Shadow of the Colossus (PS2, PS3 [Japan Only])

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This game is scarce on plot but what we know is that a young man, named Wander, beseeches a dark god, named Dormin, to bring a young woman, named Mono, back to life. To this end Wander must destroy sixteen great beasts across the Forbidden Land. And when I say “great” I mean freakin’ huge, like houses huge. Accompanied solely by his horse, Agro, and armed only with a sword and bow Wander must slay these mountains.

Development

Shadow of the Colossus was designed by Fumito Ueda, produced by Kenji Kaido, and developed by team Ico, a team of only 35 people.  Ueda was an admitted perfectionist who pushed his team to the brink of their abilities and turned away 498 out of every 500 artists who proposed to work on the game. Kaido also pushed the team by having them accurately depict what a being the size of a Colossus would do by moving to the world around it. When Colossi walk the screen shakes and leave deep divots in the earth that can send Wander tumbling. On top of this he urged them to design the Colossi as living terrain in the physics engine. When their limbs are horizontal Wander can walk across them instead of climbing them for instance.

Shadow of the Colossus was released on October 18th, 2005. It’s competition was Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth (PC, XBox), Call of Duty 2 (PC), and Resident Evil 4 (PS2).

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It’s also visually stunning to boot.

Gameplay

There are only sixteen enemies in this game. The colossi are the only things that will actively try to harm Wander, and for the most part they’re more interested in aimlessly ambling about than actually hurting the player — although they can be incited to rage by pelting their eyes with arrows. Considering they’re all quite large, the smallest are roughly the size of four horses put together, Wander will have to put his climbing and parkour skills to the test. Wander is actually pretty good at climbing and controlling on colossi limbs is more responsive then I’d expect a shaking goliath would allow. Agro is a little less responsive however. Ueda wanted Agro to be so much like a real horse that he wouldn’t always obey commands– it only happens very rarely or when Agro is under extreme duress but that’s a really interesting detail.

The enemies in the game are more like puzzles than they are actual fights. Fighting a Colossus head to head, or head to ankle, wouldn’t be much of a fight. As such Wander must climb on their bodies in order to reveal weak points that his blade can inflict serious, black-blood spurting, wounds upon. Climbing on them is not so easy however, some have stone armor that is unclimbable while others fly or have similar defenses. Some of them have devilishly hidden weak points which can be revealed by focusing light on Wander’s sword and pointing it at where the beams of light focus– this method is also used to locate the Colossi’s stomping grounds.

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Yar, light marks the spot.

Experiences

I’m really not good at puzzle games. I get frustrated easily and when I first laid eyes on a Colossus I thought there was no way I could kill it– I thought the game was a twenty dollar sick joke played on gamers. I put the game down for a few months after I died more times than my little nerves could take. I came back to it though and figured out its secrets. After I beat the first one I was hooked. Knowing that I had destroyed one let me know that I could destroy them all– or at least that the game wasn’t a cruel joke played on gamers around the world.

The Gush

This game’s story tells a lot while saying very little. The body language isn’t incredible but it’s interesting to see the looks on Wander’s face or the tone in Dormin’s voices. It leaves a lot for interpretation but it’s super fun.

If you just want to explore then you efforts will be well worth it. The entirety of the world was populated with shrines, geological peculiarities, flora, and all sorts of stuff that has no bearing on you ability to find giants and serves merely to be seen. If the sheer beauty of the world doesn’t dazzle you you can go hunting for fruits, which increase you maximum health — although most Colossi can kill you in one hit anyway–, and lizard tails which increase your maximum stamina — yeah, that’s more like it.

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I dunno, a view like this is reward in itself.

The music is great. It’s full of orchestral pieces that constantly put me on edge in the best way. I don’t think I’m going to be attacked but I constantly feel like something is out of place or that this Forbidden Land is forbidden for a reason. Even the blaring trumpets of the triumphant moments when the Colossi are open to attack struck me as hollow in some way.

If you can’t get enough Wander on Colossus action then you can play hard mode. Which ups the Colossi’s response times and speeds. You can also play through time trials that unlock special items like a map to find those lizards, a mask that increases your damage, or exploding arrows for the ultimate silliness.

The Kvetch

Some of the Colossi are a giant pain in the ass. There’s one that breaths poisonous gas and I seriously don’t know how to beat that guy. I gave the controller to my cousin, I think, and let him handle the damn thing. The final Colossi shouldn’t be a push-over but the only reason I knew how to beat him was because I chatted with an uncle at a wedding reception and he mentioned that it took him forever to figure out how to beat this guy.I eventually caved and asked him for the low-down and it was still hard as hell.

Sometimes it seems like the only penalty for failure is time. Falling off a colossus is sometimes necessary to get to a new weak point on it or to avoid taking tons of damage or drowning. Once you figured out the trick though there’s no real challenge. It just takes more time to get back to where you were.

The Verdict

This game changed me. It taught me things about stories, intentions, endings, and the concept of adage. I laughed, I cheered, I cried, I stamped my feet and refused, and was sent to my room without supper. I bested foes 50 times my size and knew that I did it by the seed of my own wit  — with a few exceptions. I love this game and I urge you to give it a shot.

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Yeah, this game makes you feel something like this. (Image courtesy of iwilding at http://iwilding.deviantart.com)

Next Week: The Yawhg

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