No matter how old I get, I can’t shake this gaming jones. Of course, as the calendar pages fly and the responsibilities mount, I find I have much less time for gaming than I once did. Still, I refuse to surrender it completely. So, like many people, I find time to insert my pastime into the crowded confines of my busy schedule. And I find that most days, when the house grows still and bedtime is close at hand, I’ll fire up a game versus mindless channel surfing to unwind. My wife finds that action incredibly ironic, as she feels her tension level rise when she plays, but I’m just the opposite. Saving the universe seems much less taxing than filing a TPS report or obtaining requisition authorization for a new frame relay.
As an avid gamer and someone who will try most any genre (except dating simulators), I find that I always carry with me that inner barometer to measure the latest obsession. Like any gamer, my list of favorites is a mile long, but I’ve played enough to clearly define those stellar titles that really rocked my world.
As I begin dipping my toes in the waters of Avault, I’d like to offer our readership my own personal “Top 5 Favorite Console Games of All Time.” As with everything, this list is purely subjective. One man’s Mass Effect is another man’s Voodoo Vince. So while my Top 5 might represent those titles that occupy primo real estate in my heart, I welcome you to use the comments and offer up your own Top 5. Prove me wrong!
Each day this week, I’ll present one selection from my Top 5 list. Check back each day to see if my picks match yours or if your picks are better than mine.
Without further adieu, here’s number five:
Shadow of the Colossus
In late 2006, as I was immersed in my real-life quest for an XBox 360, I stumbled across this gem, released for Sony’s Playstation 2. The game can be summed up in two words: boss fights, those end level battle royales that often charge a player with taking down some hulking behemoth in order to gain a power-up or open passage to the next world. Shadow of the Colossus takes that staple of gaming – some might argue a tired and worn cliché – and makes something wholly unique, haunting and beautiful.
Colossus opens with your character, a young knight, pulling a horse with no name through a lonely, desolate land. Draped over the horse is the lifeless body of a young woman. Using spartan, muted graphics and a viewpoint that stretches for miles of digital landscape, the player feels completely lost in an “alien” world. The knight eventually comes upon a massive castle that seemingly bursts from the Earth, its sharp precipice pointing accusingly toward the sky. He enters this edifice and makes his way to a sanctuary. There, he places the woman’s body on an altar and is soon startled by a great, booming voice from the heavens. The voice tells the knight that within this cursed land there are 13 great Colossi that guard various areas. If he can hunt them down and kill each beast, then new life will be granted to the woman. Grabbing a small sword, the knight heads off on horseback to hunt each of these golems.
And that’s where the game begins. The player moves his avatar through this world, seeking out each Colossus. While there’s a fair bit of platforming required to locate each one (think Tomb Raider or Prince of Persia), the meat of the game lies in the battles with these creatures. These are epic throw downs, with each Colossus taking a different form and requiring the player to think through the right way to tackle the creatures. Some of them are multiple stories tall and all boast a weak point that must be reached, leading the player to grab onto the creature and clamber over its body while it desperately struggles to shake you off. The battles are intense and very puzzle-oriented, with each one playing out like those satisfying boss fights from The Legend of Zelda series.
When you finally do bring one of the creatures down, you’ll feel this amazing sense of accomplishment, as every skill is exercised and tested. Button mashing doesn’t work here. Each Colossus takes a well-orchestrated plan.
Buoyed by stellar production values and amazing sound design, the game does a great job of imparting an emotional attachment to these majestic creatures. Each one is so awe-inspiring (some appear as gentle giants) that when you do take one down and it crashes to the Earth in pained slow-mo, you can’t help but feel a tinge of guilt.
This all comes to bear in an expert climax that reveals a major twist to the story and also ties in quite nicely with another underrated gem from the same developer, Ico. I’ve played both, and while they initially feel like distant cousins, the closing moments of Colossus reveal a more intimate relationship.
Some time last year, Roger Ebert posted comments on his website where he decried video games as an art form. Of course, Roger might have had Galaga and Pac-Man in mind as this medium has grown in its storytelling abilities over the last decade. Amidst the tempest of responses sent in by impassioned fans, Shadow of the Colossus became a common example in the argument for video games as art. If the essence of art is the ability for a work to move one, to touch one, to coax a visceral reaction, then I take up their cause, as Shadow of the Colossus made an indelible connection with me.
Check back tomorrow for number four.