Modern Classics is a new series in which Hookshot Inc. writes about digital gaming’s formative classics in an effort to define the canon.
Like Ico before it, Solipskier is a game that requires near-constant touch in order to save its lead character.
In Team Ico’s masterpiece you squeeze the controller to grasp Princess Yorda’s hand on screen, leading her from pillar to post with a tender, forceful clutch. So too does Solipskier spring to life as you place your finger on the menu screen, catching the falling skier as the screen scrolls and paints a mountain under your touch.
Remove your presence from the scene and the mountain disappears, the character tumbling into the oblivion of a game over screen.
All games require a player to prod at them to bring them to life, but only some threaten to die if you dare to let go.
It’s a game about flow; the rhythms of success. Draw a line downwards with a gentle incline and your skier accelerates in kind, a flick upwards producing a ramp into the night sky. Yellow gates provide point drops and speed boosts, while the long meandering blue tunnels ask you to match their undulation, faster and faster as the combo thwumps upwards.
Ultra-thin fonts give the HUD an understated, design-savvy sheen while the rainbow scarf – like Journey’s lead character en route to a Gay pride parade – flutters and trails behind, indicating the sweep of your movements while interrupting the stark black and white visuals with a paint spill of colour.
In time you learn to play with touch.
Create a ramp, send the skier twirling up into the air and you dare remove your finger from the scene, scrubbing away the mountain as your charge cartwheels through his trajectory. And slam: you grasp him again, saved from oblivion, a Yorda catch. ‘I would never let you go’, you whisper, just as the relentless skier hunches down, frowning yet exhilarated.
It’s a game in which ever interaction is both meaningful and crucial. Decelerate and it’s your fault. Tumble and it’s your fault. Swerve and twirl and dazzle and high score and it’s your fault: an endless runner in which you lay the track before his feet.
You are the architect of success and the Lord of downfall. Like Ico before it, it’s a game about stewardship, salvation, protection. But unlike Ico, it’s a game that dares you to steward, save and protect with style and pizzazz, then rewards you for it.