look back on this post and figure out that butter zone for making sense out of something bad without falling for the usual traps and ending up not hitting the nail on the head.

Agree or disagree with my view on reviews? Please leave whatever reactions, questions, or suggestions you may have on the comment section below. You may also leave a message on either Facebook or Twitter. Thank you for dropping by.