Shadow of the Colossus

Proof That Less is Often More…Much More

overall score 90 / OWN IT
May 1, 19  | reviewed by Joel Castro (1242)

One of the greatest games ever created...period. Buy it.

gameplay 95 / story 99 / graphics 84 / sound 99

Knowing the dangers, how far would you go to save the one you love? Would you ignore warnings against taking on a forbidden task? Would you take down anything in your path, regardless of the innocence of said being? These are the questions raised in Shadow of the Colossus: a video game that critics and enthusiasts claim to be a work of art. In terms are visual arts, video games are almost akin to some of the best canvas paintings out there. However, there’s a moral depth beyond the great visuals Shadow of the Colossus brings, and the presentation could not be any better. Through its deliberately awkward mechanics, the incredible boss battles that form the crux of the gameplay, and the wide emotional roller coaster it brings you through, this game will leave a lasting impact on you long after the end credits are done rolling by.

The story follows a boy named Wander, whose girlfriend was sacrificed for having a “cursed fate” as the game puts it. Stricken with grief and ignoring his elders, he brings her body to a shrine in the Forbidden Lands in order to bring her back to life any way he can. It is in the shrine where Wander meets Dormin, a mysterious entity who claims to know the secret of resurrection. However, there is a catch: in order to perform the ritual, Wander must slay the sixteen colossi that live across the Forbidden Lands. Willing to risk everything, Wander immediately accepts the challenge, amid the warning Dormin gives him that “the price you pay may be heavy indeed.” It’s a tale about saving the maiden, a very simple one at that. However, there are subtleties to the narrative that convey something far larger. Who or what is Dormin? How and why did the girl die? Who is she to Wander? Stuff like this is left to speculation, and enhances the story to interesting heights once you see what happens.

Upon learning this task and venturing towards the unknown, the gamer is in for a visual treat unrivaled by even the best-designed Legend of Zelda game. The landscape might not be much in the way of flashy colors or fantastic creatures (apart from the colossi), but the atmosphere it creates among the detail is simply breathtaking. Mountain walls are skillfully placed and designed, down to the last crumbled bit of rock. Forests are eerily grim, yet subtle. Lakesides are so realistic that a feeling of nostalgia may be inescapable for those who live near one. The lighting is also unbelievable. The same team that made Ico-another skillfully made game-used all their tricks and then some for this beautiful and bleak environment, and players may often find themselves simply wandering around just to take it all in with nothing but the sound of the wind and your own footsteps, as well as the hooves of your trusty horse.

So how does one travel through this vast landscape? Well, running is a bust, since the areas are huge. That’s where the aforementioned horse comes in. Her name is Agro, and she will be your companion throughout the entire game. By calling her, she’ll come to you and provide you safe passage through the more perilous environments of the game. She can be a bit stubborn in terms of turning and getting her to gallop, but she remains essential to the game, especially for the bosses.

The focus of the game is right on the cover of the game box — one of them, at least. Colossal creatures ready to be taken down by Wander. There are sixteen in all and not one of them is the same as the other. One is designed as a feral lizard-like beast able to climb walls, another looks like a dragonfly flying through the sand, and one might remind a gamer of a wild horse at a ranch trying to stomp on you. Majestic as these creatures may be, they must be taken down to progress the game. This is the shining star of the game, if only one could be stated. Being that these are the only fights in the game, each of them has a unique weakness and approach to beating them. Using the environment around you and even the colossi themselves, the puzzle is trying to reach and take them down from their weak spots. Of course, the colossi fight back — some with roaring vigor as they try to violently shake you off — but nothing comes free.

Stunning as this game is in terms of scale and visual beauty, it is a bit on the short side, taking only six to eight hours for the standard gamer to complete. However, nothing can prepare the gamer for the emotional wallop its story delivers. Throughout the game, a moving and incredible soundtrack (one which puts most movie scores to shame) captures the emotions felt while traversing the Forbidden Lands and facing the colossi. Right up to the end, the gamer is left with a sense of doubt, fear, and anxiety as they follow an unknown voice’s orders in order to save the girl. Without revealing too much, the ending serves to show the consequences of Wander’s actions and how he is rewarded for those actions at the end of a brutal and long journey. In doing so, what began as a standard, yet beautiful adventure puzzle game turns into a moral fable about the dangers of authority and the price paid for disobeying it. With few words spoken throughout, emotions run high, stakes are claimed, and the game transcends beyond entertainment and into the world of art, as controversial as that might seem.

Video games are often debated as to whether or not they are a new form of art, much like cinematic film in its infancy. Games like Shadow of the Colossus serve to try to shift the debate in favor of having well-made video games become aesthetically important to human society and culture. The game itself is pleasing to the eye, stimulating for the mind in terms of its puzzles, and emotionally overwhelming as the plot progresses with the killing of each colossus. It raised the standard for which games of the future should be made, and it serves to answer difficult life questions, like whether or not it’s wise to disobey authority for one’s own gain. Games that followed have included similar morals and questions into their stories, but none have matched the magnificence that Shadow of the Colossus holds. Short it may be, and less-than-perfect horse AI it may have, this is a must-play game not only for gamers, but for any non-gamer wanting to be proven wrong about the artistic merit of video games.

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release date

October 18, 2005