Shadow of the Colossus
System: PS2 :: Rating: Teen :: Players: 1
Genre: Action / Adventure / Puzzle :: Released: 18 October 2005
By Aaron Robinson
24 July 2008 — You're a hunter, galloping through an open valley atop your loyal steed. Guiding you to your target is a mystical sword that reflects light in the direction of your prey. After traveling through a tight corridor, you come across an open plain with the remains of an ancient civilization scattered around. In the distance you notice an ominous figure lurching in the shadows, slowly moving towards you. As you draw closer its immense size quickly becomes apparent, made worse by the fact that it realizes you're a threat.
Getting close to the beast, you dismount from your horse and try to make the rest of the way on foot. The beast leans down to take a swipe at you, but you carefully dive out of the way and continue to move around him. After studying him for a while, you find a way to trick him into lowering himself towards the ground, and use the opportunity to crawl onto his back. In desperation the beast attempts to shake you off, but you hold on tight and continue to climb. Eventually you reach an emblem on his neck that illuminates in the presence of your sword. Waiting for the perfect opportunity, you arc back and plunge the sword into his neck, causing it to reel in pain. Despite its frantic attempts to remove you, you continue to strike until the beast finally stops screaming and falls, collapsing into a massive heap on the ground.
Welcome to Shadow of the Colossus.
If there was ever an idea that's really resonated with me, it's putting a realistic spin on platforming. I've always liked the concept of taking a normal human through extreme circumstances, forcing you (his controller) to plan ahead rather than relying purely on reflexes and luck. Shadow of the Colossus is a great example of this, putting you in control of a young man named Wander, as he hunts down creatures that dwarf him in size and strength. (Playing Shadow of the Colossus, you'll finally realize what it means to be the wasp, dodging swats from an impossibly large creature.) Most of the colossi fight defensively, protecting their glowing weak points as you search high and low for them. This means you'll have to be inventive if you want to come out victorious, paying attention to their actions and surroundings to exploit their weaknesses. As such, the battles feel more like puzzles than typical boss fights.
The controls for Wander and his horse, Agro, are simple but effective. Agro, for the most part, actually controls like a real horse when confronted with danger: he'll turn to run away from a threat, and will jolt at the sight of a cliff or wall. This means he can be a little tricky to control at times, but he's effective enough when it comes to crossing the vast terrains, and isn't too much of a hassle for the few fights in which he's required. Wander, in a similar vein, controls like an actual person: he can only jump a couple of feet into the air, and is limited to how long he can grip / hang from various surfaces. This is indicated through the use of a grip gauge, which slowly depletes while he tries to climb, and quickly depletes when a colossus tries to shake him off. The biggest gripe I had with the controls was from the camera. At times it can be helpful (actively positioning to highlight items of interest), but it can be a pain to manage because it tends to reset to its natural position after any adjustments.
Rather than working your way through legions of enemies to get to the battles, Shadow of the Colossus removes the middlemen. It's you against the colossi with a large landscape to traverse. This means you'll be spending a lot of time between fights just guiding your horse from location to location. Beyond that, the action is limited, but the act of discovery makes up for it. As your health and grip gauges increase (through killing small lizards and finding fruit), you'll find it easier to climb higher cliffs and ruins, allowing you to soak in the beautiful surroundings from a new perspective. Though it's an interesting design choice, one which I enjoyed, those expecting a steady stream of action and more platforming might find the experience lacking.
The music actually follows a similar pattern, only coming into play once you enter a colossus' lair. It typically starts off moody and subdued, but becomes a large orchestral explosion when you manage to mount a colossus. Outside of the battles and cutscenes, the music in nonexistent, leaving only the environmental noises and those from Wander and Agro to fill the void. There isn't much in the way of vocal work either, except for in the occasional cutscene and Wander's grunts and calls. But it all works quite well. There's a genuine sense of progression to the music, and the infrequent dialog serves to push the plot forward.
Perhaps the best part of the plot is its subtlety. The opening cutscene tells you all you need to know: Wander has traveled to a sacred land hoping to revive a young woman whom he holds closely. Though his relationship to her is never stated, you learn that he's willing to do anything to return her to life. Upon reaching the sacred land and entering the Shrine of Worship, Wander speaks to the mysterious voice of Dormin, who is said to have the power to revive the dead. Dormin gives Wander an ultimatum: kill the 16 colossi that roam the land, and, at a great cost, Dormin will revive his loved one. From here, the narrative becomes almost entirely the experience of the player, as you make your way through each of the colossi.
Where Shadow of the Colossus really shines is in the scope of the world and the grand designs of the colossi themselves. Each has their own distinctive look, which factors heavily into how you can actually climb them to reach their weak points. The level of detail put into their surroundings is equally amazing, and plays into how the fight will develop.
Unfortunately, with the graphics pushing the hardware to its limits, the system struggles to keep up at times. There's noticeable texture pop-ins and slowdown, which drag the visuals down a little. Though the pop-ins are only a minor annoyance, the slowdown can be problematic during fights. Overall neither are a big issue, but they're noticeable.
As far as video games go, there aren't many that compare to the kind of experience Shadow of the Colossus offers. It's slow, depressing and dark, which will probably turn away as many gamers as it will attract. If you're looking for a steady stream of action, you should probably look elsewhere. But if you're like me, and find the idea of galloping through a massive world and hunting down gigantic beasts that require thought as much as quick reflexes to beat, I think you'll find something to love here.
Final Grade: 9/10