Now that the bad/middling games are out of the way, we can finally start talking about the ones I can actually recommend. This has been a great year for me personally because I managed to write three reviews that were over 10,000 words long. The best part? They’re all of games I like. Whereas before, my longest review was that of The Last of Us, I can now safely say that anyone who believes it’s easier to be negative than positive clearly isn’t trying hard enough.
March is a period of time noted to instill madness, or at least that’s what the NCAA would have you believe. I myself am not fully convinced.
Though Ico became a critical favorite when it was released in 2001, it failed to become a bestseller. Only 700,000 copies were sold worldwide by the end of the decade. Fumito Ueda, the game’s lead designer, speculated that his “design by subtraction” ethos may have hurt its commercial success. In the early 2000s, games were typically promoted through still images rather than with gameplay footage. An uninitiated person would take one look at screenshots of Ico and see a game without a heads-up display, being led to wrongly believe that it was either incomplete or overly simplistic. Not helping matters was Ico being released in the face of fierce competition such as Halo, Metal Gear Solid 2, and Grand Theft Auto III. It wouldn’t be until much later that Ico received attention from the gaming sphere for being one of the first mainstream console releases to use the medium as an artistic expression rather than just to entertain.
Nonetheless, Mr. Ueda didn’t let this setback deter him and, along with thirty-four other staff members, began developing a new game in 2002. With the tentative title Nico, a portmanteau of Next and Ico, this team set out to create a sequel to their debut title. An early technology demo for their project surfaced in 2003 at the DICE Summit, an annual multi-day gathering of video game executives which is held in Las Vegas, Nevada. This clip depicted a group of masked boys with horns on their heads riding horses. Together, they were able to fell a gigantic, intimidating foe. Mr. Ueda later explained that it was easier to reuse the character models of their previous work’s title character until they had fully established the world they were about to create. Indeed, the biggest turning point for this new game’s development cycle came about from their decision to sever any overt connections with Ico. As Mr. Ueda judged that the ending of Ico was too final, he felt it unnecessary to produce a sequel.
Though Nico appeared on internal schedules for upcoming Sony releases, no official announcement was made. It wasn’t until late 2004 that a new title dubbed Wander and the Colossus emerged. The particularly astute observed several similarities to the concept presented at the DICE Summit, but gone were any connections to Ico. This was the game Mr. Ueda and his team had been working on, and a year later in October of 2005, it would see the light of day. Sony noticeably put far more effort into promoting this team’s sophomore effort than they did with Ico, advertising it in gaming publications, on television, and on the internet in what was one of the industry’s earliest viral marketing campaigns. It was even featured in the 2007 American comedy-drama film Reign Over Me. Adam Sandler, who became a fan when it was demoed to him, requested it to be put in a scene involving his character playing games to cope with the loss of his family. The scene in question wherein he played through it alongside Don Cheadle wasn’t scripted – they were fully immersed into the experience.
As a result of this publicity, Wander and the Colossus was a commercial success, domestically selling over 100,000 copies in its first week alone. Nearly 80% of the first Japanese shipment was sold within two days. While Ico fell into obscurity overseas, it didn’t take long for Western fans to embrace this game where it was renamed Shadow of the Colossus. Like Ico, Shadow of the Colossus deeply resonated with critics, who would praise it for giving the medium much needed artistic credence. Did this game five years in the making live up to its grand fanfare upon release?