Shadow of the Colossus (2018) Review
Release Date: 2/6/2018
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Bluepoint Games
Although the original Shadow of the Colossus debuted on the PS2, the mechanics and premise still stand the test of time, even 13 years later. With a bleak, empty world, and the goal of exclusively slaying bosses, Shadow of the Colossus shouldn’t work, at least on paper. Not only does it work, it is a testament to the craftsmanship of the talented developers. This is true for the 2018 remake, as well. Developer, Bluepoint Games improved on nearly every aspect of the original. All of the art assets were remade from the ground up, with ultra-high definition in mind. That makes this one of the most beautiful looking games the PlayStation 4 has ever seen.
There is little exposition presented with the story, but that’s not a bad thing. Often times games give the player way too much information, leaving little room for surprises. Sure, there needs to be a balance of a plot mysterious enough to keep the player guessing, but not to the point where the story can’t be followed. Shadow of the Colossus strikes that balance in an elegant way.
The story opens with the protagonist, Wander, carrying the body of a woman, Mono, to a shrine via horseback. Upon arrival, a divine entity, Dormin, advises Wander that if he can defeat the 16 colossi throughout the land, Mono’s soul would be returned to her body. Wander agrees and sets off on the quest. After that, little information is presented, giving a sense of intrigue to the player. Throughout the journey, little bits of story are presented by Dormin in the form of dialogue. I wasn’t bothered by the lack of story, even if the ending didn’t blow me away. Not every game needs to be the same caliber as The Last of Us to be enjoyed. It’s a satisfying conclusion that didn’t disappoint, despite being predictable.
Where the game truly shines is in its gameplay. To this day, few games have replicated the formula of Shadow of the Colossus, which is surprising considering its critical success. The 16 colossi are the only enemies in the game. Each one feels like a puzzle with unique qualities. All of them are colossal (Get it?) in size, forcing the player to get creative when approaching combat. To defeat them, Wander must find a way to climb onto the beast’s back and attack the weak point. Yes, this is a video game-y mechanic, but the feeling of riding atop a colossus while it flails about is beyond immersive. Having to figure out how to climb up the colossi is a challenge in and of itself. The bosses feel like giant set pieces rather than enemies. Once the weak spot is located, the player must attack it with their sword. There are varying degrees of damage from these attacks, depending on how long the attack button is held. Tying all this together is the grip mechanic, giving Wander limited time to hold on to the colossus. If the player stands on a flat surface, the grip meter will replenish, bringing an element of strategy to the way bosses are maneuvered.
Still, there were some issues with being able to attack the colossus while hanging on. I would be pressing the attack button and because of the animation of the colossus flailing, it would cause long delays between attacks. Which, when accounting for the depleting grip meter, made for a few frustrating encounters. It makes sense that the player can’t attack at all times, but there were moments when the colossus was not moving much, and I still couldn’t attack. In addition, the camera gave me some issues, particularly when in enclosed spaces or when moving around an object while the colossus was near. Traversing the land also gave me issues at times, too, whether it was my horse getting stuck on a rock, or not being able to find my target. There is no radar or anything to exactly pinpoint how to get to the next target, so I often found myself spending way too much time trying to figure out where to go. In a world as empty as this, being lost seemed to detract from the fun. Despite those noticeable issues, they were never glaring enough to ruin my entire experience.
In addition to hunting colossi, there are also time attacks, or timed versions of the colossus fights. While these time attacks are optional, completing them rewards the player with items that can tremendously assist them in their journey. Items such as an invisibility cloak or a parachute make these trials worth visiting, if nothing else to breathe more life into the game.
This game wouldn’t be as successful if the bosses all felt the same. Sure, the basic mechanics of how to bring them down are shared between them, but the colossi feel unique, not just visually, but in motivation as well. It seems like there is a sense of baggage and backstory to these beasts and it makes slaying them much more morally questionable. At face value, the player basically murders these beasts with no provocation whatsoever. I felt sorry for these enemies, a feeling that isn’t explored much in video games. Aside from the emotional weight of each beast, they are visually stunning and interesting. The intricate design of the individual hairs on a monster had me in awe. Some of the beasts live in the water, some fly, and some are native to sand. Having this much variety in the colossi breaks up the potential monotony of simply killing 16 bosses.
Interestingly, music is triggered only during a boss fight. This further ingrains the feeling of emptiness to the world, but exemplifies the epic feeling of the colossus battles. The feeling of defeating a colossus and hearing nothing but silence is uncomfortable but important when evaluating the ethics of these actions.
When it comes to remakes, Shadow of the Colossus is a textbook definition of a remake done right. Everything from the visuals, sounds, camera fixes (mostly), and the inclusion of a photo mode make this the definitive version. There are not many games that feature the “bosses only” approach, and even fewer that execute it as well as this. The emptiness of the world and melancholy tone make this a sad but memorable experience. Even with the obvious issues, this is still an important game to play.