Friday, June 13, 2014

E3 2014: Three Gems to Watch

Each year at E3 we get some trailers of new games, and for the last couple of years we've gotten some really good surprises.  Not all of them are indie, but I think it would be hard to deny they are indie influenced games.  Last year we got to see Transistor for the first time, and Child of Light.  This year has the next crop of games to watch and keep interest about.  These are not the blockbusters that get put on billboards and have a mountain dew sponsorship.  These are the little gems that sometimes get lost in the cracks.

Unlike images, I can not download and host youtube videos to ensure that they last a long time.  If you come and read this many years after I post it, you may not see a trailer or video present.  It existed at one time and I'm sure you can find the video on Youtube or whatever neural network our new robot overlords have created to pacify our synapses while they siphon our energy into their Malto-regeno-cores.

Valiant Hearts

Child of Light was an unexpected jewel from such a large studio as Ubisoft.  This year they surprise us again with a team that uses Child of Light's game engine to spin a tale about soldiers and civilians during The Great War, known in the US as World War 1.  They are writing a pretty large check for this one; not financially, but emotionally.  Let's hope it lives up to what it could be.  It will be released on many platforms.

Ori and the Blind Forest

The makers of Ori: The Blind Forest each site the 16-bit era as their favorite.  One of the biggest influences from that time is Super Metroid.  Lots of western indie devs look to Super Metroid for inspiration(in Japan the games are not nearly as well liked and that's why we get actual Metroids made by non-Nintendo people).  In Ori, the team wanted to make a Super Metroid that had more challenge.  The emphasis on exploration is there, but they wanted to ramp things up to "Super Meatboy" like levels of difficulty.  The game also looks beautiful.  I'm all for Metroid clones as I believe Castlevania did not hit its peak until it became "Metroidvania" as they call it.  It will be released on PC and Xbox.

Titan Souls

While Legend of Zelda did not start the "boss as a puzzle" craze, it was the introduction of that gameplay for a lot of us.  So what if you bring the concepts of Shadow of the Colossus back home to 2D, overhead, Zelda-esque gameplay?  You might get Titan Souls.  Every Titan can be killed with just 1 well placed arrow shot, but figuring out how to make the Titan expose this spot is the whole trick to it.  Each Titan is a different challenge with unique movement, unique attacks, and unique surroundings.  Right now you can pretty much say "Take Shadow of the Colossus and (insert genre here" and I'll be a sucker for it.  Titan Souls was originally a game created in 72 hours at Ludum Dare Game Jam, and they continued working on it to make a commercial release with much more content.  It is coming to PS4, Vita, and PC.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Shadow of the Colossus: Post Mortem

The work of Fomito Ueada have influenced hundreds of indie developers over the past decade.  You can take a look at games like Journey, Papa and Yo, Monument Valley, and dozens of others and see the elements of the sleepy cult classic Ico and the blockbuster that is Shadow of the Colossus.  I never owned Shadow of the Colossus on PS2, due to a number of reasons.  With my love for Ico, it is a little weird that I never got the game and went through it without a moment's rest.  I knew from the word "go" that I would love this game, and it has not let me down.  Put in context of the year it was made, it did amazing things that we did not see implemented by western developers until well into the PS3 era.

The premise for this game is simple; you want to bring a young woman back to life that has been sacrificed for some reason that we are not told.  The main character, Wander, has taken an ancient blade to a forbidden area, and while there asks forbidden spirits to bring her back to life.  The spirits task Wander with killing 16 colossi that are represented by 16 statues that line the hall.  Each colossus is a level unto itself.  The methods to dispatch them is different with each, and the puzzles involved with figuring them out are mostly ingenious and intuitive.  The spirits will give you clues if you do not solve things for a while, but generally I find that with trial and error, you have more fun figuring it out.  In between fights, there are no other monsters or puzzles to figure out.  You are given this vast stretch of land with ruins and beautiful landscapes that are just there for you to discover on your own.  You may find yourself adding hours to your gameplay just exploring.

The graphics for the game have always been amazing, and the HD remake of it does not disappoint.  Because of the stylized artwork, nothing ever feels all that dated.  The plants, the sand, the water, all are done very beautifully.  There never needed to have large special effects because that is just not Team Ico's style.  Ueada pairs down the world to the most basics, but then adds beautiful little details into the world.  The horse, if left alone, will go and find water, or munch on the tallest grass in the area.  There are birds that soar through the air, and sometimes take an interest in following you.  The music, likewise, is paired down, leaving lots and lots of areas with no music at all, but there is still a soundtrack playing.  This soundtrack is that of nature.  A rustle of branches, a crunch of twig under foot, or the snort of a frustrated horse companion.  Even with no music, the world is alive with sound.

People may be let down by the small amount of story in Ueada's games, but I have always felt the entire world tells a story if you give it patience and curiosity.  In both Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, we are given only enough to get our imaginations going.  We aren't told what the colossi are, we aren't told the relationship between the girl and Wander.  We are presented with ruined cities, dark spirits who tell no tales, and a world to explore.  The endings to the games are likewise vague, and generally if you have not played through Ico, you may be confused as to what a lot of it means.  There are still forum posts that have been going on since the turn of the millennium that discuss what these stories mean, and the vagueness is why there is such spirited discussion.  Never forget to watch and wait till the end of the credits on Ueada games, you get rewarded.

After all was said and done, I loved Shadow of the Colossus.  This series could have been Sony's Zelda equal if they had been able to keep focus with the team.  If I have complaints it is that a few bosses give you just enough guidance to steer you in the wrong direction.  On the opposite end, I do not like that you can't turn off the spirit's tips to defeating the colossi, as figuring out the game is the real fun for me.  People that use tips have the internet for spoiling things if they really wish.  Lastly, they do not tell you the "advanced" riding techniques to go with your horse, and I find that a real shame as I refused to look up things like that till I was done, and now I know there's a way to do quick stops, quick starts(omg I needed this one so bad) and 180 turns.

Shadow of the Colossus was great, every bit as great as people say.  There is a reason why it is a model for so many indie games, one of them being that Team Ico can't seem to get their shit together and make more games, but other reasons include that it exudes a simple style while being powerfully moving.  I want to go through and replay the colossi already and learn the better, quicker ways of beating them.  It is an urge to replay things that I have not had in a while.  There are just too many games to revisit some so soon, but with Shadow of the Colossi I will because it is immensely enjoyable to fight and defeat these creatures.