Wanda and Colossus: First Impressions
We came away from a recent in-depth screening of the project codenamed Ico 2 with detailed impressions and some sensational media.
A few screenshots were all it took. Three years after Ico swooped in to steal gamers' hearts (well, at least those gamers that actually bothered to play the game), Sony announced that a sequel of sorts was in the works, and message boards across the internet erupted in elation. During September's Tokyo Game Show, lead designers Fumito Ueda and Kenji Kaido hosted an expository event at the Manhattan Hotel for the game currently assuming the working title Wanda and Colossus.
During the event, the assembled media were shown a short trailer for the game - which was actually a little longer than the one running on the show floor. The game, imbued with the distinct graphical style of its predecessor, already demonstrates an assured confidence on the part of art director Ueda's team. The slightly over-exposed look, subdued palette and idiosyncratic character designs embrace you, welcoming you into a world where emotions run high.
A horseman - the lead character, though other footage shows a woman - enters a temple with a woman in his arms. Who she is, or even who he is, is inconsequential. Like Ico before it, Wanda and Colossus will be about the moment, spending but a brief period of time in the lives of characters you can sense are alive. Carrying the unconscious woman, the horseman approaches an altar and lays down his charge. Voices consume his consciousness, compelling him out into the world to battle the giant creatures that have come to represent the game.
The working title is a conundrum. Who is Wanda? And who or what is the Colossus? Is it the name of a race of monsters, or one monster? The answers to these and many more are vaulted right now, lying in wait for gamers to uncover on their own. Comments from the creators during the presentation point to a loaded plot with ramifications outside of the apparent. There's also talk that the game takes place in the same world as Ico, though, of course, the developers are mum on the subject.
What the trailer does not reveal, however, is exactly how you play the game. Kaido comes in for the rescue. Each of the building sized monsters can be seen as a gameplay level. A moving, thrashing, violent gameplay level. The developers use the term 'organic collision deformation' to refer to the impermanence of living stages. Using a shoulder button, you can grab onto a monster. To take it down, you have to find its weak spot, and this entails traversing its body, no mean feat when some of the monsters appear as large as skyscrapers.
Monster design is one of the first aspects to steal your attention. They're enormous and varied. We're shown a monster that appears to be hundreds of feet tall, with buildings jutting off its rocky skin. Another is covered in thick knots of hair, which can be used to your advantage when it comes time to scale the preternatural beast. Kaido spoke about the difficulty in creating living levels. There's a balance that needs to be maintained to support the change in gameplay style.
We're promised an action-puzzle-platform game. This should help the game to appeal to a broader audience than Ico, which, though emotionally engaging, wasn't the hastiest of affairs. This pace alteration is no random decision. The developers are cognizant that despite its near-universal critical acclaim, the game failed to replicate this enthusiasm at the register. Kaido's hopes for Wanda and Colossus are refreshingly honest: "We want the game to sell better than Ico."
The principal reason for gamers' infatuation with Ico was the relationship between Ico and the gibberish-spouting princess Yorda. This is a character dynamic the team is proud of and it's something that will be integrated in Wanda and Colossus too, in the form of the bond between the hero and his horse, Agro. The two form an odd couple, but a useful one. Agro will be indispensable in moving around the game world and helping the hero gain access to monsters. Ueda is particularly fond of Agro. When asked what they're most proud of, Kaido mentioned the scale of the monsters and how the team is able to maintain a consistent world. Ueda simply responded: "I like the horse."
The reasoning behind pursuing a meaningful relationship between characters is rooted in its emotive power. The sense of knowing that your life is dependant on another layers life and meaning over the project. And this makes you care more about the characters. Just ask the grown men and women who openly admit crying at Ico's conclusion.
While Wanda and Colossus remains obscured by the developer's good intentions, what we've managed to see has us hopeful. There aren't many game creators concerned with going beyond the superficial, trying to make a more substantive connection with gamers. Ueda and Kaido are determined to take everything that was great about Ico and use it to create a wholly new experience. With a pitch like that, who could possibly not be interested?
Editor, Kikizo Games
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Wanda and Colossus (Ico 2)
High quality version of trailer - direct feed