Review – Shadow of the Colossus

Shadow of the Colossus
Developed by SCEA
Published by SCEA
Released 10.15.05

Huge horse
Your horse has been fed animal steroids.

Apparently all reviewers of Shadow of the Colossus must first reveal their Ico credentials. Ico was released in September of 2001, and I had my eye on it from early in its life cycle. For one reason or another I only ended up purchasing the game about a year and a half later. Since then, the more I’ve played the further it has climbed up my list of favorite games. I enjoyed the graphical style, puzzle elements, storyline, I even like the fact that the fighting was terrible, because it made the whole experience of being a young boy lost in a dangerous castle more believable. I felt the same way about the lack of menus and on-screen interface. I fully bought into the idea that the game was art, and the most heartfelt story ever told on the medium. Needless to say, I was excited by the prospect of Shadow of the Colossus. I trusted the team with the huge responsibility of not letting down my astronomically high expectations.

My first complaint, noted before release, but hoping it would be resolved, is that the designers did add an interface to the screen. Minor, but something of a big deal to those of us who loved Ico for its completely immersive world. This complaint is more on philosophical grounds than practical ones since the interface is ultimately necessary. Without it, the player would likely end up throwing the controller down in disgust after inexplicably dieing or falling the equivalent of several stories off of an enormous beast.

Flat sworded colossus
Remember, villians, flat swords are easily scalable.

The pacing of the game is a very subjective call. Some people are willing to put up with the fact that the game is incredibly slow in exchange for the fact that the environments one is subjected to between sequences (colossi) is incredibly beautiful. I don’t come down firmly in either camp. On the one hand the riding over hill and dale can be boring at times (after resetting without beating a colossus for example). On the other, the scope and detail of the environments are amazing (complete with cliffs, waterfalls, etc).

While I am willing to put up with the timing though, I have serious problems with the gameplay. It is weak, close to the point of nonexistence. In Ico I was willing to put with up an awkward main character who seemed unable to defend himself. This is not the case in the more action oriented SoTC. We are to believe that Wander is a warrior capable of defeating some of the most fearsome beasts ever to grace a videogame yet he can not even run or swim without looking like a child. Despite the scale, and presumably power, of the bosses, the fights are essentially over once you secure purchase on the colossus. This makes it essentially a puzzle game. Figure out a way onto the colossus (occasionally find your way around on the colossus) and the game is over.

Sword emmiting light
Light lights the way.

The storyline is the one aspect of the game where Ico comparisons are most useful. If you enjoyed the minimalist, fairy tale style in which Ico was presented, chances are you will enjoy the minimalist, fairy tale style of SoTC. The game gives you enough of a plot to form a framework from which you can fill in the details as you see fit (and then argue on message boards for hours about the actual intentions of the developers). Essentially a girl is dead and Wander (name only found in the credits) carries her to a temple and is promised by some higher power that she will be revived if he slays the colossi.

The colossi themselves range from the impressive to the absolutely breathtaking. For the most part they each bring something completely new to the table. This is one aspect of the game that should not be spoiled, so suffice it to say that holding down L1 (locking the camera onto the enemy) will often result in an open mouthed, disbelieving stare at the shear size of your enemy leading to your inevitable death by clubbing, stomping, fireball, etc. My main complaint about the majority of the reviews I’ve read of this game is that they all say about the same thing and then give the game completely disparate scores. Always included (and my comments):

• Graphics are spectacular. (I’m not sure they are. They are good, and the environments are beautiful, but technically, the graphics suffer from some graininess and jaggies. I’ll admit to knowing nothing about programming, but I’m willing to give leeway here since I assume its difficult to animate two things of such disparate size next to one another.)

Wonderful architecture
This game has ambiance coming out its ass.

• Controls are sticky. (Perhaps. Good enough to get the job done without being frustrating though, since the hardest part is generally figuring out how to get on a boss)

• Camera is bad, compounding control problems. (Never an issue for me. See above.)

• Game is too short. (About 9 hours for my first playthrough. Then there is a time attack, hard mode and hard time attack mode. And the whole world to explore, if you desire. Go nuts)

All reviews say this and then (if the review system allows for subjectivity) gives the game a subjective score based on whether or not they think the game is art or not. That said, I give this game an 8.9.

All in all I would say this is a title worth owning, but I value innovation over fun. Visuals are breathtaking, but graphics may be less than perfect. Plot is thin, but still somehow very good and completely appropriate. Music is good, if a bit manipulative (becomes upbeat when you get on a colossus, melancholy when you defeat one). As for the gameplay, I will let you make your own decisions based on my description. It is neither perfect nor is it disappointing, and personally this is a game I treasure and will never consider trading or selling.

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