Top Five Games As Art from WeeklyGeekShow
As far as I'm concerned, the debate about whether or not video-games are/can be art is a profoundly trivial one. I'm a firm believer that art is in and is only in the mouth/hand/eye/ears/nose/and throat of the beholder. The only people who feel a need to debate it or even bring up the debate are vacuous windbags like Roger Ebert, and no one wants to be like Ebert now do they?
Having said that, here is my list of most art-like video-games. Consider it your Christmas shopping list for that special geek in your life.
-Shadow of the Colossus
I'm lumping these two together for two reasons. One, they are both produced by the same group, and two, they are both quite similar in feel. You are a lone young man trying to save a young girl from death. Your world is vast, ancient, and almost totally devoid of life aside from the beautiful landscapes. ICO is more of a straight-up adventure, with many black shadow beings to vanquish and seemingly unending platforms to jump and puzzles to solve. Shadow is a much more refined adventure. There are only a small number of foes, but the hook here is that those foes are the largest beasts you're likely to ever encounter in any game past present and future. These are the colossi. Are they evil machines of destruction? Are they simply gentle beasts defending themselves? Guess what? Kill them anyway, 'cause that cute chick in the coma ain't gonna wake herself up now is she?
This one is more art as video-game than video-game as art. It has what is quite possibly the simplest control scheme of any modern-day game, as well as the most straight-forward goal: get bigger. With the game-play and plot dealt with, Katamari fills up the rest with a million little tastes and touches that become instantly addictive. Add in what is inarguably the best original soundtrack ever produced (yes, I said inarguably, so don't even bother) and you have one of the most pleasurable and refreshingly positive gaming experiences anywhere.
You can't have one with the other. Myst set the stage/broke the mold/tired cliche for the point-and-click genre. With no guide, you are plopped down into a living world full of odd machines and puzzling wildlife. All you can do is wonder around and poke at things, hoping to find a pattern and a purpose. When you do, most often you are rewarded with an even tougher problem, an even larger world to explore, which you will do until your eyes are bloody and your mouse-hand is a petrified claw. Then you'll start Riven.
-Final Fantasy XII
This is an example of excess as art. It never ends. I should mention that I'm still playing it, and am over 70 hours in with little sign of slowing. Let's just say that there are 13 of a certain thing to find, and I have 4, not to mention the hunts I have left and all of the other small items to deal with. What at first I thought was a fatally flawed battle system has shown itself to be both smooth and elegant. I still think the license grid is lame and flawed (my characters are still almost identically powered), and I see no reason to use more than a four or five gambits (you can set up twelve?), but it's a small price to pay. The world is huge and open, the amount of back-story to be found in the Clan Primer is insane, there are constant twists to the game-play, and oh yeah, the actual plot is epic in scope. As someone who is not going to be getting a PS3 for a couple years (if ever), Final Fantasy XII is/will be the best thing to happen in the RPG world for some time.
It would be easy to focus on the visuals of Killer 7 (surreal and cell-shaded) as the defining art-like element, but it's actually the bizarre plot that does it for me. You play as a team of seven killers fighting an army of increasingly strange enemies, all set in various equally odd places. It seems like a normal world, but then there is this dead guy that keeps talking to you, and the room with the old man in the wheelchair with the sexy female attendant, the guy that powers you up by mixing blood in some weird machine, and the slow realization that maybe none of this is real. Everything about this game is still fresh and original and pretty bizarre. It's not for the faint of heart.
-The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker
For the faint of heart, there will always be Zelda. Many people might think that the much more child-like take on the series was a step back, but for me this is easily the most fun and most elegant example of an adventure game out there. Again, the world is seemingly endless, but this time it is bursting with life as well as secrets. This is another game where you can simply noodle around digging up secret after secret without really advancing the plot. The large collection of gear opens up a vast array of game-play situations that can really make one's mind bend in new directions. For the first time, Link can express a wide range of emotions, and simply watching him watch the world around him can be fun. Wind Waker is a series of increasingly rewarding discovery, which is the exact definition of a great game.
Basically, see the above review, only add a god-dog as the main character. A super awesome god-dog.
-Rule of Rose
Moving away from the happy world of bright colors and cartoon heroes, we have the survival horror genre. What better place to start than with the game that has just recently been banned in Italy! Rule of Rose is not happy, not fun, not revolutionary. It is a seriously flawed game that nevertheless pushes the bounds of storytelling. The plot is the only saving grace for RoR, but if you are willing to slog through the flaws you'll find a rather unique moral. Please do not listen to the scare tactics surrounding it. The reports of various lolita-esque situations have been greatly exaggerated. This is a game about a girl, her dog, and ownership. Oh, and a group of girls that totally finger-bang each other!!!1OMG!
-Silent Hill 2
The awesomeness of SH2 is tough to sum up in one badly presented paragraph. It's the defining game of the survival horror genre (because I just can't think of Resident Evil as survival horror anymore). It features a hero that is a weak, impotent putz with girl issues. The world regularly falls apart into a hell of rust and cages full of monsters that are walking nightmares and music from the insane drummers of Azathoth. Again, you'll often find yourself wondering if any of it is real. Every path is an endurance test for your nerves, with the prison and hospital levels left to weed out even the most bold adventurers.
This could go on forever, so I'll leave with this, what is still possibly my favorite game ever, Super Breakout for the Atari 2600. Simple can't get much simpler: Hit the ball, break the bricks. The control can't get any more refined: left or right. The sound can't get any more basic: square waves. Yet every game is different. Every path leads to a new world. The end is always just out of reach yet the desire to reach it always grows stronger. This is art.