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Ico and Shakespeare

In T&A Saying the wrong thing since 2008 on March 8, 2012 at 4:28 pm

Now I’m not going to say that Ico games are as good or meaningful as Shakespeare, that would be absurd and I would be stepping on a lot of toes, but there are some somethings that Shakespeare did to make his plays great which can be said that the ICO team did as well.

What I’m talking about is that many of Shakespeare’s plays seem to take a simple idea or theme and then expand around that: in the play As You Like It the central concept (not the central plot) is gender swapping. At around this point in time gender swapping is a concept that is brought up in many comedies as a quick joke: perhaps some big thug accidentally gets dressed in a woman’s sundress which would get a good laugh from the crowd. But where Shakespeare’s As you Like It differs is that the gender swapping is most of the play: it plays an important role in the plot, the gender swapped character lasts that way for most of the play, and it is a plan devised by the main character which pivots the story from one conflict to the next. Many of Shakespeare’s plays can be boiled down to one central theme in this way: Romeo and Juliet is forbidden love, Hamlet is revenge, etc. This is where the ICO games and the Shakespearean plays are somewhat similar, they both are based off  simple and well known themes. 

In ICO’s second game Shadow of the Colossus the player quickly realizes that this game is nothing but boss fights. Now in gaming boss fights are many in number, and almost every game has them (depending on the genre). But Shadow of the Colossus is different because there are no smaller enemies in between. Most games build up to the Bosses, the player might have to grind for additional experience points so that they are better prepared for the boss fights, or the boss fights employ a more expert use of gameplay which the player can only get better at by practicing on the smaller enemies. So this idea of nothing but boss fights might come as a complete horror given gaming’s past experiences, but this is where the game differs from all others. Each Colossus the player faces comes with a new way to defeat them, this makes the game almost have a puzzle aspect to it. Each boss is not just about how strong your character is or how good you are at dodging and slashing, the Colossi all bring out a cognitive challenge for the player, and while the game gives some clues as to how to defeat them, it is ultimately up to the player to figure out how to defeat each and every Colossi.

As I imagine this kind of gameplay stemmed from a company trying and wanting to come up with a way to make a game with only boss fights. When I look at Shadow of the Colossus I see a whole game that took a simple and well known concept and then expanded outward to make an entire game. What can make something great, no matter the genre, is if the creator starts from the simple and expands outward. I see this in Shakespeare and I see this in Ico and both of these are at the top of their respected genres.