Monthly Archives: June 2012

Shadow of the Colossus (2005)


 A deserving masterpiece is at once subversive and straightforward, a fable about not always trusting fables.

Shadow of the Colossus is, at least in part, the story of a man’s hubris flying in the face of natural order. I take this to heart while writing this, because talking about any other “important” videogame before it feels like going against the grain just for the sake of it. How can you discuss this medium without first tackling the game that explicitly asks what’s so damn appealing about killing things in an expensive-looking simulator? And yet, I fear that by writing about Shadow of the Colossus too early, I’ll have nowhere to go but down.

For a game laced with both heady and popular influences (let’s get Moby-Dick, Miyazaki, the loneliest bits of Zelda, and the Troy McClure classic David Versus Super-Goliath out of the way), Shadow of the Colossus never feels like mere pop-culture amalgamation or a round of post-modern spot-the-references. It’s almost suspiciously pure, so stripped-down in storytelling and aesthetic that it feels more likely to have sprung from Greek myth or Bible stories than the powerful processors of a mid-aughts Sony Entertainment. Amazingly, the game maintains the familiarly repetitive, objective-based structure of most action-adventure titles, but not once alters course or complicates it with new elements; hell, even Ico had you improve your weapon a few times. If there’s one Fumito Ueda lesson I’m glad to see rippling through the industry, it’s that words like “complication,” “backstory,” and “length” are not at all synonymous with “depth” or “feeling.” Continue reading

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What Is It About Mario?

On the surface, Nintendo’s mascot is just that: a corporate logo. So how can he still excite and endear after all these years?

By all logic, we should resent Mario by now. He is just as much a smiling face masking billion-dollar think-tanking as infinitely more suspect corporate mascots like Mickey Mouse and Ronald McDonald, and he’s perhaps even more cynic-baitingly twee. No one doubts the innovation and rush of frantic creativity that power his main series of adventures, but shouldn’t his much more frequent appearances in quickie sports titles and on faux-vintage Hot Topic shirts have dulled the character’s magic?

And yet, we still undoubtedly love Mario. Even at Nintendo’s near-universally criticized E3 conference this year, industry insiders couldn’t help but clap and whistle at the sight of him bounding through what frankly looked like two second-verse-same-as-the-first entries in the New Super Mario Bros. spin-off franchise. During an internship at a movie studio, I attended several consumer product presentations where employees didn’t bat an eye at new offerings featuring equally beloved characters. Hell, even Mickey Mouse himself is a hard sell for kids these days. So, what is it about Mario? Can he have his cake and eat it, too, be both a corporate mascot and a character we actually care about? Why does he still resonate and inspire in an industry that in recent years has had little trust in cartoon shills? Continue reading

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World 1-1: START!

I was a timer kid.

You know the type. The kid whose daily gaming habits were dictated by the unstoppable countdown of a kitchen timer. (A half-hour on weekdays and an hour on weekends, in case you were curious about specifics.) The kid who, while everyone else was racking up kills in seemingly endless rounds of Diablo and Counter-Strike was finally, FINALLY, going up against Ganondorf after at least six months of piecemealing together Ocarina of Time. The kid who lost every round of Goldeneye because he not once stayed up way past midnight perfecting the art of “Slappers Only!” mode.

If this sounds bitter, that is not my intention. I’m actually relieved my parents took the initiative to keep me from turning into a living extension of my Nintendo 64 controller. It led me to read and write a lot, and to get way too into The Seventh Seal by the end of ninth grade. But now that I’m an adult, I’ve realized video games interest and excite me in ways beyond the childhood obsessiveness of a flightless bird chasing a shiny object. They have an allure and a visceral impact that may not eclipse my love of movies or books, but have enough of a unique emotional pull that gaming is now something forever under my skin and in my head. There certainly isn’t a shortage of young, smart people with blogs who feel similarly.

But between lack of exposure during my youth and betting on the wrong horse these past two console generations (in case you can’t tell, I’m a Nintendo fanboy slowly broadening his taste), there are some serious gaps when I try to discuss gaming culture and heritage. I decided it was finally time to sit down and play the classics, the same way I tried to take in enough of the film and literary canons to at least know what the hell I was talking about. What I’d like to do with this blog is not only write about my personal reactions to these games, but also why they resonate as nearly-undisputed classics. What do they say about the video game medium? What do they illustrate about what games do well? Are they enough to prove that there is a video game “canon,” or is this an art form so in its infancy that this is like trying to write a dissertation onFred Ott’s Sneeze?

In the next few weeks, I plan on writing about Shadow of the Colossus, Ico, Portal, and Knights of the Old Republic; I’ll obviously be adding to this list as I play more games. I’ll also be doing more general entries. (Expect a Mario post shortly following this one.) If writing about games like Ico or Bioshock seems tired, my hope is that’s because these games are the ones worth writing about. We’ll see.