Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Retro Review: Beautiful Games - Axiom Magazine

This current generation of video games has seen some truly astonishing visuals, with the likes of the Uncharted series, racers such as Gran Turismo and Forza, and countless others taking our breath away. But this being Retro Corner and all, these games can?t even be considered in this feature. When it comes to what defines retro, we draw the line at the PS2/Xbox generation, and so with that in mind, lets look at some games that have stood the aesthetic test of time.

Ico (PS2, 2001)


Ico has now become a cult hit, but back when it was released, despite garnering critical acclaim, its uptake amongst the general pubic was minimal. It managed sales of 700,000 copies worldwide. To put that into context, Harry Potter and the Philosopher?s Stone sold 8 million copies. Yikes. Which was a shame for those at the time because they missed out on what is one of the most hauntingly beautiful games in history.

A key component of its artistic direction was ?bloom lighting,? where the camera or eye is overwhelmed by bright light, as if you were starring into a spotlight and everything appears blurry. Ico?s lead developer, Fumito Ueda, also cites the work of surrealist artist, Giorgio de Chirico, as inspiration for the game?s artwork, especially its cover in PAL and Japan areas. Those in the US had to make do with, what has constantly been described as, one of the worst video game cover arts in history. Thankfully, a HD collection, with successor Shadow of the Colossus, is now available, meaning our North American cousins can still savor Ico?s charm.

Yoshi?s Island (SNES, 1995)


In 1995, the world witnessed the release of Nintendo?s Virtual Boy, Sega?s Saturn, and Sony?s PlayStation. These consoles were the first to really focus on 3D game play for the masses. People wanted all those polygons and real life imagery on their televisions. After all, nothing was cooler than 3D visuals. And then Yoshi?s Island came along. Released during the last days of the SNES, YI was simply like nothing before it. The art direction that it took, with worlds looking as if they were hand-drawn with crayon, was a pure breath of fresh air, compared to the polygonal likes of Tekken 2, Time Crisis and Twisted Metal.

Some may criticize its over-simplistic, child-like approach, but it fits in perfectly for the theme of the game; Yoshi attempting to rescue Baby Luigi with Baby Mario on his back, traversing its gorgeous platform worlds, whilst swallowing enemies, and creating and firing eggs at the larger ones. With its pastel and vivid color palette, YI dared to venture away from not only the trend for polygons at the time, but from all Mario games before it, themselves titles famous for bright, psychedelic graphics. Perhaps it?s not as ?tight? in terms of game play, compared to Super Mario World or Super Mario Brothers 3, but Yoshi?s Island is certainly the most visually appealing title of the 16-bit era.

Okami (PS2, 2006)


Whether we are talking about the HD version or the PS2 version, Okami stands out clearly for its art style. What is interesting is that the art style directly affected the development of the game. Capcom had trouble focusing on the game play and style of Okami, initially favoring a photorealistic approach. It soon became evident that the PS2?s aging hardware was a major limitation in producing these graphics, so Clover Studios, the developer, decided to go for a more artistic feel, specifically focusing on Japan?s Sumi-e, or watercolor, style. The change of adopting a brushwork technique for its art style also subsequently created one of the game?s feature game play mechanics, the Celestial Brush, allowing gamers to actually ?paint? throughout the game.

You can clearly feel the influence of Sumi-e and Ukiyo-e, throughout Okami, which evokes the work and imagery of Hokusai. The beauty of the game, and its game play, didn?t go amiss with the gaming public, with Okami scoring consistently in the 90 percent range and being labeled as one of the greatest games on the PS2, despite its somewhat spiking difficulty. Like Ico, it has received an HD update for the PS3, and the clarity and crispness of HD makes Okami an eye-popping visual treat for anyone wanting to try it out today.


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