In 2005, Sony and Team Ico released the original Shadow of The Colossus for the Playstation 2. It received universal acclaim, and is considered one of the greatest video games of all time. In 2011, a remastered version of Shadow of The Colossus was released on the Playstation 3, which was also critically lauded. And now the game has been remade from the ground up for the Playstation 4. It took us three console generations, but Lauren and I finally played it. Does Team Ico’s iconic game stand up to newer classics like Horizon Zero Dawn and The Last of Us, and does it instill the same awe in new players that it did almost 13 years ago? Read on to see what Lauren and I think:
Lauren: To put it simply, yes. As someone who has wanted to play this game for the better part of a decade due to the hype surrounding it, but just never got around to it thanks to a series of unfortunate events, I had nothing but the highest of expectations for the game. Earning anything under an 8/10 in my personal ratings was going to make this game one of the biggest disappointments of my gaming career, basically. Luckily, most of the Colossuses (Colossus? Colossi?) more than reach the height of my hopes. Good thing too, because in a game with next to no storytelling or character development, these boss battles are pretty much the only thing this game has.
Ben: I enjoyed Shadow of The Colossus’ minimalist storytelling. To me, it was like the straight-to-gameplay style of early-to-mid 90’s classic platformers, such as Crash Bandicoot and Super Mario 64, was meshed with the mature and bleak atmosphere of newer favorites like The Last of Us. I can easily see others disliking it as much as I loved it though, and the story could have been spread out slightly more through the ten-plus hour campaign, but I’m nitpicking at this point. And further to the story’s credit, Shadow of The Colossus is one of the only four games I’ve played that was powerful enough to make my eyes water.
I completely agree with you about the Coloss-… Big guys though. From being trapped in small(ish) rooms, to flying far above the ground, to swimming (or doggy paddling) as fast as possible out of harm’s way, almost all of the behemoths were absolutely incredible. The simple core mechanics (climb the thing, stab the thing, don’t fall off the thing) never needed to evolve thanks to each gigantic beast being a puzzle to solve as much as a boss fight to survive. I’m still struggling to decide which one of them was my favorite because they’re all so good!
And how about that soundtrack?! I might even put it somewhere near Final Fantasy VII, which has my favorite music from any game. The way it picks up once you’ve started to climb a Colossus… Goosebumps.
Lauren: The thing that got me about the soundtrack was how it upped the sadness every time I downed a Colossus, making me feel like quite the bad guy myself. One was even called a guardian in the trophy I gained from killing it. A guardian! Which is why I’ll stick with figuring out the plural form for Colossus. As far as I’m concerned, these giant creatures of flesh and stone were just minding their own business, peacefully inhabiting this sacred land from now until the end of time. Or at least for as long as no one like me comes in and selfishly downs the giants.
Seriously, I’m pretty sure I’m the villain of this story. My goal of resurrecting a young woman who was sacrificed is honorable, I just don’t think my actions are… And boy do those actions have weight, as they make you stab and stab and stab and stab… It was so much easier in the God of War series when it was clear who the bad guys were, and I could revel in the wrath of Kratos.
Guilt aside, the actual gameplay and design of the Colossuses makes the majority of these takedowns memorable. Looking back, the first one or two of these encounters are rather simple because it was necessary to allow the player to gain confidence in the controls. I’ll admit I had a little trouble getting used to them as I am accustomed to games that have certain aspects of scaling structures automatic, but here things can’t be quite that simple because the ability to maintain a vice grip on the luscious locks of a beast flinging its body to and fro or barrel-rolling through the air is where this game becomes most memorable. And watching the stamina meter tick down incredibly stressful.
Good thing I learned about those lizard tails, huh? If there is one complaint I can throw at this game (other than some of those WTF moments in the story’s conclusion), it is that apart from the hit or miss hints given by the godly voice above (some that I would even say were contradictory to what I had to do during these battles), the game doesn’t really hold your hand in how to get things done. For example: the only reason I learned that I could increase my health and stamina bars is because I looked at the stats page I found in the pause menu to see what the heck the glowing item I picked up was. Well, I never found the answer to that mystery, but I can tell you that I learned the importance of hacking off lizard appendages and shooting down fruit from the occasional tree. I can’t even imagine taking on some of those final bosses without the added stamina I gained during my exploration of this land.
Ben: You’re totally right, the guilt you feel from “winning” is awful. By the time the game ended, I felt more monstrous than the literal monsters I had slain. Wander, the player character is indeed a villain, yet it’s easy to empathize with him. Grief is a powerful emotion, and it can make a person desperate. I don’t think I’d ever go on a David and Goliath-style killing spree, but I can understand the willingness to do almost anything to bring a loved one back. And that’s why I think Shadow of The Colossus is such an achievement: You go from scared or frustrated with the difficulty of the battle (only heightened by the lack of help and hints you’re given, which I imagine is similar to the feeling players of the Dark Souls series experience) and then you have but the briefest of moments to celebrate your victory before you’re reminded that you just killed an innocent creature. Most games can’t capture a barrage of emotion like that even once, but Shadow of The Colossus does it over a dozen times.
Also, I don’t think I found a single fruit or lizard… Which might explain why I struggled for almost an hour on the final Colossus…
Lauren: Once you know what to look for they’re pretty obvious (the lizards you want are often zooming around the structures the shrines you pray at are in, and the fruit are on the trees with the wider bases). I’d actually been keeping an eye out for the lizards just because they were fun to watch, but I’ve never been one of those people who swings at animals like this in games just to see if I can. I’m the type of person who gets angry at a game for not letting me pet the creatures (looking at you, Assassin’s Creed: Origins. Let me scritchy scratch those kitty cat chins!), but once more, I’m tasked with killing something for my selfish needs. Guess that’s just one more reason to feel like a monster in this game…
Maybe that’s why it often takes Wander so long to get up from a heavy hit or fall, the weight of it all is just too much to bear. Like Loki after the Hulk repeatedly slammed him against the ground in The Avengers, it’s pretty funny to watch Wander groan into the dirt in these moments, except when you’re desperately button mashing to get any motion out of the guy because another barrage of damage is heading his way. This definitely got frustrating in the final Colossus encounter. From the projectiles to the color scheme that made it hard to distinguish Wander from the environment, from the numerous falls to moments in which I felt like Wander was ignoring my button commands, this final colossus was a doozy. But considering this was only the second time in the game that I found myself frustrated, I really can’t complain.
Ben: I think that the final Colossus was probably the most frustrated I got as well. The weather and colors certainly made it more challenging than I thought it needed to be, and there was a marginal lack of polish on one particular part where you had to jump from one place on the Colossus to another. These few hiccups didn’t stop me from loving Shadow of The Colossus though. The combat, puzzles, soundtrack, and atmosphere are more than enough to easily elevate it to a place few other games are in my mind.
And there you have it: Lauren and I agree that Shadow of The Colossus lives up to its prestigious reputation. If you haven’t played it yet, you’re missing out on something truly special.
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