Shadow of the Colossus

Ico brought to the table a unique experience in the form of an action adventure with a heart. There were no worlds to save, no bosses to defeat in their Sunday best. Just you, a girl in need of rescue, and a vast castle filled with obstacles and shadows standing between eternal imprisonment and freedom. Now, from Fumito Ueda and his team comes the much anticipated Shadow of the Colossus. But unlike the legendary Odysseus who only had to face off against Polyphemus, a virtual rogues gallery of deadly giants await you here. And it will take more than a stick and smart talk to stop these things.

The Shadow of the Colossus is cast exclusively over the PS2.

Fatal Valor

There’s actually not much of a story behind Shadow, only the hint of what is to come. From the cinematic introduction that takes you partway along his journey on horseback across the natural wonders of a far away land, you will watch as a boy and his silent companion…a girl wrapped in a brown cloak…make their way across a bridge that stretches off into the heart of an unknown land. There, he strikes a deal with a mysterious power to bring her soul back…that to accomplish that which is forbidden, he must destroy the statues that stare blankly back at him within the temple where he has brought her. And the only way to do that is to defeat the colossus that each one represents.

Land of Giants

Shadows is a third person action adventure that can be best summarized as a brutal ‘boss rush’ of epic proportions, but there’s a lot more to it than that. The basic game does away with all the little bonuses that are found in other adventures such as upgraded weapons or health packs, focusing on pitting only the player’s skill, patience, and their wits against the monsters within. There is really nothing that stands between you and the next colossi that you are sent after; no levels, mazes, traps to negotiate or bothersome minions to decimate, as you pursue your career as a sort of Lilliputian hit man with an agenda to kill giants. But it works and the experience provided by Fumito Ueda and his team is one of the more unique approaches to the genre that players looking for something a little different may appreciate.

The title takes place in a far off land riddled with canyons, huge cliffs soaring into the sky, ancient ruins, and desert sand blasting across your screen. The variety of scenery and the vast openness that you can find here begs the question: where to find the colossi you must face? To help you find your way, the hero is armed with a sword that can gather sunlight, guiding where you need to go to slay the next colossus. Light plays an important part in the game, not only in the production values of the scenery which are great to look at, but in helping point out where you need to go as well as revealing the weaknesses of your foes. While it won’t lead you to the Ark, it will take you to something that makes you wish you had it.

Fortunately, your faithful horse, Agro, will take you everywhere you need to travel and is a pretty faithful partner. Even if you jump into a lake at the bottom of the cliff and swim to the opposite shore, Agro will find a way to get to you. He can even be used to distract the colossi that you confront as some of them will stare and then try to attack your faithful steed as you try to find their weakness. The only real problem with Agro is that he’s not exactly the easiest partner to work with, but I’ll talk about that a bit later on.

Colossi of Rhodes

The real meat of the title are the colossi themselves. Everything else pales in comparison to these engines of annihilation and no two are the same. You will jump, climb, leap, and stab at these titans as you try and defeat them. The first time I had seen one of these rumble and march across my path, I couldn’t help but look and stare at the screen in awe. The boy with the sword appeared as no more than a willowy reed bending before the sheer presence that these things bring to the game.

Fighting them is not an impossible task, however, but the controls do take some getting used to in order to make the most out of them. The best way to describe this would be to take you through what you have to do to bring one of these terrible beasts down. Keep in mind that each colossi is individually different, providing for a far reaching range of strategies and tactics that you will have to learn on the fly and use to bring them to heel, but the basic premise is the same.

When you find the colossi that you are getting ready to battle with, the first thing to do is to try and brandish your sword. Just as it would lead you to the colossi, it will also reveal the weakness of each behemoth. Again, you’ll have to move the cursor that is seen onscreen until the rays of light thrown from your sword coalesce into a single beam that should point out where you will need to strike. A symbol, a rune…a pattern will appear on a spot somewhere on the colossus, illuminated by the power of your blade. As mentioned before, light plays an important role in the title…and sometimes it isn’t always there to help you. Shadows and clouds may stifle and hide it from you, forcing you to get close and personal in the hopes that the presence of the blade itself will who you the way. Nevertheless, it all leads to the same conclusion. While you also have the use of a bow and a bottomless quiver of arrows, many times these will only serve to get the attention of the beast despite how well (and how easily you can) aim the arrowhead. The true killing blow must be done in the traditional fashion. The sword isn’t going to get there on its own.

At this point, the music rises and crests as the colossus rumbles about the vast playing field as it tries to crush you beneath it or blast you if it is able to with lightning or fireballs. As you watch it, you’ll notice that it’s partly alive…partly covered in stonework and hard skin. That’s when you realize that you’ll have to climb this thing, clamber over its stonework armor and hang on to dear life from what fur or hair it does have covering it. And here’s where the controls can get kind of dicey.

Jumping is accomplished with the green triangle, but to actually grab something requires you to use the R1 button. If you’re hanging on something and want to jump in a certain direction, you keep holding the R1 button (you don’t want to fall), press and hold the green triangle button to build up your jump ‘charge’ while you aim with the left analog stick, and then release once you’re confident that you’ll go in the direction you need to. Climbing up and over ledges is more difficult than it should be, with the hero pausing at the top of the ledge until you ‘jump’ up and over to clamber atop it instead of naturally climbing over with a push on the stick. The same thing if he’s caught dangling with his legs. He doesn’t automatically pull himself and his legs to swing into a better perch until you hit that green button. I had to fight the instinct of pushing up on the analog stick more than once, but I did get used to this.

The weakness of the camera also comes into play here, as many times it will self position itself away from where you might actually have liked it to have stayed, requiring you to jiggle with the right analog stick to get it back to where you want it. This is especially hair raising when fighting the colossi, where a missed jump thanks to not being able to accurately see where you’re going can send you falling several stories to the ground. It’s something that you will have to nursemaid in order to get the most use out of it. Fortunately, you can lock onto a colossus with the L1 key to keep it in view no matter what you might be doing. As a result, later in the game, you might be holding down both the L1 and R1 buttons while pushing the green triangle and then jabbing with the square button all the while maneuvering with the left analog stick. While it sounds complicated, it’s workable for most of the encounters that you’ll go up against but it does take practice.

As soon as you leap onto a colossus, the music cheers you on as you attempt the impossible. Each colossus is unique not only in their appearance but in what you need to do to in order to bring them down. Some must be tricked in order to get in close enough to grab on and hang for dear life as they try and shake you off; others are more straightforward, requiring you to only get in close enough to climb and leap from one piece of stony armor plate to the next, clambering across the surface of several of these titanic monsters, holding on with R1 while trying to scramble up their arms, along their backs, and finally to where you can do what you need to do with your sword as you try for their revealed weakness. In several instances, even the very land itself can prove to be a weapon…or a dangerous obstacle as stones crumble, sand blinds, and pillars threaten to crush you beneath them.

Once there, your blade will decide their fate as you raise it and then plunge it into the sigil that burns on their skin unleashing a spurting geyser of black ichor. The longer you keep your blade raised before hitting the square button again, the stronger the blow and the greater the damage. Other colossi may have more than one weakness, and not all of them will be so obvious requiring you to think on how to find them as well as how you are supposed to get to them.

Fortunately for our hero, the game is very forgiving making him an extremely resilient fighter. He can fall from great several stories, get hurt, and keep going which is practically a necessity. If he stands still, he’ll naturally recover his health to keep him in the fight. This doesn’t make the game ‘easier’, per se, especially considering the nature of your opponents and that you can’t save during these encounters (although the game will let you try again from the point where you had encountered the colossus, unless you reset). You can also get the wind knocked out of you, lying on the ground while the colossus may rear itself up for another attack. You can certainly die if you’re not careful.

Falling is probably the most dangerous aspect of fighting these things and it’s made even more challenging by the fact that you won’t be able to hang on forever. There’s only a limited amount of grip strength that you can rely on before you become exhausted and fall, leading to some interesting tactics such as standing and resting on the back of one of these colossi in order to recover while keeping a careful eye on their movements so as not to simply be shrugged off. Stabbing these beasts while your fingers grip the hairs on their backs will also bleed away more of the precious time that you have left in your hands before you are forced to find a spot where you can rest…or fall and hope to survive before trying again.

Once you bring down the colossus you are fighting, the music takes on an almost mournful descent providing its epitaph while it staggers and then falls to your sword. You have accomplished only part of what you will need to do, however. Other colossi await…a total of sixteen in all and every one of them unique. Some are titanic, others are small, some crawl on the ground and others can take flight but all of them are just as challenging as the last becoming more and more dangerous as the adventure continues. Several of the battles are short affairs lasting a half hour or so, allowing you to digest the game in small chunks without feeling that you have to set aside hours on end just to figure out a particular puzzle. Others, however, can easily take longer. The challenge is certainly there. Even when the final act is played out, an additional level of difficulty is unlocked for another play through as well as being able to test your skills against each colossi in speed trials.

Gathering Light

The production values of Shadows do an exceptional job in creating an atmospheric world illuminated with soft, muted shafts of sunlight and a land scattered with mysterious ruins and a wide number of natural wonders ranging from titanic canyons to shadowy grottos. The interface shows just enough information and doesn’t feel intrusive at all, fading out on its own when not performing any actions or receiving any damage. But the graphics are not without some faults. While it may looks great at a distance, up close it can break the illusion with the sometimes flat texturing or some readily apparent low poly detail. There’s also the occasional pop ups with cliffs or distant clouds suddenly appearing on the horizon.

Where the most eye candy is found are with the colossi and the hero. Most of the detail work went into making the colossi feared and impressive beasts. Many are literally walking levels covered in masonry and fur and most make exceptional use of the surrounding environment to try and destroy you…or for you to destroy them first. As for the hero himself, a lot of detailing went into him such as his feet bending as he scrabbles up the side of his foes along with fingers splaying and clenching as he picks himself up from having been thrown like a rag doll from their back.

The animation work is also exceptional, again especially where the colossi and the hero are concerned. The impression that many of the much larger ones give of being truly massive is enhanced by what the animators have done to give these moving mountains life. They’ll twist their bodies, whip their heads about, stomp and pound the ground shaking everything around them and knocking our hero off of his feet, and stare at you as the bug that they see you as when they try to throw you loose if you happen to be hanging onto their arms. You’ll also see these beasts twist in the air (with you on their backs) or swim beneath your feet. Even the smaller ones have their own arsenal of moves to defend themselves with…and to destroy you if you get too close like the dangerous animals they appear to be. The hero has also been given the same treatment with his wide repertoir of moves, all of them blending together seamlessly. Agro hasn’t been left out, either.

But the best part of the presentation has to be the music. Kow Otani, whose body of work includes anime and film ranging from Mobile Suit Gundam to a stint with Gamera, brings his talents to the table in Shadow. The orchestra swells as you challenge these godlike monsters, trumpets and a chorus accompanying you into battle, and then recedes into an adventurous theme when you are forced to fall back and lick your wounds or when you charge back onto the field. The colossi literally bring their theme music with them. Running away from one fades the music out. But when you clamber aboard, the music changes to that of a heroic theme to get you going as the boy is flung left and right as the beast tries to tear you loose. A few of the pieces are recycled, but this is a minor quibble given the quality of what you are hearing. Like a good film, the music marks each scene with a poignant celebration of sound and it works.

There is also voice acting in the game, the scant lines that there are spoken in…as best as I can make out…a language developed for the world of Shadow. Subtitles tell the story, so you’ll have to do some reading here but it isn’t as bad as it sounds. The focus of the game is on the adventure which is revealed…piece by piece…in the occasional in-game cinematic that follows the destruction of certain colossi.

And the ending? It tops the entire production off like a sweet cherry, chocolate icing, or whatever else strikes your fancy. Just as it began with its solemn introduction, Shadow brings it all to a satisfying conclusion.

Vitals

There really isn’t much for me to complain about other than what I’ve already touched on before. As I had mentioned, the controls are adequate for the main character in most situations but could stand with a bit more polish, especially where the camera was concerned. But the controls for Agro get my vote for being more than a little less than fun to play with. Getting Agro to get to where you want is simple enough especially if it’s a straight line, but forget finessing any of his movements especially if he runs into something that gets him ‘stuck’. He can occasionally get confused when you find yourself in a cluster of rocks or he may balk and refuse to jump down a two foot ledge of rock forcing you to wheel him around and follow the ledge until it tapers off enough for you to get around it. I usually jumped off of and ran down the shallow incline ran off ahead, watching Agro run up to me as the game ‘forced’ him out of whatever dilemma he was in.

But what some players may find is that the game can be a relatively short experience lasting anywhere from ten to fifteen hours which isn’t too bad. Again, as mentioned at the beginning, Shadow strips away the the need to battle through hordes of foes to get to their ‘leader’ by providing more of a journey of discovery angle to the events that unfold.

However, some players may consider its simplistic stylings no substitute for a lack of additional content, hoping to find a little more to do outside of dueling with colossi all day. The simplistic approach that Fumido Ueda and his team have taken with Shadow might not be as appealing to everyone, a problem that Ueda’s Ico had also experienced.

Shadow of the Colossi

From the mysterious journey across a strange and vast land to the grand cinematic finale, Shadow of the Colossus provides a unique experience packed with the kind of titanic battles that fans of the action adventure genre can appreciate. While it isn’t perfect and may not be for everyone, it does offer a unique adventure that pits players’ reflexes and their mettle against many of the most creative and challenging ‘bosses’ to be found in any title. It’s a fantastic adventure that refuses to let you go until the very end when the last colossus is slain, the curtain finally falls, and the orchestra plays the last note.

– World 1-1

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