Shadow of the Colossus Review

Shadow of the Colossus is an absorbing tale that oozes emotional resonance and leaves a lasting impression.

What exactly is Shadow of the Colossus? On the surface, it’s seems like a pretty simple game. You move from point A to point B, defeat a boss, go back to the starting point and repeat the process sixteen times to see the ending. Although you may definitely play Shadow of the Colossus in this way and enjoy it that would be unforgivable, as this is one of the most stirring and thought-provoking adventures ever created.

At the beginning of the game, the main protagonist travels across a bridge of fascinating design and arrives at a place known as the Shrine of Worship located in a forbidden land.  He carries the body of a beautiful maiden named Mono, which he tenderly places in an altar in the shrine. The main objective of the game is to bring her back to life and to do so you are required to defeat sixteen colossi that are scattered around the forbidden land. You fight these monsters in a specific order and to fulfill your objective you have your faithful steed Agro, a bow and an ancient sword. Apart from using it for attacking, the magical sword reflects beams of light, something quite useful to locate the hidden colossi.

In addition, something that makes this game pretty unique is that it uses as few heads-up displays as possible. Only two displays appear on the lower right side of the screen when necessary. There is a life meter and a stamina meter. The first one is pretty self-explanatory as it shows your health, but the second one is an interesting addition as it is used to show the strength of your grip, attacks and breath, which comes in handy when you are climbing, attacking or swimming underwater respectively. An additional icon shows you your equipped weapon and when fighting a colossus, its health is also displayed in a different bar at the top of the screen.

Apart from that, the main character can walk, run, roll, whistle, mount, ride and so on and so forth. But even though he has a full repertoire of moves, when you control Wander you don’t feel invincible as he’s not the stereotypical video game hero. Not all of his moves are graceful. Sometimes he walks in an awkward manner, stumbles and if he’s hit by a giant beast, stays on the ground for long periods of time. Although the warrior has the courage to fight the colossal beings, he seems fragile, like he doesn’t belong there.

You know what they say: the bigger they are, the harder they fall.

Explaining each mechanic would simply be a waste of time. Shadow of the Colossus is a game that goes beyond that, it’s a tale of eternal love, companionship and it’s about the discovery and exploration of a vast, magical world and all the mysterious creatures that inhabit it. At the same time, this is a story with high levels of emotional poignancy. Why is the player forced to slay the immense beings? Do they really hold the secret to revive the maiden? Are they just mere means to an end? This isn’t just a captivating or stimulating title. Shadow of the Colossus is much more than that.

There are clear objectives to this adventure, as the player always knows what he or she is supposed to do, but the motivations that guide the protagonist’s actions are never clearly stated. Undoubtedly, at one point during the game you are likely to ask yourself: is it worth sacrificing the lives of sixteen harmless creatures for your own benefit? In order to answer this question though, the player is required to defeat the sixteen beasts.

Before fighting the colossi, you need to locate them. You’ll traverse rivers, valleys, hills, forests and so on. You’ll climb, run, and avoid numerous threats. You’ll run, swim, ride your horse and hold your sword towards the sunlight in order to locate the more convenient path. Then, a new colossus will make a dramatic appearance. Each of these mythical creatures represents a level in and of itself as the player is required to climb them and move through their bodies. Once there, your objective is to strike their weak points in order to bring them down. Fights rarely stagnate or become repetitive as each colossus has dissimilar puzzles you need to solve before defeating them.

Some encounters take a few minutes and others may take you several hours. Each colossus is masterfully designed and climbing them is much more difficult than it seems. They move restlessly, attack you mercilessly or even make use of the environment to avoid your attacks. It’s worth pointing out that there are different types of colossi and while some of them stay on the ground, others can swim, fly or even attack you with beams of energy or electricity. Once a colossus is defeated, the protagonist is violently impaled with its dark souls and he is immediately transported to the temple.

Thy next foe is… this little guy.

Additionally, the warrior gets more life and improved gripping abilities that are absolutely necessary to continue on the dangerous journey. Nevertheless, this game shouldn’t be confused with an action adventure title like Prince of Persia, as you finish Shadow of the Colossus in pretty much the same state you’ve started it. Wander is not given new weapons, abilities or experience and there are no battles or secrets that interrupt the pace of the boss fights. This is a game that is trying to convey a message and even though its content may be unclear, the way in which it’s communicated is simply remarkable.

Moreover, superb visuals and a great use of audio provide a unique cinematic feel, but the use of the camera is cumbersome at times. Although the camera doesn’t always provide the best look of the action, it’s not enough to ruin the overall experience. The orchestral soundtrack definitely enhances the tension of fighting larger-than-life foes and it intensifies the mood of the different situations.

Furthermore, the game has some rich and vivid environments that range from desolate deserts to lush forests to humid caves. Although graphics are inviting and varied, there are some graphical inconsistencies here and there. The most noticeable problem is an inconsistent frame rate, but thankfully, it rarely puts a barrier on your enjoyment. Another problem is that the game lacks a proper help system. The fact that the hint system is inadequate is absolutely detrimental, mainly because reading a walkthrough would ruin the experience of discovering what you are supposed to do by yourself. Puzzles are overly convoluted and complex so the vague tips that you receive are likely to aggravate your frustration.

So what exactly is Shadow of the Colossus then? Well, it’s really hard to say. That would be a very intimate and personal question and different people will probably provide different answers to it. In fact, the actions you perform in this game may be fun to some and absolutely horrid and tasteless to others. No matter what your position about this may be one thing is for sure, Shadow of the Colossus is a masterpiece.