Monday, October 24, 2005

A completely unexpected post on hockey and gaming

Until this weekend, I hadn't attended a live hockey game in almost two years, and I had forgotten how much I miss going regularly. That's one of the (few) things I really miss about Huntsville; season tickets for the UAH Chargers let me spend the fall/winter months waiting excitedly for the next home game.

We took my friend from work Stan and his family to a Spokane Chiefs hockey game Saturday, which was a lot of fun. It was a low-scoring affair, especially since most of both teams' starting lines got game misconduct penalties in the first period for fighting. It was a wonderful brawl, with gloves, helmets, and teeth flying everywhere, but the quality of gameplay suffered a bit. The Chiefs went down 1-0 to the Camloops Blazers (where the hell is Camloops?) despite having some great scoring chances that kept the game exciting.

The Chiefs play in the WHL, which is one of the Canadian "Major Junior" leagues -- all of the players are aged 15-20, and most of them are in school (which the league pays for) when they're not playing. It's an interesting contrast between how Canada and the States view sports; in the NCAA, a hockey player's athletics revolves around his education; in Canada, a young player's education revolves around hockey.

I picked up Shadow of the Colossus for the PS2 over the weekend, and the game is an absolute masterpiece. You play a nameless young man who seeks divine help from an ancient temple while trying to revive his dead love. You're instructed by an oddly cryptic deity to destroy sixteen Colossi that slumber throughout the land. This is a pretty tall order, since the only tools at your disposal are a magic sword, a bow, and a very stubborn horse.

When I say "tall order", I mean that literally. The colossi are huge, and the first time you see each one, it's a new "holy shit" moment. Although it's certainly an action game, there are a heavy puzzle elements as well -- each colossus is nearly invulnerable, and you must not only find each giant's weak spots, but how to exploit them.

Every colossus is different and requires a different method to destroy, whether it involves tricking them into exposing vital spots and sniping away with your bow, or grabbing hold of the odd patch of fur and climbing right up on the colossus as it tries to kill you. What works on one will most certainly not work on the next, and it keeps the game engaging.

The art design is amazing and conveys an incredible feeling of desolation. There are no other people in the vast, ruin-dotted landscape, and your horse is your only companion throughout the game. The colossi themselves are majestic and awe-inspiring; to be honest, I felt kind of guilty after I defeated the first one -- these huge, beautiful, ancient things have to be destroyed just so I can wake up my dead girlfriend? She'd better be worth it.

I'll paraphrase a very fitting description of the game I read over at the SA forums: Shadows of the Colossus is a combination of all of the best action and platform games you've ever played, but with only the boss fights included. I agree with this, and despite not having any NPC's to interact with or hordes of evil minions to mow through, this game is perfect the way it is.


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