When I first met Tom, all he could talk about were his favourite games (he still talks about them, so not much has changed). The one standout title was Shadow of the Colossus. The way he gushed about the title made me realise the impact the game had on him; even more so when he informed me that he had purchased the game both on the PlayStation 2 and the PlayStation 3, and that if it were ever remastered for the PlayStation 4, he would no doubt pick up the title for a third time.
After receiving an intricate media kit for the 2018 remastered version of Shadow of the Colossus for the PlayStation 4, thanks to PlayStation New Zealand, I knew that I just had to give the game to Tom to try out and review. The response I received assured me that I had made the right decision.
Here’s Tom’s review of Shadow of the Colossus.
Shadow of the Colossus (PS4)
I remember first reading about Shadow of the Colossus in a PlayStation 2 magazine back in 2004 and getting so hyped up for it. It described the game as sixteen boss battles in a row, where the bosses are huge giants known as ‘Colossus’. I was hooked, intrigued and immediately bought the game when it released. To this date, it’s one of the best gaming purchases I have ever made.
I love everything about this game. It is an absolute masterpiece and I highly recommend it, especially if you’re looking to get into game design or development.
Firstly, let me set the scene for you. You play as a boy called Wander who has journeyed to the ‘Forbidden’ land in order to save someone. There, a mysterious voice, known only as Dormin, promises to grant your wish if you can destroy the 16 statues located within the temple’s main chamber. The catch is that these 16 statues cannot be destroyed by ‘mortal’ hands, and you must fell the colossus that each statue represents. Thus the games begins. Wander, his horse, his sword and his bow against 16 Colossi, one after another. That’s literally the game, so why on earth is this game cited as one of the greatest video games of all time? It’s because the creators, Team ICO, manage to do so much with so very little.
Let’s start with the game’s setting. The game’s opening shows Wander traveling across a giant bridge into a huge open landscape with a monumental temple slap bang in the middle of it. The first thing you should notice, asides from you, your horse and a lone hawk flying overhead, is there’s no one else around (it is called the Forbidden land after all). This already sets the scene for just how small you are and how enormous everything else is going to be.
Additionally, the fact that you have to journey to each Colossus and travel a significant amount of distance (on horseback) to get to them also adds to this fact. What is usually a mind numbing tasking in other video games is transformed into a beautiful sightseeing spectacle in Shadow of the Colossus. The 16 Colossi are each tucked away in their own little area of the map. As you battle through the game, you’ll find yourself in various locations: a gigantic lake with a huge platform in the middle; a vast desert with a rather large flying guardian; a peaceful graveyard in the middle of a forest and more.
I only played this on a regular PlayStation 4 system and on a plasma TV, but the game still looked breath-taking.
The soundtrack and musical score of this game only continued to add to the points above. I love it when a video game/movie knows how to use silence well and Shadow of the Colossus makes great use of silence. When you’re journeying between Colossi, no music plays. All you can hear are the natural sounds around you: the gallop of your horse; he waterfall in the distance; the rustling of the leaves. All this adds to that ‘you are alone in this’ feeling the game is brimming with.
Once you manage to track down a Colossus, that’s when this game’s amazing soundtrack kicks in. Again, Team ICO absolutely nail what and when to play their amazing score. When you first see the Colossus, a peaceful score plays gently in the background as you try to assess this gargantuan monster before you figure out how you’re going to bring it down. However, once you have found a way onto the Colossus and it tries to shake you off, the action music kicks in. Oh and it is so epic! The feel of the music fits the game so well. I highly recommend everyone give the game’s soundtrack a listen.
Now let’s talk about gameplay. You would think I would have spoken about this first, seeing as this is the thing, you as a player, actually have control over. However, there’s not a lot to talk about here. As far as what you can do is this: You can jump, roll, grab onto things, ride/call for your horse, shoot your bow, swing your sword and hold it up to the light. As far as the gameplay loop goes: you hold your sword up to the light which points you in the direction of your next Colossus, you ride your horse there, get onto the Colossus, use your sword to find it’s weak spot and stab the hell out of it. Rinse and repeat 15 more times. That’s it. Again, it’s what Team ICO do with these things that adds so much to the game.
The main thing I want to touch on is the feel of two things you’ll be doing most in this game: grabbing things (and holding on for dear life) and swinging your sword. Both of these actions feel great. I don’t know how to explain it other than it actually feels like I am the one hanging onto dear life as Wander is hanging off a Colossus. When you finally get to a weak spot on a Colossus you have to press and hold a button for Wander to raise his sword and release it so he brings it down with as much force as he can muster.
This all sounds very easy, but there are a couple of things that make this part so intense. Firstly you have to manage one of two resources you have, stamina and health. Stamina depletes as you hold onto things, climb things and swing your sword; if your stamina circle depletes, Wander will let go and fall to his likely doom. So as you’re climbing a Colossus you’re constantly worrying if you’re going to be able to make it to a safe, resting area on a Colossus. And obviously, while the Colossus is trying to shake you off, it’s near impossible to climb the thing. To make things even more intense, most of the Colossi’ weak spots are situated on their heads. Which makes for a really intense encounter when your on the Colossi’ head, charging up the swing on your sword and the Colossus shakes you making you put down your sword and hang on for dear life again.
Though the gameplay loop is repetitive, each of the 16 Colossi are visually unique and have their own quirks in the way they battle you, which keeps the game fresh. You never know what you’re going to be facing next, except of course that the Colossus is going to be well… colossal. Probably one of my favourite encounters is the Colossus with the GIANT STONE SWORD, or the Fifth Colossus (I won’t spoil that one for you).
That’s my take on the looks, the sounds and the gameplay of Shadow of the Colossus, a game that does a whole lot with very little. Bluepoint Games have done a fantastic job of preserving the feel of the original game (unlike a certain Bandicoot series someone else did) and have updated the visuals to look absolutely amazing. They have also added a couple of quality new additions such as an Easy Mode for any new comers, a Photo Mode to take some awesome snaps in this beautiful game, additional button layouts and some other minor tweaks to make life easier for those wanting to speed-run the game.
Shadow of the Colossus continues to remain one of my favourite games of all time and I implore you all to boot it up and give it a try.