Bury the Shovelware: 2008 in Review

We're barely one week into 2009 and I'm already prepared to make a judgment about the current year: I don't like it one bit. With that in mind, I've decided to take a nostalgic look back to an easier, care-free time: 2008.

Our study began on the 2nd of July with a look at the laughably terrible Homie Rollerz. It will continue indefinitely (in other words, until my overlords decide to give me the axe), or until we can come to a concrete and atomic definition of "shovelware."

That's not to say that we've been woolgathering this past half-year. Indeed, we've learned quite a bit about what constitutes shovelware and what doesn't. Here's a handful of our most acute observations:
Publisher Resource Allocation - Too often, we find a title that looks promising but appears to have been shorted on resources. We usually pin this as the fault of the publisher, either for diverting or mismanaging funds. Without being privy to the development process, we can only use this as an assumption. I've felt that this may have been the case with titles like and .

The Stepping Stone - Everybody's gotta eat, and sometimes you have to take crappy jobs in order to pay the bills. This was illustrated perfectly through Ping Pals, as developer WayForward went on to create Contra 4, one of the best games of the decade.

Porting - Ports can vary between quick and dirty to well-implemented, and the versatility of quality keeps us from assuming what ports will be worth our time. Often, it's heavily based on the new platform, which must be catered to. We found porting issues with Myst.

Critical Perception - Humans are an influenceable bunch, and we often put too much trust into what any schmuck with a platform has to say (including myself). We found this to be present with Superman Returns, a mediocre title that was unfairly pushed into the realm of atrocity based on simple association.

Lost Potential - Similar to , this applies to a concept that seems perfect for a game yet fails in execution. This was the case with Jackass the Game and Peter Jackson's King Kong.

Price - Sometimes, you have to consider the bang for your buck (or lack thereof). While critical ratings may remain consistent regardless of outside factors, judgment on value as a whole should consider price. N+ was a great game made all the sweeter by its 20 price tag, while paying full price for Deal or No Deal is an insult to the people printed on the money used to pay for it.

Sequelitis - A commonly used term amongst movie critics, this refers to an originally passable idea growing stale and boring after too many iterations. Used primarily as a cash-in by publishers looking to recycle previous work (similar to ports), many usually high-quality companies are guilty of this. While some formulas remain fresh and exciting after repeated use (Mega Man 9), others ... not so much (Mega Man Star Force 2 - Zerker X Saurian).

Target Audience - Most of us reading this will likely not enjoy Bratz Ponyz 2, nor was that intended. While the careful critical eye can see through licenses and youth-oriented gameplay, it's a bit too easy to pile on a game simply for being aimed at a different demographic. That's not to say that a bad game can be forgiven simply if it's intended for young children, but rather that we need to be able to discern between worth and intention.

Forgivable Flaws - Some games can show many of the above symptoms yet still be excused if the gameplay is solid enough. Nowhere is this more evident than with N+: one of the best titles of the year that is able to thrive despite some notable flaws.

It wouldn't be a year-in retrospective without a list. With my being somewhat familiar with the concept, I decided to rank every title we've examined thus far. This list starts with the most fun gameplay to play and ends with the very least enjoyable. Here goes nothing:

26. N+
25. Clubhouse Games
24. Metal Slug 7
23. Tenchu Dark Secret
22. Resident Evil - Deadly Silence
21. Mega Man Star Force 2 - Zerker X Saurian
20. Cake Mania
19. Superman Returns
18. Myst
17. Death, Jr. and the Science Fair of Doom
16. Pokemon Dash
15. Zoo Tycoon DS
14. Jackass the Game
13. Space Invaders Revolution
12. Drake & Josh Talent Showdown
11. Peter Jackson's King Kong
10. Ping Pals
9. Bratz Ponyz 2
8. Petz Dogz Fashion
7. Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?
6. Homie Rollerz
5. Best of Tests DS
4. Bubble Bobble Revolution
3. Wiffle Ball
2. Elf Bowling 1 & 2
1. Deal or No Deal

It goes without saying that there is a world of difference between N+ and Deal or No Deal. This accurately demonstrates how wide our scope has been over the tenure of our study. While it's true that I've explicitly stated that some of these titles should not be considered shovelware (usually those in the higher echelon that I've listed), the list is not entirely linear.

For example, I was pretty strict with Cake Mania while I lashed out at critics for (what I perceived as) lowering the scores on Superman Returns simply due to its association with Superman for the N64. In other words, I'd consider the former as shovelware but not the latter. Yet while ranking the titles, I realized that I'd rather tap out a few rounds of Cake Mania than fight through Superman Returns.

This just goes to show how labels such as "good" and "bad" are not always appropriate. I realize that it's a bit hypocritical to downplay linear ratings in a paragraph that appears a few inches below a best-to-worst list, but I should reiterate that this is simply my personal interpretation. That's the great thing about debate and discussion: everyone is entitled to an opinion, so long as they provide reasonable arguments behind it.

Now that we've finagled our way into 2009, we'll continue our quest to define shovelware. We'll stretch and bend the definition in an attempt to learn its limits. We'll dig in very close with specific sections of certain titles, and zoom way out to get an idea of the big picture. Thanks for sticking with me thus far, and I hope you continue to do just that. Here's hope for a good year, shovelware-study related and otherwise.

In gaming, the term shovelware refers to any game in which time and effort were eschewed in favor of turning a quick profit. Bury the Shovelware takes a closer look at these titles, typically those that inhabit the lower end of metascores. It attempts to: 1) find out where and how the developer went wrong 2) identify common traits present in most shovelware 3) measure how long the game can be suffered.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.