Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Horned Boy and The Horse Rider

The Land of the Rising Sun; home of the most awe-inspiring, visually and thematically arresting games. At last, I got the chance to immerse myself in the uniquely singular world of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, a twosome of intertwined, minimalistic games, with two different approaches, though both containing exploration, and brought to life by game auteur Fumito Ueda. I hesitate to utilize common adjectives to heap praise, yet it is hard to fathom such gaming landmarks otherwise, now in their HD release.

I recall recently playing other adventure titles, and thinking to myself; "more exploring, less bullets." Well, gaming's longest escort mission, is also the most charming and quietly beguiling, as Ico's main focus is exploration; starring the namesake Ico, the exiled horned boy, working alongside the unearthly Yorda, with the goal of escaping from a foggy ancient fortress, and an evil queen with perverse intentions. In this title, even the enemies are unworldly shadow creatures, dark wisps right out of a dreamscape.

The visuals may look a bit dated, but the character and background designs are rather delightful. The gaming deities from Japan, have decided not to include health bars, or tutorials, making the game a captivating riddle, awaiting to be slowly untangled. I for one, am in favor of the puzzles being of intermediate level, since games such as this are an experience, and not really about skill, much like the trippy game Rez. Here, the right stick is employed to inspect your surroundings; in fact the dualshock 3 controller even quietly beats like a heart, while Ico holds Yorda's hand.
The music and sounds add much to the atmosphere, transporting you to this magical realm of made-up languages, in a subdued yet poignant way, which one might find reminiscent of the Minecraft original soundtrack. Michiru Ōshima handled the gentle soundscapes here, which are part of what make Ico so unique, whereas Kow Otani was the orchestral composer for SOTC. Both soundtracks present notable music cues, which really help define the identity of these games.
Shadow of the Colossus, which was originally to be an online game, squarely focuses on boss fights, while some elements from the previous game repeat themselves, such as the architectural style and the appearance of shadowy figures. SOTC is also something of a love story, though the action is certainly more agile and elaborate; while the former was an intimate game, this is a sprawling adventure. It also takes place in a magical world, and those who dig deeper, will find direct connections in both games' plotlines.
The game is more dynamic than its predecessor, yet the balance struck between exploration and action denotes the makers' trademark deft hand. Once again, the game mechanics are quite unique, as you progressively climb over each Colossus, while watching your grip, and finding their weak spots. It can be plainly seen that SOTC was a landmark game, with its breadth and epic scale, which influenced generations to come, and this has been noted by certain reviewers.
Wander's horse, Agro, has well-crafted and lovely, fluid animations, it controls very intuitively, and it's a pleasure to watch as she runs at great speed, in a rather realistic fashion; a thing of great artistry and refinement. The giants themselves are a unique mixture of pre-historic animals and ancient architecture, which has to be seen to be understood. The game's open-world map may not be the largest, but it's crafted with considerable care. As well, not only can you search for the sixteen giants to battle against, you also can collect shiny lizard tails and fruits from fruit trees, adding longevity to the title.
A final word, regarding the extras. These are filled with concept videos, animated prototype clips and interviews with the team behind the two games, and all are quite insightful. It's interesting to note, that the as-yet-unreleased The Last Guardian, is to be a combination of the premises of both Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, since you play a boy whose companion is a an imposing fantasy creature. Gladly, this HD Collection takes only about 8 mb to install. Highly recommended.