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Shadow of the Colossus

Action, Adventure, and Puzzle video game by Sony for the PlayStation 2

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In the Shadows of Hyped Titles Comes this Gem

  • Nov 24, 2007
Pros: Atmosphere

Cons: Camera

The Bottom Line: No ninjas in this game. Sorry.

You may not realize it, but the story of Shadow of the Colossus attacks you philosophically. Flashback had more of a backstory. In Flashback, we knew the main character’s name was Conrad Hart, and we were treated to an opening cinematic of him running from his pursuers only for them to shoot him down over the planet Titan. We knew Conrad was a good guy with a wiped mind. But Shadow of the Colossus presents us with a nameless main character who finds a mythical sword and sets out to bring his girlfriend back to life. We know nothing about the circumstances which found everyone in this situation. All that happens is that we’re shown this knight, begging a deity to bring back his girlfriend, who has found a sword and we’re asked to simply accept that, no questions asked. The very genius of the story of Shadow of the Colossus is in the lack of background information.

Consider: You lack this information, but the deity is telling you that in order to bring your girlfriend back (and I’m trusting this to be his girlfriend purely on instinct; maybe she’s his sister. The game doesn’t tell us that, either) you have to hunt down and kill 16 colossi. The 16 colossi are not evil, and they haven’t done anything wrong to justify the death penalty. They’re merely going about their day-to-day existence when this mysterious knight suddenly shows up to take them out. Some of them are sleeping when you come marching into their territory. The colossi are there merely defending themselves from a random intruder who is attacking them with what is apparently a very selfish motive. Are you good or are you evil? Or do good and evil exist at all in Shadow of the Colossus?

The story setup helps make Shadow of the Colossus very atmospheric. When you succeed in killing one, you’re both elated and sad. You’re elated because you successfully brought down a monster many times your size, and sad because you just beat an innocent creature.

Now, when the deity says you have to kill 16 colossi, he really means it. The colossi are literally the only enemies in the game. Your entire mission is to track them down and destroy them. Between fights against the colossi, you’ll only be looking for the next colossus on your hit list. There’s no timer, so you’re not in any danger of dying of being penalized in any way. This actually makes perfect sense when you think about it. The girl in the game is already dead. Where is she going to go? What can possibly happen to her? You can take all the time you need to track down the colossi, but without some sort of guiding device, searching through such a massive world would be a pointlessly boring task. To help you along the way, your legendary sword points a laser-like ray of light in the general direction of the next colossus. Sometimes the beam points you straight in the direction of the colossus. Sometimes you have to work your way around obstacles. But one thing is for certain: Without the beam, searching would make the search pointless in addition to boring.

Yes, you heard that right: I said boring. I love Shadow of the Colossus, I love the layout, and the direction is spectacular. I love the idea of a game consisting entirely of boss battles. But the search is a unique thing: The game either shines or fails based on it. When it works – that is, not too short or too long – it creates a feeling of anticipation. Will the colossus be just over this hill or do I have to swim through a lake once I get over the hill? It gives the game a unique feeling of suspense. The flipside is when the search doesn’t work. After awhile, you begin to lose the feeling of suspense and you just want the colossus to pop up to you can take it out and get on with the rest of the game. What really sucks about longer searches is that instead of the emotions that are supposed to wash over you whenever you see a great work of art, you fight the colossus out of anger.

Longer searches, however, don’t diminish the impact of first seeing a colossus. The colossi are huge, and watching them come out is always a little frightening. Here’s this huge beast, and you’re equipped with a dinky little sword – legendary as it may be – and a bow and arrow. The colossi overwhelm you at first, and your first thought will be along the lines of I don’t wanna fight that guy! Or perhaps How am I going to take that beast out?! Although the battles against the colossi consist of holding on and hacking away at the sweet spot, they never cease to be a challenge because each colossi is different and poses a different challenge in holding on and aiming your sword precisely. I’ve fought battles against colossi which have taken upwards of an hour. They are very well-done.

The graphics in Shadow of the Colossus are beautiful. The shadows and sunspots are excellent little details, and the scenery in general is gorgeous. My hat is off to the outstanding animation of the colossi. They’re big, and they move on a scale that makes them look as epic and grand as the battles you’ll fight against them. The main character is the only sprite I have problems with. He looks blocky, small, and without detail. While some of his more detailed movements are very good, when he runs, he looks like he’s missing animation frames. It’s very tragic. But the worst part about the graphics is the camera. It moves too fast, stays at poor angles when you try to perform simple functions, and is too wild and uncontrollable to give you any kind of calculated advantage when you need it. You’ll be fighting it as much as the colossi.

The music is excellent. Mostly it isn’t there, but when you’re searching the silence helps set the mood. When you fight a colossus, it plays either evil music or heroic music, depending on whether you have the advantage in battle at the moment it plays. Sounds are clear and lifelike, but the real audio standouts are the voices of the main character and the deity. Neither of them speak English. This is a powerful atmosphere-creating device, because the dialogue would sound silly if it was spoken in English.

The gameplay is the problem that keeps Shadow of the Colossus from becoming that gaming breakthrough that places video games among art without argument once and for all. Camera qualms aside, the main character floats when he jumps and runs in a wild manner. His horse is one of those freaks of control nature that you just want to take to the glue factory. The horse is stubborn and never runs in a straight line. To make it run, you have to repeatedly tap X. Its left and right movements are very wide. To get on the horse, you have to press the jump button, but often you will end up just jumping right next to the horse before the game lets you climb on. It doesn’t go back or turn easily when you’re against a cliff. There will actually be times when you jump off the horse, having gotten annoyed with it, and will just run on without it until it catches up to you.

Bad controls aside, Shadow of the Colossus is a perfect argument for video games being a work of art. Great art makes you feel strong emotions, and so does this game.


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Nicholas Croston ()
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About this video game


Tales speak of an ancient land where creatures the size of mountains, roam the majestic landscape. Bound to the land, these creatures hold a key to a mystical power of revival - a power you must obtain to waken a loved one. Shadow of the Colossus is a majestic journey through ancient lands to seek out and destroy gigantic mythical beasts. With your trusty horse at your side, explore the spacious lands and unearth each Colossi. Armed with your wits, a sword and a bow, use cunning and strategy to topple each behemoth. From the original developers of the critically acclaimed ICO, comes a masterpiece of an adventure.
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ESRB: T - (Teen)
Number of Players: 1
Publisher: Sony
Release Date: Q4, 2005

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