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Blog Review: Shadow of the Colossus


The good: Some of the best art direction you'll ever see; has the uncanny ability to tell a story without actually telling a story; will change the way you view the video games.

The bad: Some of the control tweaks that are supposed to make your life easier don't always work so well; a tad on the repetitive side.

Before Braid came on the scene and stirred up the now seemingly age old question "can games be art" thing, Team Ico's Shadow of the Colossus (SOTC) arguably brought it to the mainstream's attention. With an all but silent protagonist, and an art sty1e that seems to have been ripped out of a watercolor painting, SOTC will have you wanting to more know about everything from beginning to end.

The game kicks off with what is now, for me, one of the most memorable opening cut scenes in any game to date. It takes you in on the tail of a hawk to sweep down and about the game's landscape, and introduces you to three of the games short list of characters. You are known as Wanderer, a name that was given to him but isn't ever really mentioned in the game. You have brought what seems to be your deceased girlfriend or wife to a beautiful temple in the hopes of resurrecting her. After a brief conversation with the bodiless voice of the temple's ruler (in which you hear the only dialogue Wanderer has for the whole game) you embark on your quest to save the girl. SOTC doesn't really present a story, but somehow still tells one through the silence of Wanderer, and his forever faithful horse, Agro. It will make you think about how stories in games can be conveyed, and will stir emotions in you from start to glorious finish.

As it turns out, the 16 statues that line the temple walls represent the 16 colossi guardians of the sacred land you've come to. If you want your beloved to open her eyes again, you're going to have to overcome some seriously poor odds, and defeat every one of them. With nothing but a sword, bow, and your trusty horse, Agro, you head out on to the plains in search of your first colossus. Luckily for you, the temple's guardian gives you a riddle of sorts that acts as a guide to the rough location of the colossus, and in some cases a bit of a hint as to their weakness. Unfortunately that's not usually going to be enough to get you to your destination without tireless guess searching, and that's where your sword comes in handy. Apparently the sword you carry happens to be a magical one, and when held up in the light, collects the sun's rays to form a beam of sorts that points you toward the next colossus.

"I immediately regret this decision."

It's around this point in your first few minutes with the game that you notice something missing. There are virtually no enemies to find anywhere. It's just you, your horse, and a few animals kicking around the fairly spacious land of SOTC. The only enemy you'll be defeating during your time with the game is the colossi themselves. Even then it's hard to call these lumbering towers of stone and earth, enemies. The more appropriate description in the context of the game would be to call them puzzles. Each colossus is a puzzle in and of itself, as they are defeated in a specific way that requires not only some thought, but some serious platforming as well. You can almost think of them as individual platform/puzzle levels that just so happen to be enormous, moving, living beings. Every one of them has one or more weak points that will have to be found and attacked with your sword before they'll be brought to the ground, and the variances in each colossus means that defeating provides a rewarding feeling every time. And while the difficulty doesn't necessarily follow a linear climb like many games, you'll never find them too hard or too easy.

The only true problem you'll encounter in SOTC is the controls. While they aren't the worst controls you'll ever have to deal with, because of the precision needed to defeat the massive colossi, they can become frustrating. The camera can be a bit spastic, and the controls are a bit on the loose side. This is a poor combination that won't really become apparent when riding out on the fields, but can becoming painfully obvious when half way up the leg of a colossus. All of this isn't to say that the controls will hamper your enjoyment with the game, but it may become something that you wish was a bit more polished.

"I don't know if I can jump that high..."

While your fingers might be fighting with the controls on occasion, never will your eyes be fighting to look away from the screen, and your ears be crying out for mute. SOTC possesses one of the most well realized artistic sty1es ever created. It's not just that the game looks like a watercolor painting; it's also that the game's art direction melds perfectly with the game's mechanics, story, music, and mood. It's great that there are games with fantastic graphic and artistic value, but rarely does it tie in with everything the game is as a whole. It's such an incredible experience when you see your first colossus. It's almost overwhelming, seeing it tower over you, and do more than just fill the screen. The scale is truly amazing, and provides a unique gaming experience that you won't get anywhere else. Each colossus looks drastically different, and their appearance plays into their personality. You'll experience the same breath taking feeling every time you see a new colossus. The music adds to the exhilarating experience, and mimics the action on screen. The over world music is soothing, but incredibly eerie, and the moment you grab on to a colossus, the music ramps up and does a great job of invoking emotion in you as you take the colossi down.

As you can probably guess, there are 16 colossi that you'll be wading through. SOTC isn't a long game by any means. At its longest, your first play through on normal difficulty would take you 12 hours, but it will probably fall somewhere in the 8-10 hour range. There are some options for you if you want to extend your time with the game, and although they aren't much to write home about, they just seem to fit within the context of the game. Upon defeating a colossus you can return to their body and play through that battle again. The screen takes on a film grain look that represents the battle as a memory of sorts. In a similar vein, upon finishing the entire game, a time attack mode is unlocked for all 16 colossi. There are a few unlockables available to you upon finishing some or all of the time attacks, and the game also holds some hidden goodies around the landscape if you so wish to go looking for them.

I don't know your name, but you better be worth it.

Although not perfect, SOTC is a triumph of gaming, and specifically, games as art. The fact that it has the ability to tell such a powerful story with such little dialogue is truly a feat worth of praise. In the relatively short amount of time you will probably play the game, it manages to hook you big time, instantly making you feel for Wanderer and the others. In the grand scheme of things, this game probably isn't for everyone. It may be one of those games that seem reserved for those who sip tea and talk about expensive paintings, but for those who take the time to play it, SOTC provides a truly unique experience that will change the way they view games in more than one way.

Have a good one,
If you enjoyed my review, or loathed it, I appreciate feedback in both the comments, and in the form of review recommendations. Thanks!