Shadow of the Colossus contains some of the most awe-inspiring battles in the history of gaming. Every fight with the titular colossi emphasizes different aspects of the player’s abilities and adds to the story in meaningful ways, yet it’s impossible not to walk away feeling irritated by some and slack-jawed by others. While we loved each of these epic encounters for different reasons, it’s time we put these beasts in their place. Here’s our ranking of the sixteen colossi.
16. Quadratus (Lake Walker) – Colossus 2
When Quadratus crashes through a massive stone wall, it looks like there’s no way to take the creature down. Once the method of clambering onto this giant dog is discovered, however, the fight loses just about all of its momentum and becomes a very simple climb to the two weak points with the player never in any real danger of falling from the beast. An epic entrance, but a rather mundane fight.
15. Phaedra (Hill Humper) – Colossus 4
Phaedra is a fantastic example of an achingly beautiful colossus that is let down by an overly simple battle. The confrontation with Phaedra is much more of a puzzle than the previous three, and once you know the solution it becomes a waiting game that really only tests your patience. Yet the skeletal horse’s ease of defeat and accompanying shrieks of pain give rise to the first pangs of guilt, an important turning point in Wander’s journey.
14. Valus (Shrek) – Colossus 1
The first colossus in the game is an undeniable marvel. It’s the introduction and tutorial to everything the game is about: fighting absurdly large creatures like a mosquito stinging a rhinoceros. In that sense, Valus leaves the biggest impact on players, yet he is quickly outshined by so many of his siblings. What was once an impossible task is ultimately revealed as rote following of procedures.
13. Kuromori (Salad Mancer) – Colossus 8
Kuromori is the only confrontation that feels like a true deathmatch rather than a hybrid fight/puzzle. It is aggressive and uses attacks that can easily kill players who aren’t careful. The cat and mouse nature of this battle is both its strength and weakness as it is the only fight like it in the game, yet this leads to it feeling less memorable than the rest of the experience.
12. Barba (Streisand) – Colossus 6
The second of the three “minotaur” colossi, Barba’s arena actually leaves the biggest impression. Very few colossi are fought indoors and this makes the clash with Barba feel claustrophobic and desperate, more so than it is in reality. Figuring out how to use this colossus’ particular grooming features to your advantage is a moment of delight, however, even if the fight as a whole doesn’t offer anything new.
11. Celosia (Doggo) – Colossus 11
At first blush, Celosia doesn’t seem as threatening when compared to its more colossal brethren. Then it tears your face off. While discovering the unique method to taking down this beast feels overly obtuse, it leads to a powerful moment as the creature is the first of its kind to display vivid fear. Despite being one of the least impressive fights in terms of scope, this subtle expression, especially evident in the PS4 remaster, ensures Celosia occupies an important spot in the colossi pantheon.
10. Argus (Wonky Dong) – Colossus 15
Another case of the arena outshining the colossus, the stratified and ruined structures that make up Argus’ battlefield titillate players’ imaginations while simultaneously conveying one important detail: this beast is huge. Though the fight asks players to think outside of the box with clever environmental puzzles, the sometimes clumsy controls, sluggish pace, and unreliable enemy AI can undermine the joy of breaking down this behemoth. When it works how it’s supposed to, however, this fight is utterly impressive.
9. Basaran (Torterra) – Colossus 9
One of the moodiest fights by far, the thick layer of fog hanging over the ground makes this battle feel almost like a dream. Until you get shot in the face with magic laser bolts. Basaran is one of those colossi that can either be an absolute highlight or an irritable chore depending on how agreeable the giant turtle’s AI is on a given day. While that keeps it just out of the top half of our ranking, the constant threat Basaran poses and the undeniable cool factor of its design, puzzle, and environment, hold it above the rest.
8. Dirge (Sand Wormy) – Colossus 10
Although he’s your constant companion, Wander’s trusty horse Agro is rarely used in the colossi battles. In this fight, however, he’s a necessity. This alone sets the conflict with Dirge apart from the rest. It has a much faster, more frantic pace than nearly every other encounter. After nine colossi it might be easy for players to feel comfortable while slaying mythical beasts, but Dirge’s underground tunneling undermines that sense of security and is a dangerous reminder not to trifle with giants.
7. Pelagia (Crown Crown) – Colossus 12
If the fight with Dirge is one of the most frantic, the battle with Pelagia is one of the most sedate. But this amphibious-goat creature proves that isn’t a bad thing. Knowing that you can only see the part of Pelagia that sticks up out of the lake only makes the beast more awesome, lending this confrontation an ominous quality as the seemingly blind creature lazily pursues you across the serene environment. And bashing its inverted teeth to move it around the arena makes us cringe in agonizing empathy every time.
6. Malus (Samurai Big Pants) – Colossus 16
The final boss. The big kahuna. Malus sticks up out of the edge of the Forbidden Land like an ominous, sentient skyscraper hellbent on your destruction. While the process of rushing towards and clambering up his massive frame is a humbling existential crisis in and of itself, frustrations surrounding the wonky camera and some obtuse puzzle-solving steps keep this forbidding monument just outside the top five.
5. Hydrus (Eelman) – Colossus 7
Just about every colossus is imposing. Only Hydrus is straight-up terrifying. I defy any player to come to the serpent’s forbidding, murky lake arena and not secretly hope that they took a wrong turn. You have to fight Hydrus outside of your natural element, on its terms, and in a haunting atmosphere. There’s something undeniably gorgeous about the creature, but there isn’t much time to appreciate that when you’re just trying not to drown.
4. Cenobia (Olympic Doggo) – Colossus 14
A harrowing ordeal of a platforming exercise, you don’t fight Cenobia so much as evade a creature that wants you dead. There’s no other fight where the dynamic of predator and prey is so clear and the battle is more about smartly navigating the ruined environment rather than solving a puzzle. Watching Cenobia destroy what little is left of the crumbling temple while you leap from precarious safe spot to precarious safe spot keeps your heart pounding, and that momentum only lets up when one of you goes down for good.
3. Avion (Birdo) – Colossus 5
More majestic than threatening, Avion replaces the conventional challenging boss fight with a meditative exercise in thrill-seeking. Holding onto a fully outstretched wing as the massive bird barrel rolls through the sky while waiting for the brief period when it will be safe to navigate the creature’s flowing body is nothing short of exhilarating. I remember the steps to beating all of the colossi. I remember how it feels to dance with Avion.
2. Gaius (Knight Boy) – Colossus 3
As straight of a fencing match as there could be in a game about fighting giants, Gaius represents everything Shadow of the Colossus promises gamers. Unsettling arena complete with view of the Shrine of Worship? Check. Puzzle-solving based on the creature’s movement patterns? Check. Epic scramble up said creature with vertigo-inducing jumps and potential avenues for speedruns? Check and check. Gaius is so representative of Shadow of the Colossus that he took over for Valus as the game’s poster-child for the PS4 remaster. He’s challenging, imposing, and just plain fun to fight. Yet even the emblem of this game doesn’t take the crown from our favorite Colossus.
1. Phalanx (Desert Dragon) – Colossus 13
If the clash with Gaius delivers on everything Shadow of the Colossus promises, then the encounter with Phalanx is everything we couldn’t have expected. Taking this creature down is the very definition of epic, with the player using all of their acquired skills in creative and thrilling ways. At the same time, the undercurrent of guilt that’s been building through the entire game comes bursting out in this “battle” against a creature that never actually fights back. Felling Phalanx always inspires a sense of excitement, wonder, and regret. That mix of emotions is Shadow of the Colossus in a nutshell. There are colossi that make an impression, and then there’s Phalanx, a being that occupies an eternal residency in my waking consciousness.