developed & published by SONY/2005.10.18
1 Player/1 DVD-ROM/SONY PlayStation 2
Fresh off the critical success of ICO, SONY’s top game designer Fumito Ueda began toying with the game engine, and Shadow of the Colossus was born. It plays out remarkably similar to the Greek myths, such as the conquests of Hercules, and like its predecessor somehow successfully reinvents and renews the traditional clichéd video game plot of “save the princess”.
The aesthetic style of Shadow of the Colossus will be familiar to fans of ICO – from its fabricated but authentic-sounding language to its timeless and haunting barren landscapes. A memory card with an ICO save will even result in Agro having a trademark horn pattern on his forehead. You’ll come across ancient ruins that silently pose questions, as well as natural wonders like giant waterfalls and serene everglades.
When you enter a colossi’s turf, a brief scene plays out with chilling music, letting you know you’ve trespassed into sacred territory. The colossi themselves are the living effigies of mythical beasts, revered animals mixed with giant mossy rocks brought to life by arcane, forgotten magic. Each one evokes a distinct emotion: fear, panic, wonder, humility, awe.
The game’s orchestral score is one of its great successes, and changes moment to moment to reflect the different stages of a battle: the danger upon awakening the giant’s rage; the frantic struggle for purchase; the glory of a victory near at hand. And when you finally fell your foe, usually after a long and intense battle – exhaustion, satisfaction, relief, regret. Even as I type this review, listening to its music in the background, its power and energy is incredibly potent.
Unlike most adventure games Shadow of the Colossus is not saturated by smaller enemies to fight, lengthy puzzle dungeons to solve, or dozens of items to collect, nor is there a cumbersome HUD. This game is all about the boss fights and the landscapes that separate them. But don’t let this simplicity fool you; the designers weren’t lazy. With 16 different Colossi to defeat, each with its own unique solution, and ranging from the size of an elephant to a skyscraper, there is never a dull moment to be found.
Wander has two strength levels which slowly grow as you progress through the game. There’s the standard life meter, which gradually refills by crouching or petting your horse. And there’s the grip meter (also used to indicate remaining oxygen while swimming, or the strength of a charging sword stab/arrow shot). Wander’s grip strength is of paramount importance, particularly as he tackles a thrashing giant.
Agro – a Constant Companion
You’ll travel the land atop your trusty steed, Agro, easily the best rendition of a horse yet to grace a video game, and a large part of what makes this game so special. When called, Agro will come running to your side. He has a wide range of motion and can sustain a galloping pace with ease. Various maneuvers can be performed while riding, from a quick stop and 180° turn, as well as standing upright on the saddle or hanging from the side. With practice you can even do back-flips from the saddle.
Shooting arrows from horseback, Wander will reposition himself automatically on the saddle to accomodate your aim. Agro is also equipped with path-finding artifical intelligence, allowing you to let go of the reins while navigating passages and tight bridges, and he will always automatically stop to prevent you from taking a fatal fall, or jump gaps where possible. All of this detail is complemented by incredibly life-like animation complete with dynamic mane and tail physics, resulting in the embodiment of a companion that means so much more than lines of code or a polygon model.
To fight a colossus is to challenge a living, breathing platforming puzzle. They move around, often in set patterns with a lumbering intelligence, and the first order of business is figuring out how to get onto the creature’s body. This usually involves baiting the colossus with arrows, then using something in the environment to temporarily gain access to a furry patch of skin to jump on and cling to. This is where your grip meter comes into play – as you frantically climb straight up the back of a moving mountain!
From there you must find its weak point, which glows when your magical sword is nearby. Stabbing the weakpoint is the only way to damage them, and this takes careful and precise timing of charged bursts in the precious seconds between a colossus’ thrashing as it attempts to shake you off. Often there are multiple weakpoints, and several battles require you to use the surrounding environment to your advantage, or Agro’s cooperation. The first time you encounter them, they can take between 20-45 minutes to defeat, but once you’ve learned their weakness they can be polished off in minutes.
Presentation & Final Thoughts
Every now and then you’re treated to a fleeting cutscene, but the full mystery is solved only in the final moments of the game. It’s a simple but elegant story which creates a strong emotional bond with the player, with perhaps one of the strangest and most surprising endings ever. Like a good film, Shadow of the Colossus leaves much to the imagination; like ICO it is widely considered a work of art.
- Unique, inspired game design
- Beautiful world and creature design
- One of the greatest soundtracks ever composed for a game
- Time trial, hard mode, & secrets provide incentives to replay
- Frame rate suffers due to the load on the PS2
- Some players may find the controls hard to adjust to
One Sentence Review: An epic quest that every gamer should experience for themselves.
One Word Review: Stunning.
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