20 years of Metacritic scores shows a steady decline in 90 and above titles

Brodie Fogg 11 January 2017

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Metacritic's scores over time signal a decrease in critical favour.

Whether you love or hate Metacritic (or review scores in general), it's hard to deny that the aggregator gives us the best possible overview of a game's global reception. Metacritic's Metascore is based on thousands of published critic reviews and not just any old armchair critic can have their score counted. You need to prove you consistently publish quality reviews before Metacritic will consider your opinion of value.

What surprises me about this graph is 2015, the year with the least titles with scores of 90 or above. This was a year that featured one of the most fleshed out video game universes ever created with The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt, the same year that brought us the ground-breaking open-world stealth of Metal Gear Solid V. Yes, 2015. You know it well from the addictive madness of Rocket League and possibly the most beloved indie of all time, Undertale. It breaks my little heart to see 2015 perform so poorly in the eyes of the critics.

Make what you will of the obvious downwards trend in critical favour. Maybe critics are becoming more scrupulous in their scrutiny; maybe there's been a collective shift in what makes a game near-perfect; maybe the games being released really aren't cutting it. I'd argue for the former.  2001 was the year the PS2 and Gamecube blossomed with now-classic titles like Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty and Super Smash Bros. Brawl. The Xbox introduced us to Halo, a game that would forever revolutionise the first-person shooter genre, while open-world games would never be the same after Rockstar dropped GTA III.

With that console generation now fully formed, 2001 introduced us to countless graphical marvels and never-seen-before gameplay mechanics. That still happens today. The jump is just not as blindingly obvious.

In 2016, game engine tweaks and leaps in physics, sound and gameplay don't go unnoticed, but they're not the sum of what makes a good game. These days, a game can have visual fidelity so clean you could eat off it, but it won't mean squat unless you've got an engrossing narrative or innovative gameplay mechanic to back it up.

Take a look at the Call of Duty series. Year on year, we get a new entry to the series. The latest CoD looked especially stunning and held on to the tight gunplay the franchise has become known for, but despite attempts to capture the magic of space combat games like Star Wars: TIE Fighter, its gameplay failed to push the needle in any significant way and the story was reduced to a tropey military tale with a nebulous backdrop.

Call of Duty cops a lot of flack for this but it's not the only franchise clinging to the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mantra. With the exception of 2016's entry, the infinitely popular Pokémon series has lasted over 20 years without dramatically changing its core mechanics and has only just changed a few issues (like HMs) that gamers have had since day dot. Pokémon is one of Nintendo's biggest franchise and it's yet to have a title land in Metacritic's 90+ club. But hey, who needs top-shelf reviews when you're raking in over $2 billion a year?

To be fair to Nintendo, it has had a steady run over the last 20 years. 2016 was the first year since 1996 that Nintendo didn't have a title in Metacritic's 90+ club. Which is kind of telling considering the dire state of its neglected flagship console since the announcement of its successor, the Nintendo Switch. With The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and a mystery Mario title around the corner, it's likely we'll see the beloved entertainment company back on top in 2017, but it's still sad to see it slip off the radar. All up Nintendo has had 75 entries in the 90+ club, with an average of 3.6 titles per year.

As for Nintendo's rivals, Sony has maintained the highest amount of entries in the 90+ club with 156 total entries in the 90+ club and an average of 7.4 entries per year. PC comes in second with 104 titles with 90 or above and an average of 4.9 titles per year. Third is Xbox with 90 games total and an average of 4.3 titles per year. For good measure, we also threw in the Sega Dreamcast, which had a strong (though shortlived) couple of years with 1 90+ title in 1999, an impressive 9 in 2000 and another 4 in 2001 before the console totally fizzled out.

What 2017 holds is anyone's guess. Could we turn this ship around with Arkane's take on Prey? Or will Mass Effect be rubbing shoulder with the 90+ club once again when Andromeda launches this March? It's even possible that Resident Evil 7 will claw its way back in (an honour the series hasn't received since the very the excellent Resident Evil 4) if our hands-on preview is a good indication of what's to come.

If 2017's lineup of exclusives is anything to go by, Xbox's 2017 is looking drab compared to Sony and we won't find out any more about the Nintendo Switch lineup until its global reveal this month.

Whatever's in store, it's bound to be nothing short of amazing, regardless of the review scores.

Complete list of 90+ club games

ScoreTitleUser scoreYear
93Uncharted 4: A Thief's End7.92016
92INSIDE7.92016
92Out of the Park Baseball 173.52016
91Overwatch6.82016
91Forza Horizon 37.42016
90Stephen's Sausage Roll5.62016
90NBA 2K175.92016
90Kentucky Route Zero - Act IV6.32016
95Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain7.22015
93The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt9.32015
92Bloodborne8.62015
92Undertale7.92015
90Tales From The Borderlands: Episode 5 - The Vault of the Traveler8.22015
92Super Smash Bros. for Wii U8.52014
91Dark Souls II7.92014
91Bayonetta 28.22014
91Kentucky Route Zero - Act III6.62014
90Velocity 2X7.22014
90Shovel Knight8.22014
90Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition7.52014
97Grand Theft Auto V8.22013
95The Last of Us9.12013
94BioShock Infinite8.52013
93Super Mario 3D World92013
92Fire Emblem: Awakening9.12013
92Rayman Legends8.72013
91Fez6.52013
91The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds8.92013
90Spelunky7.22013
90Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons8.52013
90Dota 26.22013
93Mass Effect 35.82012
92The Walking Dead: A Telltale Games Series8.52012
92Journey8.82012
92Xenoblade Chronicles8.92012
91Dishonored8.42012
91Borderlands 28.22012
91Mark of the Ninja82012
91Far Cry 38.62012
90Trials Evolution82012
90XCOM: Enemy Unknown8.32012
90Guild Wars 27.92012
90FIFA 136.12012
90NBA 2K1382012
96Batman: Arkham City8.62011
96The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim8.42011
95Portal 28.82011
93The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword82011
92Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception8.32011
92Rayman Origins8.32011
91Forza Motorsport 48.22011
91Gears of War 37.82011
90NBA 2K126.22011
90FIFA 127.22011
90MLB 11: The Show7.82011
90Dead Space 28.62011
90Super Mario 3D Land8.42011
90Deus Ex: Human Revolution8.52011
90Pushmo8.52011
90Total War: Shogun 28.32011
97Super Mario Galaxy 29.12010
94Mass Effect 28.92010
95Red Dead Redemption8.82010
93Pac-Man Championship Edition DX8.22010
93Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty8.22010
93Rock Band 38.22010
92God of War III8.72010
92Super Street Fighter IV7.72010
91MLB 10: The Show8.32010
91Halo: Reach7.92010
90World of Warcraft: Cataclysm5.62010
90Bayonetta82010
90Braid8.62010
90LIMBO8.42010
90Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood8.22010
90Super Meat Boy82010
90Sid Meier's Civilization V7.92010
96Uncharted 2: Among Thieves8.82009
94Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 26.32009
94Street Fighter IV7.32009
93Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars8.32009
93Minecraft7.42009
93Braid7.82009
93Flipnote Studio8.52009
92Forza Motorsport 382009
92Batman: Arkham Asylum8.72009
91FIFA Soccer 107.52009
91Assassin's Creed II8.62009
91Peggle7.32009
91Batman: Arkham Asylum8.72009
91God of War Collection8.72009
91Killzone 28.12009
91Dragon Age: Origins8.62009
90Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story8.72009
90Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned82009
90MLB 09: The Show8.12009
90Empire: Total War6.92009
98Grand Theft Auto IV7.52008
95LittleBigPlanet6.82008
94World of Goo8.82008
94BioShock8.72008
94Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots8.72008
93Super Smash Bros. Brawl8.92008
93Braid8.52008
93Fallout 38.52008
93Gears of War 27.72008
92Rock Band 27.72008
92Team Fortress 29.12008
92Galactic Civilizations II: Twilight of the Arnor8.42008
91World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King7.52008
91God of War: Chains of Olympus8.62008
90Portal9.32008
90Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 48.92008
90Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 28.22008
97Super Mario Galaxy8.92007
96BioShock8.92007
94Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare8.42007
94Halo 37.82007
93God of War II8.92007
92Rock Band8.22007
92Final Fantasy VI Advance8.42007
91Crysis82007
91World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade7.92007
91Galactic Civilizations II: Dark Avatar8.72007
91Mass Effect8.72007
90The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass82007
90Half-Life 2: Episode Two9.22007
90Metroid Prime 3: Corruption8.92007
90Forza Motorsport 28.32007
95The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess92006
94Gears of War8.32006
94The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion8.72006
93Company of Heroes8.82006
93Okami9.32006
92Final Fantasy XII7.62006
92Guitar Hero II8.52006
90Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter82006
90GTR 28.72006
96Resident Evil 48.92005
94Ninja Gaiden Black8.72005
94Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Chaos Theory92005
94God of War8.92005
94Sid Meier's Civilization IV8.32005
92Forza Motorsport7.62005
91Guitar Hero8.72005
91Shadow of the Colossus9.12005
91Battlefield 28.42005
91World Soccer Winning Eleven 8 International9.12005
91Mario Kart DS8.62005
90Advance Wars: Dual Strike92005
90Burnout Revenge8.82005
90Silent Hunter III7.92005
90Falcon 4.0: Allied Force8.62005
96Half-Life 29.12004
95Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas92004
95Halo 28.22004
94Burnout 3: Takedown7.22004
93Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Pandora Tomorrow8.62004
93Unreal Tournament 20048.92004
93World of Warcraft7.32004
93World Soccer Winning Eleven 7 International92004
92ESPN NFL 2K59.12004
92Rome: Total War9.12004
92Metroid Prime 2: Echoes8.82004
91Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal9.42004
91Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater9.32004
91Ninja Gaiden8.82004
91Tiger Woods PGA Tour 20054.52004
91Madden NFL 20057.92004
90The Sims 28.82004
90MVP Baseball 20048.62004
90The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay - Developer's Cut8.72004
90Pikmin 29.12004
96The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker8.92003
94Madden NFL 20048.52003
94NCAA Football 20048.82003
94Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic9.22003
93SSX 39.12003
93SoulCalibur II9.12003
93World Soccer Winning Eleven 6 International9.12003
93Viewtiful Joe8.32003
93Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution92003
92Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time7.82003
92SoulCalibur II8.92003
91ESPN NFL Football8.52003
91F1 Challenge '99-'028.22003
91Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell8.52003
91Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow9.12003
91Call of Duty8.52003
90Project Gotham Racing 28.82003
90Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga9.32003
90Tony Hawk's Underground8.72003
90Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando9.12003
90NBA Street Vol. 28.82003
90Panzer Dragoon Orta8.52003
90ESPN NHL Hockey72003
97Metroid Prime9.32002
95Grand Theft Auto: Vice City8.72002
95Madden NFL 20037.72002
94Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 48.52002
94Virtua Fighter 482002
93Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell8.52002
93Grand Theft Auto III8.42002
93NFL 2K37.42002
92Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem8.72002
92Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos9.12002
92Super Mario Sunshine8.62002
92Metroid Fusion9.12002
92Tiger Woods PGA Tour 20035.62002
91Medal of Honor: Allied Assault8.62002
91NCAA Football 20038.62002
91Neverwinter Nights8.22002
91No One Lives Forever 2: A Spy in H.A.R.M.'s Way8.72002
90NBA 2K282002
90TimeSplitters 28.82002
90Freedom Force8.12002
97Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 37.52001
97Grand Theft Auto III8.52001
97Halo: Combat Evolved8.62001
96Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty8.72001
95Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec8.42001
94Devil May Cry8.52001
94Madden NFL 20027.92001
93Mario Kart Super Circuit8.32001
93Paper Mario9.22001
93NBA 2K27.72001
92SSX Tricky8.92001
92NHL 20028.52001
92Advance Wars92001
92Super Smash Bros. Melee9.12001
92Final Fantasy X8.72001
92Conker's Bad Fur Day9.22001
91Klonoa 2: Lunatea's Veil9.12001
91IL-2 Sturmovik8.82001
91Twisted Metal: Black8.42001
91Golden Sun9.32001
91Castlevania: Circle of the Moon8.52001
90ICO8.82001
90Tennis 2K282001
90Black & White7.72001
90Dance Dance Revolution8.82001
90Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy8.72001
90Star Wars Rogue Leader: Rogue Squadron II8.62001
90NCAA Football 20028.72001
90Unreal Tournament8.62001
90Sid Meier's Civilization III8.42001
90NFL 2K282001
90Flight Simulator 20028.42001
98Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 27.72000
97Perfect Dark8.92000
97NFL 2K162000
95Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn9.22000
95The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask9.22000
94Final Fantasy IX8.92000
94Chrono Cross8.12000
94Jet Grind Radio8.12000
93SSX8.32000
93Skies of Arcadia9.42000
94Test Drive Le Mans7.92000
93NBA 2K17.32000
92The Sims7.92000
92Vagrant Story8.32000
91Madden NFL 20017.72000
91Mario Tennis8.92000
91Spyro: Year of the Dragon8.82000
91DOA2: Hardcore8.12000
91The Longest Journey8.92000
91Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 28.52000
91The Operative: No One Lives Forever92000
90Marvel vs. Capcom 29.12000
90NHL 20016.82000
90Deus Ex9.32000
90WWF SmackDown! 2: Know Your Role8.52000
90Grandia II8.82000
90Banjo-Tooie8.92000
90Colin McRae Rally 2.08.72000
98SoulCalibur8.81999
93Gran Turismo 291999
93Street Fighter Alpha 38.51999
93Homeworld91999
92System Shock 29.11999
92Tony Hawk's Pro Skater9.21999
92Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings91999
92Unreal Tournament (1999)9.11999
92Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri9.11999
92Medal of Honor8.61999
91FreeSpace 28.91999
91Planescape: Torment9.21999
91Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver91999
91Mario Golf7.91999
90Rayman 2: The Great Escape91999
90Ape Escape8.81999
90Syphon Filter8.71999
90Donkey Kong 648.61999
90Final Fantasy VIII8.61999
90Beetle Adventure Racing7.61999
99The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time9.11998
96Tekken 39.11998
96Half-Life9.11998
96Gran Turismo8.81998
94Metal Gear Solid9.41998
94Grim Fandango9.11998
92Banjo-Kazooie9.21998
92Thief: The Dark Project9.11998
91Baldur's Gate91998
91Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped8.91998
96GoldenEye 0079.21997
93Castlevania: Symphony of the Night9.41997
92Sid Meier's Gettysburg!7.61997
92Final Fantasy VII9.21997
92PaRappa the Rapper7.41997
91Myth: The Fallen Lords8.81997
91Colony Wars7.81997
91Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II8.61997
90Blast Corps8.71997
94Civilization II91996
94Quake8.81996
94Diablo8.71996
94Super Mario 649.21996
93Wipeout XL8.71996
92Wave Race 648.11996
91Tomb Raider8.61996
91Resident Evil91996
90Command & Conquer: Red Alert8.81996
92Wave Race 648.11996
91Tomb Raider8.61996
91Resident Evil91996
90Command & Conquer: Red Alert8.81996
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