Shadow of the Colossus

Hi there kiddies! What did you do with your Friday night? I spent mine playing through Shadow of the Colossus. Doesn’t that sound like fun? Oh, but you’d be surprised to know that it wasn’t as much fun as other people might tell you. Maybe it’s because I played it for 12 hours straight, but after playing through the entire game, I can’t say I’m completely satisfied.

First off I should explain what the game is about. See, this kid travels to some cursed valley in hopes that he might be able to find a way to bring his girlfriend back from the dead. It’s a decent story, but that’s essentially the entire story, and I’ll get to that later. So how is he going to go about this? Well, you see, this disembodied voice tells him that if he can slay the 16 colossi scattered about the land, his girlfriend would be revived. Not too much trouble, I think. So let’s get to business here.

The game revolves around you killing these “Colossus” creatures. And that’s all. Believe you me when I say that that is almost all there is to the game. Fortunately, this is adequately entertaining. Sure, you do have to travel a vast landscape and jump across some platforms to get to them, but the whole game is basically fighting the colossi.

As I said, fighting a colossus is quite fun. While you never have to complete a dungeon or solve any puzzles to get to the fight (you just literally travel to their point on the map), defeating the creature will be just as much trouble as a dungeon would present in any regular game. There are 16 different colossus monsters in the game, and you have to figure out how to both make you way onto and kill the creatures. You see, as you are such a small fellow, and the colossus is a gigantic hairy rock monster, the only way to kill them is to leap onto them, climb up their fur, and stab them like there’s no tomorrow. Fortunately, it’s often a lot more complicated than that. While the first monster is basically a tutorial fight, the rest of them all require you to come up with some cunning strategy to defeat them.

One colossus, for example, is a big turtle-like creature with no visible weak points, except for the top of his head. Unfortunately for our hero, there are no walls to jump from, and his shell does not make for a good climbing point. So you have to consider the environment. It just so happens that there are geysers all about, and tricking him into standing above one will sort of tip him over. But that’s not the end, oh no. See, he’ll regain his balance if you just try to take it from there, so you’ve got to knock him all the way over by shooting out the balls of his feet with your bow and arrow. (BTW, your character is always equipped with a bow and a sword) Then, you can climb up his hairy underbelly and hopefully when he turns back over, you’ll end up on top of his shell, from where you can access his head and drive your blade right into his skull. Of course, he’ll be trying his damnedest to shake you off the whole time, so it won’t be easy.

The thing is, that while all of the monsters have some sort of trick to beating them, you really have to think outside the box for a couple of them. One enemy, for instance, is this lion/boar-thing, and you have to go through this long, drawn-out sequence of having him knock over pillars and stuff so that you can have him collapse a terrace on himself, which breaks his armor and reveals the weak point. colossi like these are what really make the game shine, but some are just way too hard to figure out, and sometimes are very cheap and frustrating, which evens the score.

The rest of the game is minimal, in a substance sense. The world map is huge. And I’m talking Unicron huge here. The nice thing is that you get a horse to ride around on, so traveling from the hub palace to each colossus doesn’t take quite so long. The not-so-nice thing is that where there is no colossus, there is nothing. Oh, there’s plenty of scenery, but nothing else. You may see a stray lizard here and there, but otherwise, this world is empty. Sure, the Wind Waker had a gigantic map that took forever to cross too, but at least the sea was loaded with distractions and things to do. Shadow of the Colossus offers you nothing. You can shoot stray lizards and collect fruit to increase your various meters, but the world is so huge, and they’re so few and far between that if most of them weren’t on the path to a colossus, it would just be a pain to look for them.

Did I mention that there aren’t any regular enemies either? I didn’t? Well I should have. And the thing that really boggles my mind is that there are save points all over the world, yet there is nothing out there aside from a high drop that can hurt you, so why bother saving? Getting to a colossus from the palace doesn’t take nearly as long as beating the monster itself, so what’s the point? Maybe if they would warp you from one point to another a-la new-school Castlevania games, I could see their use, but otherwise, a waste of time.

The last thing I wanna rag on is the slowdown. Now, the graphics are really pretty, and the draw distance is astonishing, but the PS2 was clearly not meant for this game. Whoever ran this project was a very ambitious man. The framerate in this game can get absolutely horrific. Not 4-player Perfect Dark horrific, but horrific all the same. I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t downplay the graphics a little to fix this issue. I can understand slowdown if there’s a lot going on in a game, but there’s never a lot going on in this game. It’s almost despicable.

I guess I lied, cause I have one more thing to complain about: the story. you get a little tidbit at the beginning, setting out the plot of why everything’s going on. And it would be fine if they left it at this and just slapped on a normal ending. But no. There is no story development at all, during the course of the game, and then at the end, they wire together this huge conspiracy with new characters coming out of the woodwork and loose ends every which way. The whole plot makes very little sense, and while the plot of Killer 7 also made little sense, it did to very intelligently with a huge complicated plot that left you to piece most of it together yourself. Shadow of the Colossus gives you a starting point and then dumps a whole bucket of crap on you right at the end. I’m not going to give it away (not that it matters), but if I were to say I found the ending unsatisfying, I would be making a huge understatement.

So what’s good about the game? Well, for one, I already said that the fights with the colossi are pretty spectacular. Even when they’re really hard to figure out and pushing an hour each, it’s still fun. A lot of the fights are really intense and suck you in so that you feel like you’re really there. One fight in particular, against a flying dragon-type colossus, was based pretty heavily around riding the horse and shooting arrows, and it gave me this awesome Zelda vibe, and I can only hope that Twilight Princess will be as sweet as that particular battle. Seriously, if you haven’t played the game, go find someone who has it and ask to play that fight. It’s incredible. The last boss is pretty sweet too. The first half of the fight is like an incredibly hardcore D-Day parody. The second half is kinda weak and hard, but you’ll forgive it for the awesome thrill of just making it up to the boss.

Another facet of gameplay that I really like is that they totally ripped off the new Prince of Persia games as far as platforming elements go. While there isn’t any running across walls or manipulation of time, most of the jumping puzzles feel like they were ripped straight out of one of the PoP games. It’s mostly hanging from walls and climbing up ledges and that kind of shit, but I can’t deny that on more than one occasion I called the main character “Prince” by accident because I could have sworn I was playing PoP.

As I said before, the graphics are spectacular. The landscape, which is pretty much all you’ll be seeing, is easily as beautiful as a real valley, even when most of it is comprised of deserts and mountain ranges. Flowing rivers and waterfalls are everywhere, the grass is lush and green, and you can see incredibly far into the distance (as far as PS2 games go). Even though the world is empty, there is still plenty that you can just look at and enjoy. The colossus monsters are pretty slick-looking as well. For rock monsters that are half-covered in fur, they’re awfully pretty. It’s just a shame that the PS2 isn’t cut out for such high-end graphics, as the whole framerate debacle really takes it down a notch. Also, there are some issues where lighting is concerned, but it’s minimal and can be overlooked.

The music in the game ranges from great to forgettable. Whilst in battle, the music will change depending on the situation, and suits the fights really well. But out of combat there’s rarely any music, and when there is, it’s not so great. Another notch off is that fact that they included a warning beep for not only the life meter, but also the stamina/breath meter. I hate those warning beeps. Yes, even in Zelda.

The controls are pretty spot-on, except for the triangle button is jump, which is totally weird. Otherwise it’s mostly good, with your basic jump, attack, grab ledge/wall, switch weapon kind of stuff. I have to say though, that sometimes controlling the horse and climbing around on a colossus can be quite difficult. I don’t blame the controls for this though, I place blame entirely on the camera. I swear, this is the worst camera ever since Sonic Adventure It does what it wants, when it wants, how it wants. No matter how many times you try to place it so that you can see what’s going on, it will snap right back to a view of the floor. There may be an option to set the camera to stop from having a mind of its own, but I didn’t see one when I skimmed the options menu, and as such I highly doubt it.

There are also a couple things to do after you finish the game. First off, you’ll unlock a time attack mode that you can play if you choose to play again through the same save file. In this mode, your job is to beat each colossus in a given amount of time. For every two times you top, you’ll be given a new item that may either boost your strength or defense, mark fruit or lizards on your map, or give your weapon a special attribute. You also get hard mode for finishing the game, and beating hard mode will let you do the hard time attack, which yields better items.

So in the end, what do I have to say? Was it well worth my evening? I’d say yes. While the game is plagued by many, many flaws, It comes off at best as a half-assed Zelda wannabe. Because most of the time, it does feel a lot like Zelda. While it would most certainly get boring after a day’s playing, if you rent it and fly through, there’s a very good chance that you’ll come away with a good impression. Just for the love of Zeus, don’t buy it. This game is definitely a renter at best. If you can, even try to get someone else to rent it and then just mooch a few fights. If you play the flying dragon fight and only the flying dragon fight, you’ll have seen the very best that Shadow of the Colossus has to offer without having to suffer through too much of the inexplicably empty world or the horrid camera. And one last note, just skip the ending. Make it up yourself if you really need closure. All you’ll gain from the ending sequence is a pounding headache and a burning hatred for the people who wrote that crap and especially for those who gave it the green light.

NB: I changed my mind. Read that here.

The Good Stuff:
  • Some mind-bending “puzzles”
  • Beautiful landscapes and enemies
  • Decent controls
  • Feels like a simplistic Zelda
  • Time attack is frantic and fun
  • Plenty of special items to earn
The Bad Stuff:
  • Some puzzles are too obscure
  • The world is empty
  • Collectables are a pain to get
  • Some heavy slowdown
  • The camera does what it wants, not what you want

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