As a hobbyist game journalist / game reviewer, I try to research how the “professionals” do their job and learn something new from every person I come across. As I listen to them I ask myself questions such as, “How does this critic ‘show and not tell’ with their writing?”, “How do they stand out?”, and “How does this critic balance attention to detail with concise writing?” Over the years I’ve assembled my own Avengers team of my favorite video game talkers. I rely on them for recommendations, and I use them to gauge the temperature of the video game industry as a whole. These are my top 5 favorite content creators and how they have impacted the way I’ve approached my own review methodology.
No, he’s not Cookie Monster. He’s a monster… for video games. Arlo first came on my radar back in late 2017 and I’ve been following him ever since. Arlo is a balanced reviewer; he blends just enough analytical commentary and humor, and he is my go-to Nintendo review guy. His glowing review for Monster Hunter Rise actually made me reconsider whether or not I should give the demo a second chance. One of my favorite videos of his is this massive 3-hour-long review of Breath of the Wild where he analyzes every element of the game and delivers a balanced review of both its strengths and weaknesses. I thought he was a funny blue monster in his videos, but where his humor really shines is during his podcast, aptly named Arlocast. Typically Arlo invites other YouTubers and influencers onto the show and they talk about any sort of video game subject. During his videos he makes plenty of gags, but it’s when you hear him talking with someone that you see his true sense of humor. It’s very sneaky — you don’t know you’re walking into a joke until you’re already waist-deep in it. I love it.
4. ACG Reviews
What I admire most about ACG Reviews is that he has created the perfect structure for a “typical” video game review. He has a set list of bullet points to cover: sound design, voice acting, art direction, and so on. He then rates the video game on a scale of “Buy, Wait for Sale, or Never Touch.” Were I a professional reviewer that got free game codes and helped thousands of people make purchasing decisions, I’d do it like he does. ACG’s scale is the best way to conduct a traditional, “Should I buy it or not?” video game review. I especially admire his detailed but off-the-wall metaphors and similes. For example, in his Steamworld Heist review he mentions how the sound design of the grenades give off a “ting, ting, ting” sound that makes it feel like, as he put it, “the world’s worst Russian roulette machine” as you hope the grenade lands on the enemy robots and not back onto your own characters. He often doesn’t review games that I’m familiar with — he’s focused on the Xbox, PlayStation, and PC platforms. But I still find that important for my research, because I want to judge how well a reviewer can inform me what a game is about without any of my own previous knowledge filling in the gaps. I respect that he always buys a copy of the game he reviews, even if he got a free review code for it. ACG Reviews is always informative and always entertaining.
3. Skill Up
Like with ACG, I usually listen to Skill Up to hear a review of a game that I have no history with. This helps me pay attention to the actual writing instead of comparing whatever my own expectations and feelings are about the game. I can go in with a more open mind. Skill Up isn’t always bust-your-gut funny, but he’s always detailed, informative, and just jovial enough to convince you to keep listening. He has a way of finding important bits of information that mainstream reviewers for the larger publications tend to skim over. I feel like he and I have the most similarities in terms of personality and writing style — or at least his online YouTube persona is similar to mine. In general he isn’t hard to please, but he’s no sellout. No good game mechanic will go unpraised; no flaw will go uncriticized. Skill Up generally grades a video game on a binary “Recommend / Don’t Recommend” scale, though his reviews often have caveats based on what kind of player you are. It’s a fair grading system with more nuance than what you’d expect from just having two conclusions to his reviews.
So far Skill Up and ACG are the people I watch when I’m curious about a game from the new console generation (PS5 and Xbox Series X), although I also go to them when I’m considering a certain PC game. Most of the time I’m out of the loop regarding PS5 and Xbox, so these two are the first ones to expose me to what’s even coming out. Some of the games they’ve reviewed look rather fun, such as Kena: Bridge of Spirits and Returnal. Nothing has been released to convince me to actually bother buying the next-gen consoles, but I’m glad these games are out there. I’ll probably never play games like The Last of Us or Resident Evil 8, there’s just not enough time and I find the level of violence uncomfortable. But as a reviewer I need to be up to speed on what these games are like, how they’re designed, and what they have contributed to the industry. So the work that Skill Up and ACG provide for me are invaluable.
2. Triple Click
This one’s actually not a YouTube channel — it’s a podcast! I found out about Triple Click last year when I was researching Jason Schrier, the author of some of my two favorite video game books: Blood, Sweat, and Pixels and Press Reset. He used to host the Kotaku podcast Splitscreen along with Kirk Hamilton and Maddie Myers. When he, Kirk, and Maddie all left Kotaku in 2020, they went independent and formed this new podcast on the Maximum Fun Network. These three are all experienced game journalists. They bring an extra level of professionalism and insider knowledge to their work, and yet you’d never think that; they all just chat like they’ve been best friends since high school. Kirk Hamilton is also a musician and I love his commentary about game soundtracks. Maddie Myers typically points out the details that the other two miss while still remaining the most approachable of the three. Schreier is a thorough investigative journalist. His exposés on the development of Anthem, Red Dead Redemption 2, and Cyberpunk 2077 need no introduction. Together these three journalists create some of the best podcast content I’ve ever listened to. They’re good at boiling down a complex topic into something anyone can understand. That’s a skill I envy. They have many skills I envy, in fact. I’d love to meet all of the people featured in this post, but these three are the people I’d want to meet the most.
1. Tim Rodgers (Action Button)
Tim Rodgers. Tim 6-Hour-Long-Reviewer Rodgers. I don’t think if that’s actually his middle name, but it might as well be. He goes by Action Button on YouTube.
I first met Tim Rodgers (as much as you can meet a person on YouTube) when he was making video reviews for Kotaku back in 2018. He won me over with a video in which he meanders around Kanto in Pokemon Let’s Go: Pikachu, searching for any meaningful conversation with the game’s NPCs. This was the first time I realized that I too should be paying attention to details like NPC dialogue if I were ever to properly review a video game. Tim Rodgers’ writing is simultaneously a joke and a serious critique. He is so equivocal in his prose that I actually watch his reviews more than once just so that I can grasp everything he’s trying to say.
…Which became a problem once his reviews started to get long.
I thought his 2018 review of Dragon Quest XI was ridiculously long at just over a half-hour. Little did I know that he was just scratching the surface. Fast-forward to 2021, Tim Rodgers has left Kotaku and started his own channel called Action Button, where he had the audacity to upload a choose-your-own-adventure playlist review of Cyberpunk 2077 totaling over 8 hours of video. And yet somehow… I still listened to all of it. While his reviews have the playtimes of an entire workday, his deadpan joke/critique style manages to keep his odyssey of a video interesting. He goes off on tangents that at first seem completely unrelated, lulling you to sleep, and then he sucker punches you with a one-liner. His point was right under your nose the entire time.
All of these reviewers have helped my writing in some way, shape, or form, but whenever I watch even a single review that Tim Rodgers has completed, I feel like I can walk away with something new I could be doing better. Don’t worry, though, I’m not going to suddenly start writing novel-length reviews on here.
Other Great Reviewers
The problem with Top 5 lists is that so many other reviewers don’t make it. I’ve found several wonderful channels that review, discuss, and analyze video games. These are some of my honorable mentions:
- The Geek Critique. I love his Metroid and Sonic retrospectives.
- Nerrel. He doesn’t usually review games as much as give Nintendo a much-needed harsh critique.
- Retro Bird. Very underrated channel that focuses on retro video games.
- Super Bunnyhop. Another journalist-quality channel that I often look to for improving my writing.
- Fudj. Great humor with his “anti-reviews” that also create more interesting discussions about a video game.
- Pelvic Gaming. Odd name, but she does phenomenal reviews on many games with anime styles, JRPGs in particular.
- SuperDerek RPGs. Great channel that focuses on JRPGs both old and new.
And that’s still only a fraction of all the content creators that I like and admire. Our online conversation regarding video games has only gotten better thanks to the work of these people. They’ve certainly gotten me to reconsider elements, gameplay, and choices in video games. As odd as it is to “review” video game reviewers, I hope you enjoyed it! Are there any video game critics that you think are exceptional in their presentation and content?