I first played Shadow of the Colossus via the PS3 “remaster” available on the PlayStation Now service a few years ago and I just didn’t get it. Admittedly I was trying to cram in as many games as possible during my free trial but still. There are several reasons why bad gamers such as myself won’t persevere it, but persevere you should. I picked up a PS2 copy for a reasonable price the other day and have never looked back.
The first reason why Shadow of the Colossus will put people off is its structure. It doesn’t have levels as such, just sixteen “boss fights” against the colossi that inhabit this mysterious land. You play as young Wander (apt, as you do quite a lot of wandering in between colossi fights), stuck in this world and tasked with defeating its inhabitants in order to restore life to a young girl called Mono. Why? Why not! Yes, there are platforming elements but they’re unlikely to provide much challenge rather than frame the entrance of the colossi (more on that later).
Another reason why it’ll put off newbies is that whilst the navigation is straight forward,(you use Wander’s sword to point you in the right direction) what to do with each colossi is never immediately obvious, despite the sword being able to point out the vulnerability points the challenge in getting to them is vast. Each colossi has a different way of getting up them, which is fine. What is not fine is the fiddly control system, namely being able to jump and grab. Jumping and grabbing involves careful use of the triangle and R1 buttons. Unlike something like Tomb Raider, if you time things wrong Wander will fall. In fact, the whole control system feels fiddly and not reminiscent of the PS2’s best games that strike a balance between simplicity and effectiveness. Wander will fall a lot and you’ll question why you should persevere with Shadow of the Colossus.
Because it’s EPIC, that’s why. This game looks amazing and I’d argue that it never needed a remake because there’s only a few signs that it’s not a current gen game (those signs being slightly choppy animation and typical PS2 blurring around moving objects). The music score is something out of this world and you’d really expect nothing less from Team Ico who put this all together. The comparisons with Ico are many, so it’s not strange that the two titles are often talked about together (bit like Okami and Viewtiful Joe): superb graphics; immersive soundtrack; strong puzzle elements – all common themes. You can just ride around on Wander’s horse and enjoy the view, heaven forbid someone does a VR version of this because I’d need quite a lot of towels.
So what of the fiddly controls? Stick with it. Stick with it even past you throwing the PS2 controller through the window because you will want to experience each and every one of these fights. Yes, the premise is simple (get up a colossi, stab vulnerable part, repeat) but there are so many ways you can get thrown off, so many different moves you need to pull off in order to get to vulnerability spots. The colossi move in different ways, some will stomp you instantly, others will be much slower to, it’s all a joy to figure out. And once you get to the top of the first colossi (oops, spoiler alert) you’ll want to work out each one of them.
I’ll say a little bit about the camera because it’s not great, and thankfully has been greatly improved in the ground-up rebuild of the game on PS4 which I had the opportunity to check out recently. Sometimes you’ll lose Wander, sometimes you’ll lose the colossi or what it’s about to do, purely from the camera going a bit jittery (for want of a better word). Again, it’s one of these little quirks that makes Shadow of the Colossus on the PS2 what it is.
The story really drags you in and its emotion certainly evokes memories of Final Fantasy 7 and the like. I liked this game much more than Ico (which I’ll review eventually) because it feels more of an experience. Ico was groundbreaking in terms of VIP-escorting gameplay, but you become so transfixed with that mechanic you can’t enjoy the view and overall experience as much as in Shadow of the Colossus (and Ico looks stunning in parts). But once it’s over, it’s over. Yes you can replay the game but the only reason would be to simply experience the story again. There isn’t anything extra to really discover, thus its longevity rating is diminished.
It’s a great game but it’s not perfect. Does it deserve legendary status? Based on what it achieved at the time and how it still affects gamers to this day, I would say most definitely.
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