Artsy wonks like myself love to wax philosophic about the potential that games have in terms of narration or eliciting meaningful, emotional player responses. We laud innovative game designers for forcing us to make morally ambiguous choices about ourselves and the characters around us. Unfortunately, games fall short in one crucial, yet easily overlooked, way: they only go half of the distance.
Fumito Ueda's Shadow of the Colossus does just that.
It's hard to appreciate just how creative the control scheme for Shadow of the Colossus is -- particularly in the way it achieves an artistic goal -- without comparing it to other games. To simplify, ponder this question: How does mapping "jump" to the X button contribute to the overarching theme of a game? Well, by and large, it doesn't, and that's fine.
However, I want to argue that Wander and Agro's controls contribute in some important way to the artistry of Shadow of the Colossus.
Similarly, to attack a colossus, the player must press the O button once to raise his sword, and O again to strike. Again, the player is never separated from Wander and controls all his physical actions. That is to say there is never a rift between what's happening on-screen and what's happening in your hand.
Compare this to a game like, say, God of War -- you press X once, and you've killed 8 skeletons, deflowered a virgin, and ransacked a city -- and you realize what a feat Ueda's accomplished. The blurring of the line between Wander and the player becomes particularly important with respect to the titular colossi. Unlike God of War, killing your enemies is far from automatic or easy -- it's a concerted effort and a pre-meditated choice.
This choice is inherent in the rest of the game as well. You have to find the colossi, ride across an entire continent, and then figure out how to kill them. You have to want them to die. The game forces you to make decisions about whether or not to attack the colossi, a choice you have to make over and over, at each step of the way. Even when you've climbed the colossus, found his weak spot, you have to choose again -- will you push O a second time and strike? Will you push O a last time and actually kill the colossus?
These moments can be incredibly poignant, and I would go as far as to say that Shadow of the Colossus is the only game in which "no" is an acceptable answer to those types of questions -- all because of the way the controls are mapped.
When Shadow of the Colossus was released, some reviewers criticized it's controls for being unresponsive or clumsy, especially in regards to Wander's trusty steed, Agro. Treated like a traditional mount, Agro handles with all the grace and precision of a battery acid enema. Most vehicles are relatively straightforward: you get in, get around, and get off. Furthermore, cehicles are usually treated, thematically and mechanically, like extensions of the playable character -- it's really just a more efficient way to get from point A to point B.
Agro, on the other hand, has much subtler controls. Once you get him pointed in the right direction, just tap X a couple of times and let him do the rest. Agro makes turns, navigates obstacles, and generally keeps himself out of trouble, allowing Wander to enjoy the scenery and shoot arrows at birds, lizards, and the giant colossi that are trying to kill him. However, if you try to "steer" him , he just spazzes out.
The implications of such freedom, and the dependence on Agro that the player develops, are far reaching and important. By creating several situations in which the player is dependent on Agro's independence, Shadow of the Colossus forces you to develop emotional ties to him. This relationship (coerced or not) lends pathos to both Agro's fall and his triumphant return.
This, in turn, ties into all sorts of overarching themes of the game: loneliness, isolation, and the nature of love and friendship. Granted, other elements in the game also contribute to these themes -- the fact that Agro is the only character with a name, or the sprawling, sparse landscapes -- but Wander and Agro's relationship is, at its core, based on how Agro is controlled.
Sacrificing intuitiveness or gameplay to make an artistic statement is obviously a risky move and a tough decision, but Fumito Ueda made his choice, for better or for worse. For Shadow of the Colossus, I am of the firm opinion that it was for better.
[Image by meiwen.]
|4:53 PM on 05.23.2012|
Josh Trank signs as Shadow of the Colossus film director
Sister site Flixist reports that Chronicle director Josh Trank has signed on to direct the movie adaptation of one of the best PS2 games ever made (and now PS3), Shadow of the Colossus. Deadline says that Trank has been a fan...more
|2:45 PM on 08.15.2011|
ICO, Shadow of the Colossus bonus content and trophies
We finally have details on the bonus content that you'll get with the ICO and Shadow of the Colossus collection when it hits shelves on September 27. There's a full selection of bonus video content that I'm sure any fell...more
|11:30 AM on 08.15.2011|
ICO, Shadow of the Colossus event planned for September
Sony's Great Scene Sharing campaign will ultimately bring 40 lucky fans of Team ICO's games to a special event planned for September 3 in Tokyo. Fans are being asked to share their favorite scenes from ICO and Shadow of the C...more
|9:40 AM on 06.29.2011|
Shadow of the Colossus: Unused Colossi sketches
Check out these translated images from the official guidebook for Shadow of the Colossus. There's a bunch of concept art and character pages at GlitterBerri to enjoy. I really dug checking out the sketches for the unused Colo...more
|8:00 AM on 06.03.2011|
Shadow of the Colossus and ICO for PS3 dated in Japan
I thought it would never happen. Hell, it still hasn't really happened for us. At least Japan has a solid release date for the PS3 remakes of the Team ICO PS2 classics, Shadow of the Colossus and ICO. It all goes down on S...more
|12:30 PM on 05.16.2013|
Launch trailer for Guild02's The Starship Damrey
The first in Level-5's Guild02 triple pack, The Starship Damrey, arrived on the 3DS eShop earlier today for $7.99. A new trailer for the moody sci-fi adventure game has surfaced, featuring choice words from game designer Kaz...more
|12:15 PM on 05.16.2013|
Mayhem Bundle spreads the anarchy, indie style
On the cusp of a number of PC summer sales, Indie Royale has released another mostly-fantastic indie game compilation. Known as the The Mayhem Bundle, players will get five indie titles that sufficiently "bring the pain" thr...more
|8:00 PM on 05.15.2013|
Capcom explains digital-only Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies
When Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies leaves Japan this fall, it'll be available exclusively through the 3DS eShop. This reality of the publishing business has been met with backlash from some percentage of fans ...more