What separates a 90% rated stunner from a 42% rated scummer? Obviously a large slice of it lies in the intangibles - such as good level design or getting the feel right - but other contributing factors are a lot easier to pin down. The hallmarks of cheap, lazy corner-cutting that can blight even the best of games. Leaps of faith, unskippable cutscenes, mindwarping tutorials...
Well, we've had enough of these crimes against humanity, particularly as some of them have already shown their face on 3DS, mere days into the new console's lifespan.
So court is now in session! Over the next few weeks we're going to take to task 12 of the most commonly repeated design faux pas seen in today's games. We'll hear the cases both for and against, and then we'll decide on a suitably ironic punishment.
But remember one thing: in these courts, we're the judge, jury and executioner, and defendants are always found guilty...
Defendant: Mario Kart Wii
The charge: Fixing the outcome of races by implementing a mechanic known as rubberbanding. That is to say, no matter how well you race, your biggest rival will always be lodged up your exhaust pipe, ready to fly past you at a preposterous speed on the final corner.
Case for the prosecution: There's a long history of chequered flag-thievery in the defendant's family, your honour. Rubberbanding cheats the player and completely neuters any underlying element of skill or technique the game might possess.
Case for the defence: You call it rubberbanding, we call it 'dynamic game difficulty balancing'. We've all played a racing game where you're five miles out in front of the dozy AI pack within 30 seconds. Where's the fun in that? At least our way, you're guaranteed racing thrills and spills from flag to flag. And surely we deserve time off for good behaviour - as the Mario Kart series has evolved, we've become less dependant on natural rubberbanding, with the items serving to level the playing field.
Judgement: Although Mario Kart's crimes are heinous, the jury acknowledges that we've repeatedly had to adjourn court for multiplayer sessions and this does stand in its favour. Rubberbanding in itself is not a bad thing in moderation. As the defendant states, it keeps races fresh and exciting and if used judiciously can greatly benefit a game.
But it cannot be allowed to run unchecked, and for this reason we sentence Mario Kart to 300 hours hard labour, during which time an ape in high heels will repeatedly tread on the defendant's ankles.
Chances of re-offending: 9/10. Rubberbanding is a popular developmental shortcut, and its use is on the rise, particularly in arcade racers and sports sims. Sure beats all that laborious playtesting and balancing palaver, right?
Defendant: Metroid: Other M
The charge: Forcing the player to sit through an endless procession of interminable cutscenes.
Case for the prosecution: Oh look, it's Samus! And here she is again, being all introspective and angsty! And now a panoramic sweep of her metallic buttocks! And now it's time for another unintelligible internal monologue! And now... OH GOD MAKE IT STOP!
Look, we understand some people play games for the story. That's their prerogative. But objectively speaking, 99.999% of gaming scripts would get laughed out of an amateur dramatics theatre, and we can't bypass them quick enough. Either way, there's really no excuse for developers not putting in a skip function in this day and age.