The thought that kept running through my mind throughout my entire playthrough of Shadow of the Colossus was “I can’t believe they managed to make a game of this scale on the PS2.” For many people, including myself, their first experience of the game will be the PlayStation 4 remaster by Blue Point. I’ve heard enough commentary about the legendary game to understand its themes and why it is so revered. However, Shadow of the Colossus is still a standout in the modern landscape even without being preceded by a glowing 12-year reputation.
Read the full review below…
The Sword and the Stone
Shadow of the Colossus is about a boy named Wander and his quest to bring a girl back from the dead. He travels to a sacred temple and makes a bargain with the crafty deity residing there. It promises to revive the girl if Wander can defeat the 16 Colossi running rampant in the land. Thus begins the enthralling loop of riding your horse Agro through beautifully rendered landscapes and inciting fights with building-sized monsters, armed with a sacred sword, a bow with a bottomless quiver, and the grip-strength of a hardened mountain climber.
The story, while objectively simple, is thematically complex. You will constantly question the ethics of slaying these massive creatures, who at times are just minding their own business until you antagonize them. Is wreaking havoc on this sacred land a noble cause to save this woman who is very important to you? Are you killing yourself in the process? Is trading your life for someone who has already passed on better than just letting them rest in peace? Shadow of the Colossus asks these questions, and while the ending makes some bold statements, it ultimately leaves you to draw your own conclusions. The subversion of the selfless hero narrative is fun to watch play out, regardless of where you fall.
A Beautiful and Lonely Land
The locales in Shadow of the Colossus, though occasionally inconsistent in texture quality, are visually stunning. The way the sunlight dances through the trees in the forest or off the sandy dunes of the desert region make the empty landscape feel all the more somber as there is nobody else around to enjoy it. The game leads you through only a portion of its map from battle to battle, but there’s a lot to find off the beaten path. The real reward for exploring, aside from some minor upgrades and a handful of secrets, is taking in the beautiful sights.
More mesmerizing than the environments, are the Colossi with their ancient carved stone armor and swaying fur. The attention to detail in all of their designs makes them so much more menacing and majestic than the PlayStation 2 version. Realizing you can probably fit into the creases of Gaius hands will make you consider how quickly it can kill you. And playing around with the included Photo Mode will give you a better sense of the size differences between you and your furry foes.
Clinging to Life
Each of the 16 bosses must be defeated by exposing and exploiting their weaknesses. In this way, each Colossi encounter is one part environmental puzzle and one part epic battle. I appreciate the creativity employed in each Colossi from the monster design itself to the chambers you fight in. Some fights are more combat focused while others have a greater emphasis on strategically utilizing the environment around you.
Almost every aspect of each fight is engaging. Figuring out how to provoke the Colossi into attacking you so you can jump on their hairy backs is just as satisfying as stabbing their glowing weak spots. At least, that’s mostly true. Manipulating the Colossi loses its charm after you’ve figured out the trick to it, but have fallen off multiple times. For some fights, this means just waiting around for lengthy periods until they get close enough to attack again which, as you can imagine, isn’t very fun.
Either way, it was always gratifying to outsmart the Colossi who otherwise outmatched me by sheer size and strength alone. For this reason, I recommend turning off hints and the HUD as these elements detract from the sense of accomplishment you feel when you figure out how to topple these massive monsters on your own.
Your lonely boy avatar is clumsy as a duck but has an impossibly strong grip and can land more gracefully than any cat I’ve known. This makes for sometimes awkward, sometimes funny situations where you’re fighting the physics harder than the behemoths. Shout out to the underappreciated and endlessly menacing 17th Colossi: gravity. And while continually tripping over the smallest pebble can be annoying, there is an endearing quality to the animation that frames the boy’s mortality strikingly against his towering foes.
Fans of the original game likely remember the unruly control scheme. The old control scheme is still available along with two others, including a default button layout that’s been made more intuitive. No matter what you choose, you can expect responsive controls that resist you in a way that adds to the realism and tension.
The most exhilarating moments are when you’re clinging for dear life as a Colossi tries to shake you off its body. Frantically managing your stamina before the beast rears its ugly head again is a gamble that never gets old. This makes the frequent animation glitches mere tolerable annoyances.
Shadow of the Colossus was ahead of its time and I know that now. Though I deprived myself of joining the global conversation surrounding the game for the last decade, it was worth the wait. After completing this faithful remake of one of the most beloved games of all time, I am left pondering its themes and itching to dive back in.
While fondly remembered, Shadow of the Colossus was criminally underplayed, but perhaps for the best. Now that current technology can render the revolutionary vision of the original, this remaster of Shadow of the Colossus is the version I’m glad will be enjoyed by the biggest audience.