Shadow of the Colossus, released for PS2 in 2006, is a game that’s often stood at the forefront of the “Games as Art” debate. It was well received at the time, and equally so as part of the HD collection released on PS3 in 2011. The game has also proved to be a popular choice with critics when referencing certain design principles used in modern games. Even I referenced it for years based on secondhand impressions without playing it myself… Which was dumb. Fortunately, however, I since rectified that shortcoming with a “Pile of Shame” retrospective series I started last winter.
Impressively, it’s an experience that withstands the test of time; regardless of which version you play. There is beauty in simplicity, and that is the fundamental design principle at work in SotC. The narrative is straightforward, the goal of the player is simple, and yet within this big, open, and empty world, there is a sense of life and tranquility that is utterly captivating. Each Colossi is unique in its own way, and while it was exciting to hunt them down and defeat them in a battle of wits, there was this heart-wretching feeling when the light in their eyes finally goes out. There are few games I have walked away from feeling so inspired, which is also impressive considering I played it eight years after release. Shadow of the Colossus is timeless. Not only is it the best PlayStation exclusive, it’s one of the best games of all time.
The good ol’ Spyro games just got it right. Spyro was about platforming, first and foremost, and the original wasn’t bogged down by the combat introduced into the later games. It was all about exploring, collecting and uncovering, still free from the later games’ obsession with Kratos’ hella sick combo chains. Spyro had consistency, and that’s why it worked so damn well.
Everything to do with the game was in the context of platforming… Like, everything. The whole point of the game was to go around collecting gems and freeing dragons, but doing so meant jumping, gliding, charging and generally being a god damn dragon. Sometimes you weren’t even restricted by the confines of gravity, but the level design shifted to make sure you couldn’t just waltz through and get everything. It wasn’t anything new, not even to the 8-year old me playing it, but it was one of the first great 3D platformers.
Even to this day, Spyro gets right what so many other games get wrong. It wasn’t filled with superfluous cutscenes or tedious puzzles, so everything just flowed into each other. I have so many memories of charging into whatever I could find, burninating the countryside and just being a freakin’ dragon. It was simple, it was fun, and it was so damn good.
So when I was eight years old, my brother brought home a copy of Metal Gear Solid, and I remember thinking that it was the single greatest game I’d ever seen. I got so into this game way back then that it’s easily the one game I’ve clocked more times than any other and was the first game I ever tried to speed run. It wasn’t the best looking game on the PlayStation (and personally, I’m more fond of the GCN remake’s MGS2-style appearance) but it had such a great movie-like atmosphere. I’d go as far as saying it was one of the first games to take a decent stab at a “cinematic” feeling. It used great dialogue, excellent camera angles, and a large focus on narrative, not black bars across the screen and (intentional) picture graininess. Sure, sometimes it felt like you were watching an actual movie, what with the huge amount of cutscenes and all, but the story they focused on was amazing. And psychotic.
It also took the story of the Metal Gear games into absolutely insane territory, filled with conspiracies, heart attack inducing diseases, cyborg ninja’s and eccentric villains. MGS’ story is as bizarre as it is complex, and even a cursory summary of the main plot would read like the diary of a paranoid schizophrenic. That’s not a criticism; it’s still entertaining and that kind of complexity in a story is like crack to me. The characters are all delightfully ridiculous, and the greatest of them all is Solid-Motherf******-Snake. The body of Jean-Claude Van Damme, a face based on Christopher Walken’s and the voice of David Hayter, he is hands down the greatest of the “Snakes.” My fanboy gushing aside, it was considered one of the greatest games of its time for good reason, and it’s still a great game even by today’s standard of gameplay and design.
Back when 3D platformers were starting to be seen as childish and generic, Insomniac had a clever idea: add guns. The true brilliance of this idea though, lay in its execution. These weren’t just pistols and shotguns, these were different, interesting, and fun. The Suck Cannon, The Bouncer, The Lava Gun, The Groovitron. Dozens of unique and gameplay altering armaments have defined the series over the years as a wonderfully robust 3rd person shooter. How about some RPG elements? Use a weapon enough, and it will upgrade. So keep using your favourite and find yourself wielding one powerful weapon, or work on building your entire arsenal into the devastating destroyers they were built to be. The 2nd Ratchet game introduced strafing. Shooting and platforming together suddenly became perfectly simple, yet still allowed necessarily complex segments for each individually. What’s more, the core platforming didn’t suffer. In fact, it was an evolution in its own right.
The inclusion of gadgets afforded the duo ample creative and unique puzzle solving scenarios (some of which are as complex and thought inducing as Portal), as well as allowing Metroidvania elements. All but a couple of planets in the original Ratchet & Clank have two or more main paths, and it is not possible to beat each in order. Highly polished, linear areas, but open, non-linear structure: exploratory linearity.
It’s not even possible to fully complete most Ratchet titles in a first playthrough, but don’t fret, they’ve got “Challenge Mode”. New Game+, year’s before I’d heard the term. It doesn’t just let you replay the game with all your gear, but unlocks new, super expensive gear, only attainable via the Challenge Mode exclusive bolt multiplier. Good players are rewarded, but if you can’t hold a multiplier, you’ll still get there eventually.
There’s not much Ratchet & Clank hasn’t done well.
In 2012 an unassuming little title popped up on PSN and very quickly racked up much deserved acclaim. Journey was the third release from developers Thatgamecompany (also responsible for Flow and Flower), and is an absolute triumph in game design. The concepts and design are simple and minimalist, but directed acutely for the greatest impact. Journey’s genius is apparent from the second the game starts, as the player is encouraged to progress through the simple visual cue of a mountain rising out of the barren desert. Your screen is free of any information and the pilgrim is limited to jumping and making chirping sounds to communicate, yet these limitations in no way hold the game back.
Journey unfolds a little like a story within a story. Exploring the remnants of a once-great civilisation that’s now being swallowed up by the desert, its history unfolding through simple vignettes and the setting itself, leaving a lot up to the player’s imagination. The actual journey itself is the other half of the story, made all the more special once a fellow pilgrim seamlessly joins the game. At first you’ll notice a faint whiteness in the corner of the screen, then a faint movement in the distance, and then you’ll realise you’re not alone. Communication is limited to chirping, but through your travels pilgrims find ways to support each other. Not a single word is uttered throughout the game, yet it manages to convey an incredible depth of emotion through the reactive soundtrack and the surprising bond players develop throughout their journey. A playthrough runs about two to five hours, which seems short, but the time is used to effectively I don’t see this as a negative. It’s a deceptively simple premise that’s expertly crafted to provide a powerful experience.
I know this is a big call, but I’m going to say it! Tekken 3 is the greatest fighting game of all time; not to mention a console exclusive for PSone. It has the best roster of fighters ever with returning classics such as King, Paul Phoenix, and Yoshimitsu as well as new big names such as Eddy Gordo, Hwoarang and Jin Kazama. The fighting system is solid and without fault; being easy to play but difficult to master if you want to be the King of the Iron Fist. The overall presentation looks amazing with a gritty appearance in an urban setting, giving the series a new attitude. Each character also has unique ending cutscenes that are either comedic or action packed and still hold up well for its time.
I brought Tekken 3 way back in 1998 for $70; it was a lot of money to me back then. However, I quickly learned that it was a great investment as it kept me bashing away for months. I was blown away by how much replay value it gives you as it’s packed full of modes and multiplayer options. Tekken Force is a beat’em up side-scroller that took you through various stages and enemies; very similar to Final Fight. Also, the volleyball inspired mode called ‘Tekken Ball,’ where the player must hit the ball with an attack to either hurt the opponent or hit the ball in their opponent’s area. Tekken 3 bar none is the essential fighting title for any PlayStation collection and still plays extremely well today. Honestly, the series hasn’t seen a better game since then.
A PlayStation exclusive brought to us by Clover studios, this epic adventure is one of the most gorgeous games I have ever played. Playing as my favorite conceptual character, Amaterasu – a wolf-like sun god – the player goes on a huge 30+ hour quest to cleanse the world of Nippon from various evils.
This game hits all the sweet spots in what makes an adventure great. The art style is on a completely different level compared to other PlayStation titles because the entire world is portrayed as a Japanese water-painting. But in saying that, the colors are also very vibrant with bold outlined cell-shading used to make the style fit perfectly with the video game medium. The gameplay is a ton of fun as well! With a bit of platforming and responsive combat, I had a blast running, double jumping and stringing together combos with a wide range of weapons found throughout the world.
On top of this is the ingenious mechanic of using a “celestial brush” to paint the world in order to explore it. Whether it be painting a sunrise or painting vines to transport you to high cliffs, this feature is Amaterasu’s main power and is a very fun and clever gameplay-element. And even though the world is massive and main story quite lengthy, this adds to the experience and ensures that the game keeps you gripped the entire way through. Simply put, Ōkami delivers one of the most beautiful and engaging experiences one can have playing video games.
November 22, 2002. This is a day in my gaming life I will not soon forget. The day I raced from work on my lunch break to the last store in Perth which had only 2 copies remaining of what will be one of the most cherished games on my shelf to this very day. The memories come flooding back of how I felt watching the gorgeous opening sequence and then immersing myself into a masterpiece combined of two of my favourite storytelling giants: Disney and Squaresoft (now Square Enix). What may have seemed as an odd pairing at first, became a match made in RPG heaven. With its intriguing storyline, famous vocal talent, original characters from Tetsuya Nomura along with well loved familiar characters, stacks of Disney charm and a beautiful musical score, it became a highly acclaimed PlayStation favourite.
Fast forward to 2006 and the release of Playstation’s second installment of the franchise, Kingdom Hearts II. After waiting so long to see if Sora will ever find his beloved friends again, I began my new adventure with as much excitement as I felt three years and four months prior. Only this time, after watching the incredible opening, I felt as though this would be an even better experience than I had been expecting it to be. And I wasn’t disappointed! More of my favourite Disney characters and worlds were added, the Gummi Ship travel was reworked and the combat system was improved along with a great new fighting style for Sora and the introduction of the Drive Gauge which was as a great help in times of need. And most notably, the story became so much richer and old and new characters had more depth to them that made me care about their plights more than I had previously.
Kingdom Hearts II is just a joy to play whether you’re an avid gamer or more of a casual player. It certainly deserves it’s place as one of the Best PlayStation Games of All Time.
I was a PlaySation kid; the PSOne was my first console, and Crash Team Racing was the sole reason I got it. I had always played games on my father’s work computer, my parents weren’t willing to shell out money for a device devoted to games. So, I was restricted to playing games at friends houses, and it was there that I came across Crash Team Racing (CTR), and quickly fell in love. I wanted this game so badly that I finally managed to convince my parents to buy a console – the PS One slim, with a copy of CTR as the only game.
Usually when I tell people that I love CTR, they reply with ‘but, Mario Kart is better’. I respectfully disagree. CTR has tight controls and a superior boost system (for me). I love cornering in CTR, using the boost to slide around, seeing the black marks behind you, feeling the vibration of the controller in your hands. Of course, there is also the far superior battle mode, with creative tracks and numerous modes. I loved the control you had over the style of play and items, no balloons that get in the way of your view in sight. I became quite the pro at CTR’s battle mode, and could often hold my own in 3v1.
CTR is just good, replayable fun – even now I drag out my PS One and multitap, get a few friends around to have some races. Sometimes I just replay the satisfying story mode (which was reasonably unique for the time). I love CTR; it’s the game that started my console gaming life and the one game I go back to time and again.
If anyone told you that video games will never have the same effect on people as movies, books and TV, that person should be duct-taped to a chair to see if they can play through The Last Of Us and still reiterate such a ludicrous statement twice.
The Last of Us is a spectacle of storytelling and a triumph of the last generation. This powerfully gripping narrative is explored from the perspective of two endearing but emotionally conflicted heroes, Joel and Ellie, who are both survivors in a world full of ravenous fungus-zombies and a portrayal of humanity at its worst. Players must fight, hide and survive through gripping and often incredibly tense gameplay scenarios while the bigger picture unfolds through what I personally consider to be a beautifully written adventure through a decrepit America where vegetation has reclaimed civilization. This is all driven by some of the most mesmerising level design I’ve seen in a video game, which is only possibly rivalled by the upcoming action RPG, Horizon: Zero Dawn. Nevertheless, this game holds dear as being a monarch for Naughty Dog; proving loyal to their fans and the art of video games.
It’s a display of creative genius with the amount of knowledge and research put into the title alone, and this pays off with the final product being one of the most rewarding gaming experiences of 2013. If anyone has neglected the opportunity to give this title a look, I strongly recommend this as a must-play for any gamer/gaming enthusiast.