Shadow of the Colossus is not a complicated game. The objectives and style of gameplay rarely change over the course of the elementary storyline, and character progression is limited to slightly increased stats. Conquering each Colossus, however, yields a sense of accomplishment that isn’t normally felt in many other games. This, coupled with the emotional storyline against a backdrop of solid art direction and a haunting musical score, results in a game that has deserved its accolades as one of the classic PlayStation games of its generation. Shadow of the Colossus is a game that can and should be appreciated as a form of art.
The storyline is simple: Wander, a young adventurer, rides into a temple and lays an unconscious maiden at an altar, hoping to find a way to bring her back. An ancient entity, Dormin, heeds his call and offers to fulfil his wish. In return, the young man is tasked with killing a number of Colossi: giant beasts found throughout the land, masters of the earth, desert, sky and water.
There are 16 Colossi to get through, and defeating each one mostly involves the same thing each time: travel to the Colossus, find a way to climb on, discover its weak spot, and use the sword to attack it. Getting past the first step, however, is trickier than it seems: Wander won’t be able to simply climb onto a flying Colossus, for instance. Discovering the weak spot for each Colossus is a puzzle in itself, and you’d be well advised to resist the urge to look up the solution online; it’ll make the victories all the more satisfying.
Wander’s stamina gauge will increase as he progresses in his grim task, allowing him to climb and hang on for longer without the need to let go and risk falling off. His health will also increase, allowing him to withstand attacks from Colossi or painful falls.
Wander doesn’t have access to an array of tools, limited only to his trusty sword and bow. Firing at Colossi with the bow will tick off the merest sliver of health with each successful shot, but Wander still needs to finish off the job with a well-placed sword strike. Wander can also swing his sword in a standard attack, but given the only enemies in the game are the Colossi, its addition is present for the sake of completion.
Wander’s horse, Agro, helps him travel throughout the expansive world, and while the level of detail may feel a little dated compared to the high-res textures found in beefier games engines, the HD version of Shadow of the Colossus still looks great. Sun flares cut across the screen as Wander rides across lush green fields, crossing stone bridges on his way to vast lakes, harsh deserts and dark, murky swamps. The environment requires patience to navigate; horseback travel is about as exciting as one would expect after several minutes of hard riding, and controlling Agro feels forced and unnatural compared to the more refined approach taken by Red Dead Redemption and Assassin’s Creed, but it’s a decent effort for its time.
On paper, the game doesn’t sound typically fulfilling, but the differences between each Colossi are great enough to offer a sense of variety. The size and aggressiveness of each Colossi increase as the game goes on, offering a sense of challenge and progression. The overall tone of the game invokes an emotional response, too: Wander’s deal with the devil made me question my actions with every Colossus I conquered. As each beast fell, its black life force spraying out in a thick oily mist, it would let out a baleful roar, and a choir would harmonise signalling its death. It made me consider the lengths that Wander would go to in order to bring back the girl, even if it meant doing the bidding of a mysterious god.
Shadow of the Colossus has aged well in many respects, and if you haven’t played this classic title, take your time with it. Master the simple controls and appreciate the mounting challenges. Enjoy the soundtrack, presentation, and level of polish as you embark on the emotional journey.