As we hit the game’s 10th anniversary (another this month) I think in past blog posts I’ve said almost every good thing I can about one of my favorite games ever — Shadow of the Colossus. The occasion is also getting a bit more notice around the block than I anticipated. Looking back on Colossus in the context of its era though, I’m starting to see it as one of the last symbols of Japanese dominance of video games.
I think the era stretching from roughly 2005 to 2008 was a massive paradigm shift for basically every sector of video games. It bore witness to the console industry’s shift away from Japan and towards North America as a result of the Xbox 360. The 360 also drew PC gaming’s biggest developers to begin prioritizing consoles while a new generation of online PC gaming filled the void. Then you had the emergence of the iPhone which upended the balance of the whole industry. In short, it was the period that initiated the end of consoles as the main force in gaming (not the end of consoles entirely), particularly the Japanese console market.
Another game celebrating its 10th anniversary right around now is the first F.E.A.R. game. I haven’t played it, but people talk about it like they talk about S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and the original Crysis — like it was one of the last great singleplayer PC first person shooters before the genre’s mass shift to consoles in pursuit of a larger audience. I’m looking at Colossus in a similar context now.
To call Colossus one of the last great Non-Nintendo Japanese console games would be totally wrong. In the last decade we’ve gotten From Software’s entire Souls series, the entire rise of Platinum games, and a revival of fighting games. But when I think about Colossus, I think of it as a part of another era. It’s the same era Metal Gear Solid V’s pre-release hype made me think about, when the release of a new Metal Gear or Final Fantasy was a cultural pillar because the PS2 by itself represented half of video gaming. Now each one of them feels like just another AAA game in the midst of a larger and wildly segmented industry. I think Colossus was one of the last distinctly Japanese hits before everything changed. Just look at Sony’s first party offerings then and now. Today it’s a selection of mostly western software — shooters like Uncharted and Killzone. Colossus feels like the last really big thing Sony Japan Studio did outside maybe helping out with Demon’s Souls.
When I talked about Alien: Isolation last week I said it felt like a return to that period when experimental middle-budget games were much more common in the retail console market. I don’t know what kind of budget Colossus had, but that’s what it feels like compared to today’s blockbusters. Colossus has inspired a ton of games today, but almost everything it has inspired has had the budget of a hamburger and a development staff that could fit inside a bedroom. Almost nothing quite like Colossus in terms of both vision and scope has happened in the last decade (no, not even Journey) because the environment that allowed it to exist went away pretty soon after it came out.
- Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kc9O8mt9jJM
- Super Mario Maker levels made by game developers: http://gamasutra.com/view/news/256605/Mario_Maker_vs_game_developers.php
- A good criticism of Max Payne 3: http://www.itbrog.com/journal/2015/10/19/max-payne-3-i-aggressively-hate-this-game.html
- And Tomb Raider: http://www.itbrog.com/journal/2015/10/19/tomb-raider-and-sensible-boobs.html
- Offer for anyone writing about video games: http://goo.gl/forms/UuijSNfRVp