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Shadow of the Colossus (PlayStation 2) artwork

Shadow of the Colossus (PlayStation 2) review

"As the sun slowly drifts through the midmorning sky, a young traveler named Wander looks toward the horizon. A vast land is spread out before him, a sprawling countryside rimmed with rocky mountains and lush forests, scarred with deep canyons and ridges, and decorated with the ruins of a civilization of a bygone era. Despite the beauty, Wander is focused on only one thing: the massive temple in the very center of the land. With a quick tug of the reins and a swat of the flat of his sword, he urg..."

As the sun slowly drifts through the midmorning sky, a young traveler named Wander looks toward the horizon. A vast land is spread out before him, a sprawling countryside rimmed with rocky mountains and lush forests, scarred with deep canyons and ridges, and decorated with the ruins of a civilization of a bygone era. Despite the beauty, Wander is focused on only one thing: the massive temple in the very center of the land. With a quick tug of the reins and a swat of the flat of his sword, he urges Agro, his faithful black steed, to continue galloping toward the building. However, Wander’s not here as a tourist; his visit to the temple will determine the fate of his beloved wife/girlfriend/love interest. While he’s bouncing along in the saddle, her Rigor Mortis-inflicted body is wrapped up in some canvas and strapped to the horse’s back. Apparently, our hero isn’t taking her death very well. But if everything goes according to plan, she won’t be a corpse much longer.

Fueled by fiery passion and a generous amount of naivete, Wander enters the temple and grabs the attention of Dormin, the all-powerful spirit that resides there. Our hero’s goal is simple: convince the omnipotent being to resurrect the love of his life and live happily ever after. Unfortunately, Dormin isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Its legendary powers have been divided up and sealed within the gigantic statues that line the temple’s interior. Even though he’s armed with some kind of mystical sword, Wander can’t put a dent in the statues’ massive hides. However, all is not lost. For each statue, there’s a corresponding beast – a colossus – roaming freely somewhere out in the world. With little options left, Wander must search high and low for the sixteen colossi, kill them all, and restore Dormin’s power to its former glory. And maybe, just maybe, our hero will get what he wants in the end.

Leaving his beloved on an altar overlooking the horizon, Wander mounts Agro and heads out of the temple. It’s at that moment when you realize just how big the world of Shadow of the Colossus truly is. As the glare of the sunlight fades, you’ll find vast fields of green stretching out for miles in every direction. In the far distance, you can barely make out the outline of a mountain peak. Should you go behind the temple (which is dozens of stories high itself), you’ll see a canyon that plunges deep into the recesses of the land. Upon further exploration, you’ll find dark forests and dense woodlands, hidden lakes, the cracked and broken remains of massive castles and shrines, and blisteringly hot deserts that stretch on into forever. Somewhere out there, sixteen monstrosities are just waiting to be killed.

But you’ve got to find them first.

Luckily, you won’t have to search every square inch of the continent to hunt down your prey; Wander’s sword does all the pinpointing for you. All you’ve got to do is unsheathe the seemingly bland weapon and hold it up under the sun. Though it refracts the light into little beams of energy into the distance, pointing in the sword in a certain direction will cause the beams to converge on a single point. Once you’ve got a good fix on the direction you’re heading, all it takes is a few quick kicks to the sides to make Agro move from a brisk trot to an all-out gallop…That’s assuming, of course, that you can get used to the game’s unreliable horseback controls. Agro may be a beautiful horse and at the peak of his physical abilities, but he can be as stubborn as a mule; he’ll occasionally disregard your commands to turn and make the button responsiveness seem sluggish. At least you won’t have to do much fighting on these excursions; the utter lack of extra enemies makes traversing the world much easier to bear.

However, finding the colossi will frequently require you to ditch the horse and explore an area on foot. The land of Shadow of the Colossus is scarred with canyons, ridges, and plenty of other places unfit for a beast of burden like Agro. Instead, Wander will have to have to look all around him for alternative ways to advance nearer to his target. This will usually involve grabbing onto some moss and climbing up a wall, making near-suicidal jumps across bottomless chasms and just barely managing to grip the edge of the far side, swimming into the murky depths of some lonely lake, or navigating platforms that could make the Mario Bros. tremble in fear. The game makes use of a small gauge that monitors Wander’s gripping strength as he hangs on for dear life. If our hero clings onto a ridged wall, a gigantic pillar, stony ruins, or whatever else, the gauge will automatically begin depleting. You can almost feel Wander’s fingers deadening under his weight, ever so slowly weakening with each passing second. That ledge that was once so close may seem totally unreachable. If he can’t make it back to solid ground before his gripping power runs out, he’ll be forced to let go and plummet to his likely death.

If you’ve managed to follow the directions from the magical sword to the best of Wander’s abilities, the game will automatically begin a cutscene introducing you to the monster you’ll be facing. It’s during these moments when you realize just what your up against. The colossi certainly live up to their namesake; even the smallest of the beastst can thrash Wander around like a rag doll. Your initial opponent will be a big, hairy, club-wielding 40-foot giant with a nasty temper. I’m not exaggerating, either; Wander can get stepped on should he not mind his surroundings. If you manage to grab the colossus’ attention, it’ll swat you away like a bug with its weapon. If you think that’s bad, just remember: this is only the first colossus. Later battles will pit you against bloodthirsty bulls, an electric eel the size of a sea monster, the ultimate bird of prey, a dragon the size of a few jumbo jets, giants that could give Godzilla a serious run for its money, and monstrosities that could easily get birds stuck in their cavernous noses. When facing these incredible enemies, our hero is only armed with his sword, a longbow, a horse, and what must be some pretty big cojones.

When seeing these colossi in these first few moments, these three words will likely come out of your gaping mouth: WHAT THE ****?! How is Wander supposed to take down a monster so big that it could squish him underfoot? Fear not, for this underdog of underdogs has a few things working in his favor. Not only does his sword pinpoint the exact location of the colossi, but it can also show off various weak points on each beast. Remember that hulking giant with the club? If you manage to find its weak point and stab it with your sword, you’ll bring the monster crashing down to its knees and cause a small earthquake in the process. The same concept will apply to shooting arrows into toes, legs, stomach, back, eyes, or whatever else the situation calls for. However, just attacking weak parts won’t do you much good. Following a sudden burst of wonderfully orchestrated music, Wander must grab a fistful of the colossus’ hair and climb its body. It’s not like the big guys will just let him do that, either; your foes will violently shake their torsos, turn upside down, and smash into buildings in attempt to send the hero flying. There’s nothing, nothing more epic than slowly wearing down a soaring dragon with a few well-placed arrows, chasing it through a Sahara-sized desert as fast as Agro can run, grabbing onto its wings a la Western railroad robbery cliche, and holding on for dear life as it loops and spirals its way skyward.

But if Wander (or more importantly, his grip gauge) perseveres, he’ll be able to find the colossi’s true weak points that, if his sword is equipped, will be conveniently highlighted by blue auras and glowing symbols. All he’s got to do is make it to these areas, get a firm hold on both the colossus’ fur and his sword, and start stabbing like there’s no tomorrow. Doing a quick thrust won’t help very much, though; as Wander’s blade digs into the flesh, the colossus will roar in anguish and try even harder to kill the hero. In order to get the job done, you’ll have to press down and hold the attack button for a few seconds and allow Wander to charge up his stab. Once you’ve optimized the attack, let go of the button and watch as the sword plunges deep into the colossus’ body, the monster loses a huge chunk of its health, and a fountain of black gore starts spurting from the wound. Rinse and repeat a few time s more, and the colossus will eventually collapse with death bellows and Earth-shattering impacts. His job done for the moment, Wander will stand back and watch his enemy die. Exhausted from his adventure, the hero will keel over and lose consciousness…only to wake up back in the temple where he started, with his girlfriend on the altar and Dormin ready with the next colossus to fight.

That doesn’t mean that you’re obligated immediately run outside, take out your sword, and make a beeline for the next enemy, however. Just traveling through the world of Shadow of the Colossus is a joy in itself. The game’s presentation is incredibly atmospheric; despite some serious framerate issues, the absence of minor enemies and background music make the experience so much more enveloping. There’s nothing quite like mounting Agro and galloping across a grassy plain and over the hills, walking though a poorly-lit thicket of trees, or exploring some dusty ruins filled with all sorts of huge cracks and crevices. Everything in the game is incredibly detailed; the vaulted ceilings are covered with intricate designs, the sunlight broken up by the massive columns, and even bits of weeds are poking up through the ancient flooring. You can see the way Agro’s mane flows through the breeze, or the way the layers of mountain rock tend to stretch on into the horizon. Even Wander, who looks pretty scrawny and pathetic at first glance, is decked out with an ornate cape. The real beauty lies with the battle, though; you’ll learn to appreciate the patches of thick and dark fur, the strategically placed platforms and ledges, and even the fiery eyes of your enemies. If anything else, the sheer size of the colossi is enough to leave anyone staring in awe.

If there was ever a game that personifies the word ‘epic’, Shadow of the Colossus is it. There’s hardly an attempt to stray from the saving-the-damsel-in-distress type of plot, but that’s okay. The game doesn’t really need to go through any extra effort to make Wander’s plight more appealing. If anything, you want to root for this not-quite knight in shining armor; his goal will require every ounce of his strength and will to accomplish the impossible. The point is, he will succeed. At least, he will as long as you’ve got the skills to keep him alive through each battle. The game rewards your tenacity with some of the most boss fights ever conceived. Tracking down monsters, traversing through a godforsaken world, climbing all over gigantic creatures, and avoiding perilous falls and certain doom are what this game is all about. The game draws you into a wonderfully detailed world filled with beauty and mystery, giving you free reign over a landscape that could put professional paintings to shame. In the middle of it all, Wander continues to stumble throughout his adventure, slowly but surely dying as his girlfriend returns to life. It may be sad and ironic, but at least you’ll enjoy every minute of it.

disco's avatar
Community review by disco (October 23, 2006)

Disco is a San Francisco Bay Area native, whose gaming repertoire spans nearly three decades and hundreds of titles. He loves fighting games, traveling the world, learning new things, writing, photography, and tea. Not necessarily in that order.

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