IT’S NO SECRET that Let’s Plays have gained monumental popularity in recent years. With popularity, however, comes an over-saturated market. Many Youtubers have tried their hand at the Video Commentary game -even South Park have made digs at this subject in the current series -yet just as many fail to gain the support they need to continue while being financially stable. Making a good Let’s Play video is certainly more difficult than people expect; you need look no further than the internet’s own Nostalgia Critic, who received overwhelming negative feedback on his attempt at this format.
So, what is the secret to a good commentary web-series? The ability to keep your audience entertained is doubtless the most critical, especially in the moments where not much is happening in your footage. You need to combine this with the knowledge, skill and insight to be a talented reviewer, along with excellent editing, comprehensive coverage, regular uploading and, of course, some actual charm, perhaps the most challenging skill to pick up.
This is a list of boxes that Canadian-born Northernlion, a videogame critic and commentator, manages to check. However, where Northernlion most succeeds is the speed and consistency with which he uploads his first impression videos. To say the man has a wide range of games he’s examined would be an understatement. Despite the huge amount of videos he has uploaded, each one feels carefully crafted and well-researched. He never gives the sense of half-arseing any game; he runs a playthrough beforehand so that he’s able to give the audience the best impression possible.
Outside of the first impressions he gives multiple playthroughs of games, especially the ones with randomised settings. His most popular video playthroughs on The Binding of Isaac has reached over 800 uploads; in each one, he provides an interesting take with some interesting and often witty one-way conversation.
The problem I have with Youtubers such as Pewdiepie is that they often come across as scripted, which isn’t necessarily wrong as it ensures dialogue throughout, but it can detract from the natural responses to the gameplay. Northernlion’s dialogue doesn’t go down this route but he still has the capacity to engage the audience no matter how much action is taking place on screen.
My favourite series of Let’s Plays has unfortunately stopped running but I remain hopeful that it will start up again. Hosted on Machinima, Poison Mushroom explores some of the more terrible, low-budgeted or uncommon games, and his attitude towards what’s taking place never fails to make laugh and provides some relaxing content to chill out to.
It’s true that this format has been done to death, with Jontron, Peanutbutter Gamer and countless other Youtubers focusing on exactly this topic. I found that Northernlion’s playthrough style of reviewing them, compared to those who interject their own real life characters into the content, to be quite refreshing. Don’t get me wrong, I do love Youtubers who have made quite creative and witty characters to review bad games, its just nice to have something both funny and more straightforward.
My only complaint is that he references and comparisons to other games that he has previously reviewed that audiences may not have caught. I wholeheartedly recommend this channel, perhaps not for the humour or the entertainment value (which are generally amusing) but for the quality of the first impressions of the many games you can find on Steam.