Game 68: Shadow of the Colossus

Posted: July 11, 2011 by mulholland in Games
Tags: , , , ,

Game 671/1001 according to the list

Genre: Action/Adventure
Platform: Playstation 2
Year of Release: 2005
Developer: Team Ico
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

I will be completely honest here: this was a game I was hoping to save for a more landmarky sounding number. Instead here it is at lucky sixty-eight.

Few games sit in the same position as Shadow Of The Colossus; a critical and cult hit that most game-buyers are unlikely to have heard of. In fact it probably reached it’s widest audience after a rare favourable review on Zero Punctuation. The sad fact is that because this game is so beloved in the cult world it sells for a large amount of money for an old PS2 game. Thanks again Kat… but we’ll have to get our own version of this one day.

Our Thoughts

There’s some games you know are epic, but where you keep finding the lesser bits between the gold, and they take over occasionally. I think Shadow Colossus felt like one of those. I think the shorthand for that is “flawed masterpiece”. If you wish, I just thought it was better when descriptive. The dividing line here is somewhere between the colossus battles and the long treks to get there.

To start with the latter, the environments are gorgeous in this game, but there’s a lot of nothing to travel to. Even that’s okay, except that the controls work against you here sometimes, and getting past them can be timeconsuming consider they’re the bad part. The thing about the battles and the long searches on horseback is that they provide a great deal of contrast. I mean this can be seen with the soundtrack which is light and airy as you gallop around the rolling hills and then becomes far more intense during the battles. In a way it prevents the game from feeling like a one-trick pony and instead greatly contributes to the games atmosphere.

Before we go further here is the crux of the game: girlfriend dies, you travel to a forbidden temple to have her ressurected by some evil spirit, kill 16 ancient colossi to achieve your goal, the end… ish. It’s a tale as old as time but, in the end, there is a great deal of moral ambiguity to this as you play along.

In the end none of these colossi are malevolent and the first only attacks you after you present yourself as a threat. After you hack away at his shin and eventually fell the giant moss covered golem word basically gets out and the remaining 15 attack you in self-defense. Even then they rely more on strength than guile and you mostly win by outsmarting them. This is the equivalent of mass genocide where the victims are the Ents from The Lord of the Rings. After destroying colossus number three I actually began to feel pangs of guilt about what I was actually doing.However, you are keen to progess because the designs of these massive foes are so fantastically beautiful that you want to see what comes next. Especially since you need to concoct unique methods to destroy each of them. Which is the point where the adventure/puzzle part of the game comes in.

While your magical (ancient) sword can show the weak points of the colossus, you need to find out the specifics on where and how to get on it. For example, with one colossus you need to get it to beat down on a stone circle, which destroys a ring on its arm preventing you from climbing up to the weak spot. Some of these are more obvious – and easier – than others, but because they are all different, each of the 16 battles is a different battle that requires different strategies. This means that while there may only be 16 battles in the entire game (ignoring a small amount of hunting you can do), they are 16 big, epic battles. These shine in designs, graphics and complexity – I know no other games where you use your foe as battling platform, outside some particular platformers where this is only barely the case. Here, the creatures move and try to shake you off while you hold on for dear life, trying to reach that one spot.

Some are cuter than others, and all are this strange mix of furry animal and stone artifact buildings, which makes it a bewildering experience. This isn’t helped by you not getting much story information. You don’t know why they’re there, what they’re doing, who created or bred them, if anyone, or else what their ancestors are, you just know they’re there and you need to kill them.

The main problem with this game is that it can be immensely frustrating. The fact that your health gradually regenerates is a godsend but it does not counter-act the pounding your head against a porcupine-style moments than being flung off of a colossus for the upteenth time. It’s not particularly difficult since you can run in circles until your health gauge fills up but be prepared that battles can take in excess of half an hour… and there is no mid-battle saving point. I also got annoyed by a particular jumping puzzle that took ages – due to bad camera handling and the fact that you had to swim back after falling and climb back up to a great height, which took a few minutes every time it happened.

At least they were able to get the proportions feeling suitably epic. I mean the world appears to be massive and the colossiĀ  are… well… colossal in stature. As your character clambers up their leg he really looks like the ant getting ready to ruin your picnic. Except with what’s apparently a very powerful sting. It’s a suitably epic game, occasionally flawed, but very much giving the epic fights that make any game great. And its focus on just that works great.

Final Thoughts

Okay okay we’re officially bad people for killing these innocents. We might as well fund a game that simulates water-boarding now where you use a Kinect controller to hold virtual buckets of water…. or am I going overboard.

In the end this is a game which truly justifies the term ‘flawed masterpiece’ and really provided a flashpoint in how games were made. Nothing out there is quite like it… so just play it for yourself.

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