Ah, are there many other games as internationally revered as Shadow of the Colossus? The original game was made by Team Ico and Japan Studio, and released for the PlayStation 2 in 2005. 13 years later, a remake/remaster for the legendary game was created for the PlayStation 4 in 2018. (Shoutout to my younger brother for having bought that remake a year ago so now I can play it for free for the sake of this review!) That being said, let us delve into what is considered one of the best games ever made.
However, keep in mind that I am reviewing the remake, not the original 2005 game.
The game’s story follows Wander, a warrior who travels to a forbidden land where the dead are said to be able to be brought back to life. He finds a ruined temple called the Shrine of Worship, and it is revealed that he has brought the lifeless body of a woman named Mono. Wander makes a deal with the ominous god-like being he finds in the Shrine named Dormin, to kill the 16 Colossi that roam the land in exchange for Mono to be brought back from the grave once the deed is done. So, Wander sets out with his trusty horse Agro to hunt and slay the Colossi.
There is not too much of a story (and what there is isn’t very long) likely because, as TheGoodHoms pointed out in his Yakuza Kiwami review, back in 2005 video games did not have the same long and complex stories that they do now. The playthrough for this review took me only 12 and a half hours in total. Most of the time the story doesn’t get any attention and you’re just fighting Colossi, which was a gripe I had. However, for what it is, the story in Colossus is quite good. It had me quite emotionally invested by the end (the only time a game has gotten me emotionally invested, in fact). The conclusion was especially riveting and made for a fantastic ending.
Even the world and backstories of the characters, which receive very minimal and vague explanations, are interesting (partly because you know vaguely little about them, which seems to be by design).
First of all, there is an ‘easy,’ ‘normal,’ and ‘hard’ mode to choose from at the beginning of each playthrough. I did my playthrough of the game on ‘normal’, which was not too easy or too hard. Both ‘easy’ and ‘normal’ would work well for new players, with ‘normal’ also serving well for casual players who want more of a challenge. Meanwhile, ‘hard’ is best for hardcore gamers, or for experienced players of Shadow of the Colossus who want to amp things up.
In addition there is a Time Attack Mode that unlocks after you beat the game. This allows you to replay the Colossus battles under a time limit, and if you succeed you get rewards, like new swords and cloaks.
The gameplay almost entirely consists of finding and fighting Colossi.
First, you must set out from the Shrine of Worship to ride across the land in pursuit of the next Colossus you need to fight. You have a magic sword that points you in the direction of the Colossus, and you have to follow your sword and figure out bypassing any obstacles in your way (ancient ruins, natural barriers).
After you find the Colossus, you need to figure out how exactly to beat it. Here is where the game really shines. The only hints you are given are vague things that Dormin tells you from afar, like “you need to get to higher ground…” (yes, he even leaves you with ellipses to confuse you more).
First you may need to use part of the environment within the boss area to break the Colossus’ armor or use something in the environment to jump on them, etc. You may also need to wait for the Colossus to attack so you can then climb on them as their fist is stuck in the ground or something like that.
Here’s where things get really cool: much of each Colossus can be climbed in some way, like crawling up the Colossus’ fur or armor. You have to climb around the Colossus in search of its “vitals,” which are these blue symbols on its skin that you can stab to harm the Colossus (your sword will show you where they are when you are close to them). Meanwhile, the Colossus is trying to shake you off, so you better hold on tight!
Once you defeat the Colossus, it collapses and these black magic-smoky-things come out of the dead Colossus and then strike Wander, where he then collapses and wakes up in the Shrine of Worship, where Dormin fills you in on the next guy to go fight. rinse and repeat and go looking for the next Colossus.
The Colossus battle mechanics can get very creative, and it is extremely satisfying when you figure out what to do. However, they get more difficult to crack as you progress further in the game, which can be frustrating when you’ve spent like an hour and a half trying to figure out how to beat the Colossus and are getting nowhere.
You have a yellow stamina bar on the screen that dictates how long you can hold onto things before losing your grip and letting go. So if that bar runs out while you’re climbing a Colossus, you’ll probably fall off and have to do the whole process to get on him again. You can increase this bar by finding lizards throughout the map; when you kill the lizards, your stamina bar increases (sorry lizards). There are also other things to find, like fruit on trees that will increase your health if you knock them down and pick them up.
Your only friend as you progress throughout the game (unless you count Dormin, which I’d rather not) is your horse Agro. His mechanics are designed very much to mimic how an actual horse acts, like how he takes a bit to get into a full gallop. However, he can get annoying when you run up against a wall or barrier of some kind because it takes a while to get Agro to turn around so you can ride again.
Another annoying thing is that when Wander is holding onto a Colossus’ fur, he sways around a lot as the Colossus moves, and the player can’t control him when that happens. So, it can be frustrating trying to get him to do what you want him to in those moments, like to continue climbing or to stab the Colossus’ vitals.
The characters all speak in Japanese, with English subtitles at the bottom of the screen. This is a small detail but I found it very cool to play a game that did not feature lines in English, but this could be a letdown for others.
Shadow of the Colossus has to be one of the most visually breathtaking games I’ve ever played. Much of the land that you traverse is made up of sweeping grasslands, ancient ruins, winding canyons with natural rock bridges across them, etc. The fact that you have to ride across these gorgeous scenes to get to the bosses allows you to soak in the scenery, aided by the game camera automatically shifting to look at the scenery itself.
The Colossi themselves also look quite cool and unique, designed to look similar to the ancient ruins around them, suggesting that they are as ancient as the ruins and even part of them. Many of them look like animals, but some of them are more humanoid.
The music of the game feels very mystical and is indeed very good. My favorite is when you defeat a Colossus and this mystic, sorrowful music plays as the Colossus slowly falls lifeless to the ground.
The same handful of tracks are recycled among the different boss battles, and the boss music feels like Pokemon-esque battle music. However, an uplifting, encouraging score begins as you climb the Colossus, which adds to the epicness of the battle.
What made me really empathize with Wander was his willingness to suffer so much for the sake of bringing Mono back to life. Not only is he risking his life fighting these Colossi (it even takes him a while to get back up when he receives a heavy hit, emphasizing how battered he’s getting), but he also gets severely injured every time those black-smokey-things come out of each dead Colossus and strike him. He also suffers in other ways (which I won’t mention here…). Yet, he continues on because he wants her to be brought back so badly. While I am definitely NOT saying to go to a forbidden land and make a Faustian deal to bring your dead girlfriend back to life, I will emphasize the importance of suffering for others. Christ suffered an immense amount for us, but through all of it, what was most important to Him was that we (yes, even you dear reader) were saved because of it. Our Lord calls us to lay our lives down for one another, even if it means fighting a bunch of giant Colossi known as our temptations. We should all take a page out of Wander’s book and suffer without hesitation for the welfare of others (without making Faustian deals though – that’s very much not the part you want to emulate).
Moreover, the 2018 remake of Shadow of the Colossus was a great game. For someone used to Destiny and Dark Souls, this game was a refreshingly different experience. Although the Dormin-deals are dicey at best, the story (although there was not much of it, which is why the score for it is lower) was really good and the gameplay was very creative and unique. The artstyle and visuals were quite original and fantastic (although they already were even in the 2005 original).
It’s not my favorite game or anything, but I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Because of its uniqueness, I can definitely see why this game is as revered as it is.
Scoring – 80%
The most problematic thing about the game is the fact that the entire plot revolves around Wander making a deal with a Devil-like creature, who then acts as his guide the whole game, and also uses ominous Dormin-magic on him. The game justifies this deal by showing how badly Wander wants to bring Mono back, but at least it also heavily condemns Wander for this decision.
When Wander stabs a Colossus, his blade goes kinda deep and he has to yank it out after a moment. When he stabs them, a tall, thin guizar of black blood comes shooting out of the place where he stabbed. When Wander gets struck by the black-smokey-things at the end of each fight, black blood comes sprinkling out of his face and belly. There is some other graphic content later in the game too. Fun times!
The Shrine you meet Dormin in suggests that people worshiped him there, and there are other religious sites you discover around the map. You can also pray at totems to get your health and stamina bars back to full.
As well, there is some occulty, shamany stuff that is done, not to mention the entire concept of working to bring back someone from the dead.