I have a fondness for the obscure and original, which is something I seem to share with Ross of Ross’s Game Dungeon, which is one of the reasons why it’s one of my favorite YouTube series.
Ross was introduced to me through his hilarious Freeman’s Mind series, which was just a play-through of the original Half-Life with him voicing the silent protagonist’s thoughts. It’s creative, dark, consistently funny, and it features one of my absolute favorite games, so I love Freeman’s Mind.
Once that series ended, Ross started a new series called Ross’s Game Dungeon in which he delivers fairly in-depth reviews of usually quite obscure or just plain odd games. For instance, one of the reviews deals with Helious: an arcade puzzle game, which, according to the developer, was created by aliens who left it on his computer following a close encounter. Said developer seems to have vanished off the face of the earth in the intervening years. Another game, Nyet III, is a German-made, Tetris-based survival horror game. How does that work? You have to watch the video to find out (warning: contains nudity. It’s…an unusual Tetris game).
It’s not strictly a comedy series, though Ross’s personality is often very entertaining, and I especially love the occasional random thoughts, accompanied by appropriate footage, that interrupt the regular flow of the narration (i.e. in the very first episode, for the top-down flight-shooter game Tyrian, includes the line “I have a ship that’s a carrot”).
The appeal of the series, for me, is a combination of the obscurity of the games themselves (like I said, I like off-the-beaten-track works and obscure bits of history) and the genuinely intelligent things Ross has to say about them. I mean, he’s obviously not especially intellectual (which is not at all the same thing as being intelligent), but he makes solid points about the writing and game design. There’s a surprising amount of rewatch value (though I generally rewatch things more than most). There’s a balance of humor and sincerity that I find very appealing.
A lot of this comes from Ross’s personality, which is refreshingly down-to-earth and likable. Freeman’s Mind presents the title character as a neurotic sociopath, which was funny, but you wouldn’t want to spend any real time with him, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that his actual personality goes down much easier. This makes his videos a lot more enjoyable to watch than someone like, say, the Nostalgia Critic, who is so over-the-top and profane that his reviews often leave a bad taste in the mouth.
Ross is entertaining more because of his personality than because of cheap gimmicks like profanity or shouting, though he does do that sometimes as well. His comments and the things that he singles out as appealing to him are refreshingly, well, honest. It feels like he is actually expressing his personal likes and dislikes, rather than going along with what he thinks he ought to like, if you know what I mean. He comes across just as a normal person talking about a topic that interests him, which is enjoyable. He swears a fair amount, but not as if he’s trying to get a cheap laugh, but because that’s just he talks, and he’s not vulgar. A lot of internet reviewers sound like they’re trying to shock their audience into laughter (i.e. Zero Punctuation), and I definitely don’t get that here. Ross sound’s more like he’s chatting with friends over drinks. As a bonus, he sounds like John Ratzenberger, so it’s like listening to Ham the Piggy Bank reviewing video games.
As for his reviews, Ross is thorough without being overly pedantic or boring, and has some solid standards. He talks about the graphics, the gameplay, the writing, the music, and anything else that comes up. He especially seems interested in the music, a relatively rare subject in game reviews. One of the main things he looks for is whether the games have personality. Almost all the games he reviews, good or bad, have a lot of personality, and one of the games he came down hardest on, Wolfenstein, was because the game was so patently soulless and committee-designed that he eventually gave up half-way through. In that review he comments that a game can have a lot wrong with it, but still be worth playing if it feels like the makers actually cared about it. That’s a standard I whole heartedly endorse for all art forms.
I’m pretty omnivorous in my interests. With very few exceptions (i.e. evil things), I think that anything that humans choose to devote their talents to is worth learning about. Ross’s Game Dungeon is all about showcasing the skill and art that goes into making a game. I find that sort of thing fascinating, and it’s presented with humor and personality. Check it out!