Shadow of the Colossus Review

*Review based on the PS3 release as part of the Ico/Shadow of the Colossus Collection*

Shadow of the Colossus

Shadow of the Colossus is a gaming experience quite unlike any other. When it was first released on the Playstation 2 in 2005, it instantly became one of the most acclaimed titles on the platform due to its unique gameplay and artistic approach to game design, which has proven incredibly influential in the years since. Though its flaws have become more apparent with time, Shadow of the Colossus remains a highlight in video game history, and my personal favorite game to come out of the Playstation 2.

Shadow of the Colossus follows in the footsteps of its predecessor, Ico, in that it utilizes similar subtleties in its gameplay and storytelling. Players take control of a man called Wander, who has travelled to a forbidden land with his horse Agro. The purpose for Wander’s venture is that his beloved has passed away, and he has brought her lifeless body to the shrine of an ancient being called Dormin.

Dormin has the power to resurrect Wander’s fallen love, but Wander must first perform a profaned ritual, and slay the sixteen Colossi that inhabit this forbidden realm. Dormin promises that completion of the ritual will return Wander’s love to life, but that it may have severe consequences on Wander himself. And that’s if he’s even able to survive against the Colossi.

Shadow of the ColossusThe story is told with a beautiful sense of minimalism, leaving many elements to interpretation. What at first seems like a selfless adventure of heroism and sacrifice quickly unravels into a selfish tragedy. Never once does the game make players feel too triumphant for downing a Colossus, with every one of the beasts being presented as an innocent creature tragically caught up in Wander’s mission. And every one of Wander’s “victories” comes with a sense of sorrow for the felled creatures, and will have players second guessing the nature of their quest.

Suffice to say Shadow of the Colossus is quite an emotional game. It’s that sense of emotion and thematics that have helped Shadow of the Colossus become a classic that continues to influence game design today. Perhaps the best thing about Shadow of the Colossus is that it’s also a more than capable game.

It wouldn’t be entirely inaccurate to label Shadow of the Colossus as an extravagant boss rush, as there are no enemies for Wander to face aside from the titular beasts, and even the puzzle elements from Ico are largely relegated to the fights themselves. Wander is equipped with only a sword and a bow to do battle with the Colossi, with his horse Agro serving as a means to travel from one battle to the next.

Wander’s stats are comprised solely of a health bar and a stamina meter, with the latter serving as an indicator for how long Wander can hold onto a Colossus before being thrown from it. Wander’s stats improve after every battle, with his health also being increased by finding fruit throughout the game world, and stamina seeing additional increases by finding white-tailed lizards, and collecting said tails with a little help from your bow.

Shadow of the ColossusThe real star of the show are the Colossi themselves. Each Colossus is a masterpiece in character design, and each one is just as creative in being a stage and puzzle in their own right. Each Colossus presents a unique challenge, with every creature being presented as its own platforming obstacle or puzzle that needs to be overcome in order to expose its weak point and bring it down. The variety of the Colossi keep the experience fresh, and also help make Shadow of the Colossus one of the very few games to evoke a genuine sense of majesty.

Unfortunately, as wonderful as the experience is, Shadow of the Colossus isn’t perfect. Age has revealed the camera controls to be far from ideal. Especially when a Colossus is trying to shake Wander from its shoulders, the camera can be particularly chaotic. Similarly, Wander himself can feel a little awkward to control when perched atop a Colossus, often fumbling even when a Colossus isn’t trying to remove him. The controls and camera can become a bit cumbersome, maybe even frustrating at times. Which is unfortunate given how, otherwise, Shadow of the Colossus only evokes deeper feelings than most games.

While it may not be mechanically perfect, Shadow of the Colossus can still easily be regarded as a classic. Its artistic approach, unique gameplay, and genuinely epic battles are entirely its own. And although the visuals may look dated (though the PS3 remaster gives a nice, updated sheen), the orchestrated score is one of the all-time greats in gaming, with the Colossi being given themes that equal their sense of grandeur and mystique.

Shadow of the ColossusThe adventure is also an appropriately short one. Whereas many games may overstay their welcome with excessive amounts of padding, Shadow of the Colossus lets nothing get in the way of its story. But for those who may want a little something more out of the package, completion of the game unlocks both a Hard Mode and Time Attacks for each Colossus, with additional items being unlocked via the Time Attack battles (like a map that points out all the aforementioned fruit, or upgrades to Wander’s sword). So there are incentives to come back other than just to experience the adventure all over again (though that may be incentive enough for many).

Perhaps the greatest testament to Shadow of the Colossus’ brilliance is how it achieves so much by doing so little. Video games are continuously getting bigger and bigger, with developers seemingly cramming in as much content as possible in order to produce a classic. Shadow of the Colossus is defiant. It strips away the bells and whistles of the games of its day, and feels all the more rebellious today. It utilizes only the bare essentials, but it proves that with enough imagination and craftsmanship, those bare essentials can provide an adventure unlike any other.




Author: themancalledscott

Born of cold and winter air and mountain rain combining, the man called Scott is an ancient sorcerer from a long-forgotten realm. He’s more machine now than man, twisted and evil. Or, you know, he could just be some guy who loves video games, animations and cinema who just wanted to write about such things.

9 thoughts on “Shadow of the Colossus Review”

  1. A lot of people consider Shadow of the Colossus one of the best games of all time. I think it’s a great game, but is it the best of the best? I don’t think that’s quite true. Make no mistake, it’s definitely an experience I’d recommend, as it was a major improvement over Ico, and the boss fights are creative, but I also get the feeling that it has been surpassed. Even though the boss fights aren’t quite the same, I would argue that Dark Souls upped the ante in this regard while providing a more well-rounded experience.

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    1. I can understand much of the praise towards Shadow of the Colossus, given that there’s really nothing else like it. And I think it does the whole “art game” thing better than dang near all of them. I would still say it’s my favorite PS2 game, and one of my favorite games somewhere on that list (it’s probably one of my favorite “9.0s” along the likes of Mario Kart 8, Mega Man 3, and Undertale). With that said, I can definitely understand that many of its elements have been bettered (when replaying it for this review, Dark Souls did indeed come to mind more than once). And the camera was admittedly even worse than I remembered it. It’s a definite classic, but sadly, I don’t think it will end up as highly on my list of favorites as it would have before this playthrough.

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      1. I definitely agree that it does the “art game” thing better than most that have attempted it. For that matter, it’s a lot better at implementing an ambiguous storyline than most games because everything is up for interpretation. In other words, when it’s unclear as to whether the hero is the good guy or not, it feels like the game is playing fair. I’ve seen a few instances where the storyline was written by someone who likely thinks subtlety is a drink of some kind, yet when it comes to certain elements, they suddenly clam up and claim it’s up for interpretation. You have to make sure the stylistic choices you make mesh together with how you’re getting your point across. Otherwise, it’s like someone making an hour-long speech only for them to leave before they could make their final point.

        To be honest, I’m a little surprised it only got a nine from you. Up until you reviewed it, I was expecting it to be one of your tens (I’ll just say right now that it’s not one of my tens either). I guess that’s why it helps to do another playthrough before reviewing a game, huh? Between those four games, I can safely say I like Undertale the most.

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  2. Nice review. I’ve only played the PS2 version but I’m curious whether you encountered some of the reported issues with the PS3 release. Specifically I heard that the re-release improved the framerate, but because the PS2 original was balanced for a low framerate in places, certain boss fights are much more difficult! Anyway off the topic of technical stuff, the game itself is great, it’s definitely the best “art” game I’ve tried – not that I’ve played many. The game works so well I think because the underlying gameplay is solid.

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  3. I’ve tried to get into this game, on multiple occasions but it just fails to grab me. I honestly find the controls quite cumbersome and while the first moment you scale a colossus is invigorating, the thrill started to wear off when I noticed I was doing the same thing over and over again. Granted I know that each colossi is a puzzle in and of itself and should be approached differently, but I just felt the whole act was rather repetitive and it didn’t help that I didn’t like the controls.
    Granted the game is extremely beautiful and slaying a colossus is one of the most soul crushing things I’ve done in a video game as you get a sense that you’re doing malicious work. I should also point out that I haven’t finished the game yet, I believe in about half way through, I simply couldn’t bring myself to play the rest as I wasn’t having fun. But that’s just my two cents.

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  4. Trying to get over hard mode and hard time attack made me kind of grow some spite towards the game controls haha, they work fine for normal mode despite how inconvenient they may feel, but once you choose that harder difficulty mode you’ll start to notice how cumbersome the limitations might be, at least it felt much worse to me. Either way, it’s an interesting and unique game for sure, I do wish there was at least some side things to do in the overworld besides fighting the colossi, not neccesarily because the game needs more to do, but having such a big overworld with literally nothing else to do makes it feel like a waste, and frankly, a bore to travel through. Maybe some of the rewards you get in the time trials could have been found by exploring the world, to give an example.
    Interestingly, I remember reading the game was originally trying to go for something like 60 bosses, but it was eventually reduced until it got to the 16 we got. Now having something like 24 I wouldn’t have minded, but going for more than that might have made the game overstay its welcome.
    Any particular colossi to fight? I always enjoyed the battle against the bird colossi around the lake ruins-esque place (The 5th one I believe). While either of the turtles-esque monsters I’d classify as the most padded and annoying to fight, although the one that you have to move below the geysers is probably worse due to the luck factor behind it.

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