Few games seem to be as universally acclaimed as Shadow of the Colossus. I never got around to playing it when it first released way back in 2005. But even going back eight years later, parts of it still felt fresh. A lot of what people liked about this game was how different it was. This isn’t your standard action-adventure game. There are no real levels or pointless enemies, just 16 huge bosses called colossi and a big open world for you to find them. Although as an overall experience this game still feels groundbreaking, I had a few issues with it.
Here is a quick summary of a story for anybody who has waited longer than me to play the game. The protagonist is a male named Wander. Wander travels to a forbidden land hoping he can bring a girl back to life. Upon entering a temple, Wander strikes a deal with a disembodied voice called Dormin, the deal being that Dormin would bring the girl back to life after Wander kills 16 colossi who are spread throughout the world. Until a few plot twists near the end of the game, this is all you are really told, so hop on your horse and set out to kill the colossi.
There was something beautiful about the simplicity of this opening. It left me curious and wanting to know more, but still willing to go blindly hunt down one colossus after the other. But when I encountered the first colossus, the story became very different for me. It became the story of how a man was never going to bring a girl back to life, simply because he refused to climb where I wanted him to.
I don’t know if I’ve played another game where climbing is as important as it is in this game. Each colossus is essentially a moving wall you must somehow climb that is constantly trying to knock you off. This can get difficult when you have to jump from one moving part of a colossus to the other. The climbing controls just didn’t feel right to me, and I fell a lot. I did eventually get the hang of it and the game became playable. I guess climbing mechanics in gaming have just come a long way in the generation since this game’s original release. I swear Nathan Drake with a sword would have had an easier time against the colossi than Wander.
There is also a foe more difficult than any colossus. This foe isn’t mentioned anywhere in the game, but makes its presence very known and its hate for you is abundantly clear. This deadly foe is the camera. I could swear the camera had its own AI. AI that was specifically programmed to spin at only the most crucial moments, making it impossible to see the character you are trying to control, forcing you to always be fiddling with the right stick to try and get the angle you want. The camera and aged climbing mechanics deliver a one-two punch that makes this game almost unplayable until you get used to them.
Once I got past this game’s outer shell of technical issues, I found the delicious candy core that Shadow of the Colossus really is. You are essentially dropped into a big, gorgeous world, a forbidden land that has almost every environment you could hope for. You’ll travel through a beautiful forest, have an exciting battle in a lake and lose hours looking for fruit hanging from trees. This is one of the few games that lets me actually use the 3D on my TV, and it added greatly to the depth and beauty of the world. The only guidance you receive in this world comes from a light your sword emits, and all that does is point you in the right direction; you still have to figure out how to get there.
As pretty as the world is, you will spend most of your time fighting the world’s 16 colossi. These battles are where the game really shines. The colossi are, for the most part, huge, with only one or two weak spots. Each battle becomes a unique puzzle where you must figure out how to scale the colossus to get to its weak spot. Against the flying colossus, for example, you have to get it to swoop down and attack you so you can grab onto its wing and climb on its back. Against the final colossus, stabbing slightly tickles it, so he will reach to scratch that area and you must then jump to his hand. Most of these battles excitingly end with you grabbing onto the colossus’s head and holding on for dear life, hoping you can get in enough stabs before you fall off. As frustrating as killing some of these colossi could be, I can’t remember the last time a game left me feeling so rewarded when I was done with a fight.
If you still haven’t played this game, you’re a damn fool just like me. I can’t necessarily say this is a fun game, but it is a great game. I’m glad I stopped putting if off and finally played it. You really should find yourself a copy if you haven’t yet. [Like The Ico & Shadow of the Colossus Collection on PS3, for instance. – LF]