Tag Archives: shadow of the colossus

Playing the Canon’s First Birthday: Five Favorite Games (So Far)

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As I looked back over the past year’s worth of entries, I realized I didn’t play nearly as many games as I thought. This illusion comes from a mix stopping and starting a handful of titles, devoting time to games I put down due to their sheer time commitment (someday, Baldur’s Gate!), and my rediscovery of the medium making every new game feel like an epic undertaking.

So, picking my five favorite games covered on this blog was not nearly the Sophie’s Choice I thought it might be. Sure, there were a handful of darlings I regret not including: The Saturday morning whizzbang joy of Psychonauts. The moody and punishing Another World. Braid’s deeply felt and fully realized puzzle box. But at the end of the day, these five games below are the ones that kept me going as I slogged through lesser titles. These are the games that still prove to me despite the industry’s deeply embedded problems and presiding adolescence, video games are so unique and powerful when the alchemy’s right that they are worth defending and talking about.

I’m still early in my quest. I have so many more games to experience — and there are more by the day, being created by an ever-diversifying community now that technology and distribution has dissipated — that a second anniversary top-five might look entirely different. I am presenting these in alphabetical order, because pitting five things I hold so dearly against each other in some misguided battle of worth seems like a fool’s errand.

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Side Quest: Celine and Julie Go Gaming

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Could Celine and Julie Go Boating — a semi-obscure masterpiece of French cinema — contain the secrets of proper video game storytelling?

Video games need to stop trying to be movies. You’ve heard it here and elsewhere; the tight, thematically coherent structure that reins in your typical two hour film will just never fit the wily, interactive nature of a game that can be fifty times that long. Games are typically better at moment-to-moment plotting and visceral release, waves of emotional catharsis cresting on the backs of set pieces and trial-and-error player accomplishments. These scenarios can move us; at best, they can insert us into an entire world ripe with someone else’s personality. But for any number of reasons — the audience as an active participant; the variations of player experience; the sheer time investment; the, um, general awfulness of most video game narratives — the common consensus is that games can’t do what movies do, and we are hurting our medium and ourselves by still imploring them to. It’s gotten to the point that cutscenes and nakedly cinematic opening credits sequences are greeted with cringes and eyerolls by most discerning gamers. It’s like we want to tell developers, “Stop trying to invite yourselves to the movies’ Grown-Ups’ Table. Just relax. There’s nothing wrong with the Kids’ Table; we can start food fights here!”

For the most part, I agree with this sentiment. Didn’t Wreck-It Ralph just heartwarmingly teach all of us gamers that fostering community is easier when you actually like yourself? (Um, spoilers?) But as someone with no great love of big-budget genre films — from which video games borrow approximately 99.8% of their cinematic ideals  — I sometimes wonder if gaming’s supposed inferiority to movie storytelling is more about misguided inspiration than the true differences between the mediums. Why would games — rambling and easily distracted by nature, or at least since the leap to inhabitable, three-dimensional worlds — try to emulate action and adventure films, easily one of the most tightly scripted and traditionally “plot-driven” movie genres? (The answer, unfortunately, is because man-children like guns and aliens, and usually can’t draw a line between “form” and “content.”) What if there were films out there that could teach us how to deepen and strengthen video game narratives without violating the tenets of the medium? What if we’ve just been watching the wrong movies? Continue reading

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Ico (2001)

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Man likes well-regarded game; footage at eleven.

How does one end a game like Shadow of the Colossus with any semblance of hope? The story climaxes in a catastrophe caused entirely by your character‘s actions, not only eternally sealing off your now-demonic person but abandoning the woman you swore to save in a desolate valley with little hope of escape. It’s a gut punch of a finale, and its inevitability does not detract from its mournful and sour taste. Yet Fumito Ueda and his team are too smart and too human to believe you can end a masterstroke with a one-note, soul-stomping dirge, and as the credits roll, we can’t help but feel a shred of hope for the world they created. Perhaps it’s as simple as the mood set by Kow Otani’s score, or that we are grateful to spend a few more minutes gawking at the game’s lush scenery. But for fans of Ueda’s previous title, there is one overriding reason we believe all might not be lost: he reincarnated Wander as a boy with horns. Continue reading

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Shadow of the Colossus (2005)

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 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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