I’d better activate my prayer capsule

I accomplish very little these days with my life, so I am willing to settle for any victory, however small. This weekend, I cleared two games off my looming tower of shame. Not exactly a triumph of the human spirit, but at least it’s something.

Sony CEA | Adventure | PlayStation 2 | 2002

I finally finished Ico. Only, uh, five years late? Fantastic. It was something of a mistake to wait so long to play it, though — not that I meant to put it off for so long, mind you, but every previous attempt I’ve made to complete the game had been tragically derailed by diverse complications, from moving across the country to sheer ennui. Not this time, though. Nope, I clawed my way through to the end. And… it was okay.

No, that’s a lie. It was quite a bit better than okay. But Ico today is a game that’s more easily appreciated for what it represents than for what it actually is; it was hugely influential and has done more to define a genre than anything since, I dunno, Grand Theft Auto. The slightly abstract visuals, the HUD-free interface, and of course the leaping and crawling and climbing through massive, solemn environments… I can’t really think of too many action-adventure type games that haven’t been touched by Ico. Alas, they’ve also improved considerably on its gameplay, smoothing over and refining it and generally taking a bunch of raw, inspired ideas and working them into forms that work just a little bit better all around. The only thing I haven’t seen done better is the wordless, co-dependent connection shared by Ico and Yorda — the emotional heart of the game that propels the game even as it occasionally frustrates. The final sequence was absolutely fantastic, and the happy buzz you take away probably has a lot to do with why people love Ico so dearly.

I also think it’s a mistake to use Ico as the poster child for “games as art,” but that is a debate I don’t want to ever have to bear witness to. Just thinking about it makes my brain shrivel a bit in disgust.

Beautiful Katamari
Namco Bandai | Action | Xbox 360 | 2007

I also cleared the latest iteration of Katamari Damacy off my stack, but unlike Ico I didn’t actually finish the whole thing. That’s partly because Namco Bandai wants me to cough up twelve bucks to access bits of game that already exist on the disc they sold me, but mostly because Beautiful Katamari is pretty crappy. Apparently the more a Katamari game costs, the worse it plays.

It’s a little heartbreaking to think that a game that was the freshest thing going just a few years ago is now stultifying dull. And for some reason the control is really crappy on 360. And the side missions stink. Why, the 10,000º stage has been determined by science to be constructed of anti-fun (a kind of elementary particle that destroys all fun with which it comes into contact). Speaking as one of those annoying, loudmouthed import-loving types who gushed about the original game back when its release in America seemed like the most preposterous notion ever, the series’ progressive crappening is just one more reason to hate video games forever.

25 thoughts on “I’d better activate my prayer capsule

  1. I had a feeling this game was going to go the way of Crazy Taxi. It didn’t help matters that the executive producer of the original left the series after the second game…

  2. I always feel really happy when I finish a game. Maybe that’s because I’ve left most of my games unfinished in the past couple of years.

    Just today I finished Phoenix Wright: Trials and Tribulations. The ending made me tear up a bit. DON’T TELL ANYONE.

  3. I was about to be trite enough to say the Pretty KatamarWii (being developed in secret as I type) will rock your socks off, but I fear that comment would’ve been taken seriously.

  4. I just saw some news today that the Mona Lisa is actually a portrait of a girl called Lisa and not a depiction of a pregnant drag queen Jesus. Art can generate the most head wrecking debates and everyone should avoid any discussions concerning it always.

  5. Perversely, I thought the most enjoyable stages in Beautiful Katamari were the ones you had to pay for. (My brother bought them- don’t blame me.) Still not going to challenge We Heart for the best in the series, though.

  6. I wasn’t going to say anything about this in the Fun Club until I’d finished the game (apparently you can pull Yorda up the grate? who knew?) but so far, yeah, the game has an excellent setting and sense of place, but the only thing you’d lose if you just made a machinima out of it is the tension from the fights. I’m convinced the fights are mostly there to get you to worry about whether Yorda’s safe and to underscore that the two of you are pretty useless, so they’ve got a purpose (even how clunky and long the fights are), but apart from that it’d work just as well as a movie.

    At the time, I guess, even that would have been a revelation, that a game could approach the artistry of a movie. We seem to be solidly into wanting our games to do artistic stunts that other media can’t, these days, and we’ve got better examples of that (I’ve heard Call of Duty 4 and Bioshock bandied around for this category). To my mind, though, the debate’s piss-easy to settle – point to all these interactive works in the galleries these days, and say, “these are art, they’re in art museums, are these games?”)

    Re: Katamari – I started with the second one, and it was a barrel of fun. I wonder if Beautiful Katamari is as fun for first-timers?

  7. The shadow guys are pretty much the biggest reason Ico fails at being Art, honestly — they’re an unnatural contrivance that seem to have been included simply because, hey, it’s a video game, and you can’t have a video game without killin’ stuff! The realization of their true nature at the very end does a lot to redeem their inclusion in the game, but they’re still painfully unnecessary most of the time.

  8. Nah – the shadow guys being there tells you something very important about Yorda, that she’s wanted by something. Having to defend her against the shadow monsters brings the player and Yorda closer together (I know I was making sure I knew where she was and wasn’t being hauled into a portal), and because that’s really the only character development she gets for most of the game, it’s pretty important. Otherwise she may as well be a Weighted Storage Cube.

  9. It’s not their presence so much as how they’re integrated into the game. They’re more a nuisance than a threat. I think if they appeared much less frequently and were considerably more dangerous and challenging, they’d do a much better job of conveying the sense that you’re suggesting.

  10. I’ve been stuck in ICO for the past 4 years. Every 3 months I attempt to replay it again and again I am stuck at the same couch. So uh, yeah, cool game, beautiful, haunting, moving….. but just wished there were flashing arrows on the floor

  11. Katamari can never work on the 360, because the analog stick are not on the same level. The slight offset makes it feel weird, and it will never capture the feel of the PS2/3 controller.

  12. I’m curious as to what more modern adventure games you (as in Jeremy, but hey, anyone else can chime in as well) think have best run with the ideas presented in Ico. Meanly because I’d probably like most of them and I’m wondering which ones I’ve missed.

  13. “apparently you can pull Yorda up the grate? who knew”

    I didn’t know for a good hour and a half! Man, that was frustrating. Biggest sticking point in the game for me.

  14. I dunno – I didn’t really care much for Ico. Like you imply, as arty as it was, it wasn’t much of a game. It’s been a while since I’ve played it, and all I can remember about the touching co-dependent relationship is the Horned Kid calling Lens Filter Girl like Charlie Brown’s teacher. The game felt like an Ocarina of Time dungeon before all the chests and objects were put in.

    As for Beautiful Katamari, I think it’s getting a bit of a bum rap. Yes, the 10,000 degree level is annoying, but not nearly as much as the cow/bear/cowbear levels in previous games. At least this time, running over a snow cone won’t ruin your entire run (as opposed to, say, trying to steer a 4m katamari so as not to pick up a milk carton or bear carving.) I notice that the Katamaris’ play style is weakest when the game tells you to *not* pick things up, as that’s the opposite of what each game encourages you to do. (The 50 object stage in We Love Katamari wasn’t great shakes either.)

    One thing I really liked about the 360 version is that there was no in-stage loading time, something that really grated on the experience on PS2. (Yes, yes, the King wants to be a panda, no, turns out he doesn’t…) As well, finally including a stage that went from 5 cm to the entire Cosmos was something that I’ve been wanting for some time. The previous world-building stages started you at 1m, something that cut out half the things you could pick up in the game!

    It still sucks to have to pay to unlock extra stages, though.

  15. Yeah, paying for driblets of extra content is lame. I don’t understand the furor over it being OMG ALREADY ON THE DISC, though. What difference does it make to you, the consumer, whether the company gouges you for something that’s technically two feet away or technically two thousand miles away, if the effect in the end is the same?

    Also, Ico was Shadow of the Colossus without all the stupid parts. Close enough to Art for me.

  16. Because it’s one thing to charge us for additional content developed later, something above and beyond the original game. I’m fine paying a moderate fee for something substantial, an expansion pack-caliber download. But it’s something else entirely to simply hide chunks of the game and make people pay over and above the cost of the product to access them. It’s the difference between “expanding a game’s shelf life” and “rapacious greed.”

  17. Parish wrote:
    “The shadow guys are pretty much the biggest reason Ico fails at being Art, honestly — they’re an unnatural contrivance that seem to have been included simply because, hey, it’s a video game, and you can’t have a video game without killin’ stuff!”

    Who says all art must be good (and expanding on that, who defines what good is?) That would be an awfully subjective (and philosophically useless) way to define art. Art-ness is independent of the art object’s “quality,” or in other words, a bad painting would certainly still be an art object (just a poor one.)

    Shih Tzu wrote:
    “What difference does it make to you, the consumer, whether the company gouges you for something that’s technically two feet away or technically two thousand miles away, if the effect in the end is the same?”

    It’s a philosophical difference only; you already physically “own” the disc and all the data. However, you do not legally own part of that software, you must pay money to acquire the license to the hidden bits. By charging you a second time for content already on the disc, it sets up a slippery slope situation for your property rights (i.e. how much ownership do you possess over purchased digital goods.)

    Plus it just feels more greedy – at least with actual downloadable content, you can assume they made that content after the completion of the game, and thus it’s an expansion of new goods on what you own. When the data is already on the disc, it just feels like extorting you on something you already own, because you already possess the data (regardless of your legal rights to it.)

  18. Yesterday, I picked up Godhand and the original Katamari after A LOT of searching for the latter. But I’ve yet to see that ugly little Ico box in real life.

    Parish, Katamari is everything you said it was. I just wanna hug the damn thing.

  19. The whole video games are art reminds me of how the song Smells like Teen Spirit was described by Kurt Cobain as being some sort of rebellious youth anthem, but the idiot wrote the whole thing because a girl told him he smelled like Teen Spirit deodorant, but he took it as if the girl was saying he was like an über rebel or something.

  20. Didn’t I say I didn’t want to have to see another relapse into the “are games art?” stalemate? Honestly.

  21. Plus, Beautiful Katamari was half a game when it was sold in the first place.

    Ico still plays really well, even if the moving and jumping is overly quick and looks awkward (kind of like the N64 Castlevanias, really. While lots of people would like a real sequel, I’d only want one if the team’s heart was really in it. I’d often felt that it inspired Prince of Persia Sands of Time, showing that the gameplay style can be fun and relevant in 3D.

  22. Describing the 10,000 degree level as being made out (or up) of “anti-fun” is just about as dead on as you can get. Even as a pathetically devoted katamari-ite, that level turned me off from my first attempt at it. After about five replays full of pirate language, my girlfriend and i decided that this new, evil version of katamari should never be played again.

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