Saturday, March 14, 2015

Are Video Games Art? Part 4: The Best Presentations in Video Games

Some games are so creatively stunning and visually imaginative that they can be recognized as championing  their own “art house” or “auteur” dimension of the medium. If games like Call of Duty represent the Michael Bay end of the presentation spectrum in gaming, than titles such as Katamari Damacy can be said to follow aspirations more in the vein of a Wes Anderson. These games are generally made on a lower budget than the blockbuster franchises and are targeted towards a niche audience. Appreciation for them may require a more refined gaming palette but for those able to enjoy them, they offer expressions as inspired as one will find in any medium while being endowed with characteristics unique to their field.


Okami is as drop dead beautiful of a game as you will find, despite the fact that it was developed by a relatively small studio with a modest budget in the sixth-generation of consoles. Okami utilizes a cel-shaded, watercolor style visual style in tribute to the Japanese animation technique known as ink wash painting. The lovingly crafted visuals compliment the plot which is steeped in Japanese history and folklore. Although it had limited commercial success, Okami continues to be hailed by critics as a masterpiece.

Shadow of the Colossus / Ico

In the discussion of video games as art, perhaps no other title is brought up as frequently as Shadow of the Colossus. Proponents of the case often cite the game as the lead example in their argument. In Roger Ebert’s previously mentioned foray into the debate, he singled out Shadows of the Colossus as the game most frequently recommended to him and the one that he should “probably begin with”. The game’s visual style is bleak and minimalist and features very little of the flair found in something like Okami or even Mario. Still, the game’s world is one of immense beauty and wonder and the gigantic titular colossus are quite literally awe-inspiring. Ico is the spiritual successor to Shadow of the Colossus and utilizes the same desolate and minimalist visual style, emphasizing subtle beauty with light and shadow over bombastic style or glamour.


Psychonauts is a surreal experience that doesn’t shy away from presenting itself as the Salvador Dali of video games. The game’s  illusory, dream-like world is one of pure imagination and the strange, macabre slant of the presentation is potent enough to curl Tim Burton’s hair. While on the surface Psychonauts seems comparable to other 3D platformers such as Mario or Sonic, the game’s unique personality and off-the-wall style set it apart and define it as a true work of vision and expression.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night may not look as gorgeous as it did when it released in 1997 but, overall, the sprite based visual style is as well represented here as in any other game in history. The character models are bold and distinct and the gothic, saturated backgrounds are both eye-catching and immersive. Unlike other games in the series, nearly the entirety of Symphony of the Night takes place in Dracula’s castle, so all of the developer’s resources and imaginations are realized to make a truly magical and haunting locale. The music is often a hybrid of heavy metal, techno, and classical and is integral to the identity of the castle and game itself.

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was one of the most successful and popular games of all time, so when Nintendo decided to go with a bold new animation style for its next-gen successor, the move was predictably controversial. Originally, Nintendo had demonstrated a hyper-realistic trailer of what the next Zelda title could look like on the new hardware (the Gamecube), which famously caused some super fans to weep openly with joy. When the final product was finally revealed to be The Wind Waker, it sported a  hyper-stylized, cel-shaded look more similar to a Saturday morning cartoon than the realism powerhouse epic that fans were expecting. On release, the game overcame immense scepticism and naysaying to cement itself as worthy of the franchise’s pedigree. Now, The Wind Waker is revered as an artistic milestone in gaming and is arguably the poster child for the influential power of style and presentation on expression in the medium.

Posted by Terry Pierson, Library Clerk