Shadow of the Colossus: First Impressions

By Shamus
on Apr 27, 2007
Filed under:
Game Reviews

Reader Jadawin noted my interest in Shadow of the Colossus and offered me his copy. Thanks to him for contributing my second game to my PS2 collection!

I’ve read bits here and there about this game. I’d heard that the game was “all bossfights”, which seemed like a strange idea.

Yes, I’ll make a bargain with a strange god to bring my dead girlfriend back to life.  I’m sure that is a fantastic idea and there won’t be any serious consequences.
Yes, I’ll make a bargain with a strange god to bring my dead girlfriend back to life. I’m sure that is a fantastic idea and there won’t be any serious consequences.
The game opens with the main character bringing the body of a young woman to a forbidden temple of sorts. He’s there to plead with the resident god to return the girl to life. The god makes a deal with him: If the young man will defeat the 16 colossi that inhabit this realm, then his wish will be granted. “But”, he warns, “the price will be very high.” I assume the price he’s talking about is in addition to killing the colossi. “It doesn’t matter”, answers the protagonist.

Now, we can tell this is an astoundingly bad idea. The god was even sporting enough to warn the kid that he might not like the results. This game may end in tragedy, but that is not a drawback. Unlike Neverwinter Nights 2, this game isn’t going to unexpectedly snatch away victory from the triumphant player. We can see from the outset that this is headed nowhere good, but the young man is driven and there will be no dissuading him. I’m pretty hooked at this point, if for no other reason than to see what price he pays in the end.

The young man (okay, I’m looking his name up online so that I can refer to him directly) Wander has a sword with some magical properties that make defeating the Colossi possible, and this makes the god willing to hear him out. This makes me think he’s been at this for a while already. (Although it does make me wonder about the condition of his beloved’s remains. Even if it’s only been a couple of days, it seems like she might be… poor company at this point.)

The dialog is subtitled, and spoken in what is either Japanese or a fictional language. Either way, this was a good decision. The bargain between the god and Wander could have felt corny if it had been delievered in plain modern English.

A composite image: Wander enters the forbidden lands.  My screenshots here had to be retouched quite a bit.  This game is done in low-contrast lighting and pale colors, which ended up making the screenshots look muddled after my video capture card got done with them.
A composite image: Wander enters the forbidden lands. My screenshots here had to be retouched quite a bit. This game is done in low-contrast lighting and pale colors, which ended up making the screenshots look muddled after my video capture card got done with them.
As promised, the game is indeed nothing but bossfights. I’ve only seen a couple of the collosi so far, but even the first one was so huge that I had to jump to reach his knee. This leads to one of the central challenges of the game, which is how to get onto these massive beasts in the first place. They require a good deal of trial-and-error to defeat. You need to work out how to climb onto the beast, then figure out how to move around without getting thrown off or crushed, and finally you must locate one or more “weak spots” on the beast and make use of your magic sword.

These colossi do not look evil. They are fearsome and mighty, but it looks like they would be happy to roam around the landscape minding their own business if not for the fact that my character is a heartless bastard bent on destroying them. I’ve seen other people express sadness and regret over felling these things, and I have to admit I felt the same way. When the beast finally falls, there is a sense of triumph as well as loss.

I enjoy the game, although I’m not particularly good at it. I was baffled by one colossus, who seemed un-climbable. After getting pancaked a few times I resorted to looking up the walkthrough. I’m glad I did. I’m not sure I would ever have figured it out.

There is a lot of trial-and-error here, but I’m not going to call it DIAS gameplay. It’s just the nature of the game, and I don’t know how you would go about making the game more forgiving without simply making it easier. While death and retry are inevitable, it doesn’t feel arbitrary. The game is polite enough to position you back at the start of the fight whenever you get stomped, and doesn’t punish you with a lot of extra travel for each attempt. (At least, not so far.)

The gameplay isn’t really my thing, but the plot and visuals are enough to propel me forward.

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20203Feeling chatty? There are 43 comments.

From the Archives:

  1. Jeremiah says:

    I really wasn’t impressed with Shadow of the Colossus. I borrowed it from a friend, and I just couldn’t get into it. I wasn’t particularly interested in the story. Making a deal with the gods to bring back a loved one isn’t particularly original, to me. I didn’t like the gameplay and I didn’t like the controls. After the first couple collosi (and after talking to a few people), I realized I’d be doing the same thing over and over with various twists between each iteration.

    I couldn’t bring myself to finish it, but I’d be interested to see where it goes. I have a feeling I know how it all ends up in the end, but you never know.

  2. Fieari says:

    I fell in love with SotC the very first time I played it. It wasn’t just the visuals. It was the mood. The solemn loneliness. The quiet moments you have with your horse. The majestic beauty of everything, right down to the colossi themselves. This is a game about loss, and about love, and that love is conveyed so strongly it doesn’t need words.

    Pay attention to the cutscenes. Notice how Wander changes subtly over the course of the game. Notice how the girl changes.

    Think about how much this guy is going through to save her, knowing, as we know, that the price is going to be even higher when it comes to the end.

    Some of the colossi don’t even fight back. They are stunningly beautiful creatures, not even stomping around, but existing peacefully in their landscapes, fighting only for their lives as you come in to hunt them. All for love.

    The levels tell a story without words too. Of a civilization no longer here. You’ll see cities and temples, and wonder… who made them? When? Why? Why did they fall? Hints lead you on.

    The ending is the most sublime thing I have ever seen. It lives up to the game. Now, the last boss has a bit of DIAS in it, but by that point, you don’t care. The frustration of the last boss will be worth it in your mind, once you get there. You’ll see why.

    And the the finale. There are no words.

    You’re in for a treat. This game is Exhibit A in “How games can be likened to Fine Art”. Starting with the visual artwork, moving on to the mood, then the lessons shown, the depth of emotion, and the ending… and it works together with the concept of a game to bring you into the story, to provide emotional attachment. This is how it should be. This is what is going to propel games to a respected medium… if only more like it are made.

  3. Daniel says:

    I loved the Shadow of the Colossus, myself. I think you have to put aside the gamer’s jaded cynicism for a while, and be open to the emotional impact. When you finish it (and if you liked it), make sure to get a copy of Ico as well. There some interesting ties that you’ll appreciate.

  4. Vykromod says:

    I picked this up about a month ago following someone actually describing the game to me rather than screaming “BUY IT!” without any explanation as to why it might be worth my time, in that way that rabid fans of anything do.

    I’ve been playing it only occasionally, and never for very long. The game would annoy me if I tried a prolonged period. However, for an hour every now and then, I absolutely love it.

  5. Nilus says:

    I love this game. I found a lot of people who disliked it complained that the first few fights all seemed the same. That is pretty true. You really don’t get into the very unique fights until after the 8th guy if I recall. Part of the problem is its really not an action game as much as its almost an action adventure game. You are given a problem(aka Boss) and need to figure out how to solve it using whats around you. Like a Sierra Quest game or a SCUMM game that requires hand/eye coordination.

    I’ve also found Shadows a great game for people to watch. My wife generally doesn’t like to watch me play games but she loved watching my play Shadows of the Colossus.

  6. wererogue says:

    I really did enjoy the game – it’s damn pretty, and incredibly evocative, and I found the gameplay to be entertaining, and always just on the edge of challenging.

    I hope you enjoy it all – I felt kind of sad killing off the colossi :/

  7. Fieari says:

    By the way, it is a fictional language. See: http://www.1up.com/do/feature?cId=3145476

    Ico, the game for which SotC is the prequel to, used two additional fictional languages, one using phonemes from Chinese, the other using French as a base. Apparently, SotC’s language used Japanese as a base, but only after sticking that Japanese through several rounds of babelfish and then altering from there.

  8. Morrinn says:

    Love this game… Its a piece of art.

  9. Roy says:

    Yeah, count me in the “I loved it” group.

    One of the things that I really appreciated about SotC was the sense of scale that everything had. It’s not just the Colossi are huge (which, you know… they are) but there seemed to be a lot of things reminding you how small you really are- from the shot leading up to entering that massive castle, to how big your horse is, to some of the lands you have to cross to find the Colossi. Very cool. I can see why it’s not for everyone (what game is?) but I thought it was absolutely beautiful. The controls were a bit wonky at times, and Aggro could be a pain on occasion, but, for the most part, I loved it.

  10. Traiden says:

    I loved it and beat it… I get a hard mode and a bunch of time trails to get cool items… I like the screaming arrows, even if they don’t hurt the colossi. Ok, you have also got to love how Arlo (Wanders horse) acts when you put him in a llittle pond next to the large tree directly in front of the main tower. He dinks the water and gets scared and rears up when the turtle swims near him. Their are also doves and halks… both of which you can kill. and a little hint, kill the lizards with glowing tails. it increases your grip.

  11. Scott says:

    Agreed. Which colossus did you find hard?

  12. Shamus says:

    Which colossus did you find hard?

    I’m ashamed to say…

    The second one.

    I just didn’t get that I needed to stand in that one spot to get him to shatter that bracelet.

    Looking at the online help, he was rated as “easy”. Later ones are rated as “medium” and then “hard”, and then the last one I “really hard”.

    Yeah, I’m going to be working on this one for a while.

  13. Traiden says:

    I would have to say that I too found the second one hard to figure out… it was only blind luck that he hit the stone center for me to clime up his arm. Now for a real pain in the ass try and beat the last colossi in under five min… from the point where he starts shoting missiles that could kill in two hits to the long hard treck up his body.

  14. Dave Brown says:

    The guy with the bracelet on his arm isn’t the second one–that’s the third one.

    Me, I had trouble figuring out how to shoot the second guy’s feet–I didn’t realize that you were supposed to shoot them when he’s rearing up, because I didn’t want to get squished by him so I ran away whenever he did that. I got really good with the bow and arrows shooting his feet while he was just walking.

    The third colossus is where you start getting the feeling that these are not antagonistic creatures–when you encounter him he’s fast asleep, about as harmless as harmless gets.

  15. Corvus says:

    I’m so pleased you got this. I take it in stages as the guilt and dread I feel with each successive kill takes time to recover from. *nirg*

    Perhaps I’m taking it too seriously.

  16. the_corruptor says:

    Shadow of the Collossus was a very interesting game to watch, and after watching my friend beat the entire game in under three hours you realize exactly how much of the game is actually puzzle.

    Once you know how to beat it, you can and it’s not too hard.

    I also wanted to mention that in the end, while it ends badly for the player, the woman is fine. Think ‘True Ressurect’.

  17. mr k says:

    Having completed Ico, I eagerly got this game, but oddly never completed it. I did what I sometimes do in games, get stuck then get distracted by the next shiny. I got to the boss in the steamy bits… I kind of worked out what I had to do, I just couldn’t DO it.

  18. jsgf says:

    Ah, this reminds me of playing it. I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed this game. I loved just riding around in the countryside, and my 3-yo daughter loved this part too. But I could never bring myself to let her see the colossus fights; I don’t think I could explain them to her, partly because I couldn’t really justify killing them myself.

    Each one has its own unique technique and environment, and they get increasingly interesting. It isn’t very long game; once you work out the basic hand-eye coordination for the controls, it becomes much more puzzle-like. And this is from someone who 1) tends to explore every corned, 2) gets very frustrated with GTA.

    And of course, the end is… DO NOT read any spoilers.

  19. Roy says:

    Oh.
    Geez.
    Don’t feel bad Dave Brown, I did it that way too, riding behind it and shooting his feet while he walked. I don’t know that I’ve ever even seen him rear up.

    Wow.

  20. lebkin says:

    Shadows of the Colossus is one of my favorite PS2 games. It is a beautiful piece of art. The style, gameplay, environments, and subtle emotional touch are all incredible. It is definitely worth playing all the way through. Every colossus is a beautiful, creative puzzle. Some of the later ones just leave you with an incredible sense of accomplishment. The sense of scale of the world and the colossi, especially with the final one, is incredible.

    If you find this game enjoyable, definitely go out and pick up Ico. It is also one of my favorite PS2 games. Designed by the same team, it is also an incredible experience. The interaction between the two main characters is wonderful.

  21. Ben W. says:

    Put me firmly in the “loved it” category. Whenever I got stuck on a colossus, there was still this massive land I was free to wander around in and see interesting things. I like exploration enough that I would find my way into and on things just to see if I could. I probably spent more time tracking down all the shrines, climbing the occasional fruit-bearing tree, and stalking the rare silver-tailed lizards as they climbed on things than I did actually fighting the colossi. There are no hidden packages or special items to be found, but lots of beautiful sights. For a treat, go back to the site of a previous colossus battle, and “pray” as you would at a shrine.

  22. Woerlan says:

    You’ll love it almost as much as Ico.

    This game pushed the PS2 to its limits. And the cinematic quality of the entire game is beautiful. The lack of mediocre, minion-type enemies only adds to the atmosphere. You are essentially alone, exempting your noble steed (who is by far my favorite horse in any game I’ve ever played, Zelda included), driven in a quest whose outcome is immediately foreshadowed as tragic.

    Gotta love that.

  23. Alan De Smet says:

    One of the guys at Penny Arcade describe SotC as (from memory), “Every gamer needs to experience this game, and if playing the game is the only way to experience it, so be it.” It’s a stunning game. The plot has been parred down to the bare essentials. The vast, lonely, quiet valley helps set the mood, giving the entire affair a somber feeling. With one exception (the first stupid bull, which is neither colossal nor fun), the fights are all striking. (The second bull isn’t allt hat colossal either, but it’s a great set piece with very cinematic moments once you figure out they style of play that is intended.) Many other games would be proud to have that sort of battle for the final boss.

    As others have said, check out Ico. Less actiony, more overtly puzzle based, but capturing the same moody feeling.

  24. wildweasel says:

    “You really don’t get into the very unique fights until after the 8th guy if I recall.”
    The 8th fight?! Considering I gave up and traded in the game during the second fight, I now see no reason to regret trading my copy in (for Trace Memory on the DS, if I recall).

  25. ThaJinx says:

    I’ve been reading your page for a while now, and felt compelled to respond upon reading this initial review. I’m a tremendous fan of Shadow of the Colossus, but am not blind to its flaws, either.

    If you can manage to find a copy (ebay is a fair place to search; it’s not too overpriced or rare), take everyone else’s suggestions above and try to get a hold of ICO. It’s a brilliant exercise in game design and communication of plot through minimal means; it’s brimming with story, though you might never know it if you aren’t paying attention and looking for it.

  26. unbeliever says:

    One of the few games that made me think “yeah, games are really an art form”. Love the way the horse riding feels. Be sure to cheak out Ico, brain bleeding beautiful as well.

  27. Telas says:

    I’ve read a few things about this as well, but don’t see myself playing it. While GTA was fun for mindless violence and blowing off steam, this sounds like a more … directed corruption. I’m sure there’s a lesson in there somewhere, but the price feels too high. Not the price the protagonist pays, but the price I would pay for playing it.

    I get the feeling that after the first few collosi, I’d go back to the temple, whack the priest, bury my girl, and go try to heal.

  28. Telas says:

    Priest… god… whatever. Anything that evil, dies.

  29. AdamB says:

    I really liked the game. As you progress the development of the characters is really good. Plus the horse Agro is a favourite of mine. What’s interesting is that everyone who has posted has liked it as well. hmmmm

  30. ArchU says:

    One feature I particularly enjoyed about SotC is that you can heal at any time, although it can take a while to do so. Find a stable enough part of a colossus and just crouch there for a few seconds and Wander’s health bar refills nicely.

    I’m told that the Japanese version of the game was a tad easier in parts than the US version of the game – Wander could roll more quickly than run and some colossi had more handholds.

    Youtube features some nifty “speedruns” that show how to beat most of the colossi handily (search for “sotc speedrun” or “shadow of the colossus speedrun”) but you need to watch out that some are for the Japanese release and don’t always work on the US version.

  31. K says:

    The 13th – that is, the sky dragon – made me feel terrible. It doesn’t do ANYTHING to hurt you. Not a single attack.

  32. LeumasWhite says:

    Yeah, there’s a couple like that. They’re just kind of… there, until some dude comes along and starts sticking pointy things in them.

    It’s probably my favourite PS2 game. I’ve heard a lot of people hated it because it was empty, and… well, I thought that was the point. It’s big and lonely, and wonderful because of it.

  33. Miral says:

    I absolutely loved Ico, but I could never really get into SotC. I like the atmosphere and style of the game, definitely, but I just can’t get the hang of fighting any of the collossi (I still haven’t beaten the first one).

    It’s the sort of game that I’d rather see as a movie than actually play :) Or just have a one-hit-kill cheat for.

  34. Zack says:

    I can not believe that everyone here liked Agro. I hated that miserable beast. He would run away when I tried to mount, he would change direction when I would try to shoot from his back. On the second battle I found it easier to fight on foot than to use him.

    I was deeply saddened that I could not put that foul beast down. My girlfriend and I both spent a while taking pot shots at it after it did something particularly vexing. It was interesting that he seemed to misbehave more for me since I was a worse rider. (ran into things a bit, was too harsh on the reigns) He got cantankerous like a real horse would under those conditions.

    I did not finish the game. I was interested in the story, but I didn’t care for the battles. The puzzle aspect was neat, but it took too long to complete some of the fights. I got frustrated and decided to pop something else in where I could get farther in a half hour. Many bosses require a lot of trial and error and that can get frustrating. After work I want to de-stress and this game is stressful since you die a lot with little to show for it until you get the combos down.

  35. Fieari says:

    The trick to controlling Agro is not to treat him like a racecar, or like a machine at all. What is probably annoying you so much is that he “steers” himself for the most part, especially in narrow areas like bridges. So what you need to do is just let go of the controller, except when setting a heading. He really will do the rest! If you try to control him beyond that, you’ll get nowhere fast as Agro will get confused as to where you want him to go.

    Once you figure out this trick, riding him is the most natural thing in the world, and you learn to love him.

    You learn to love him even more when you learn how to fight from horseback. There’s three Colossi in particular that are incredibly fun to fight because of how you need to fight from horseback.

  36. jimlolpez says:

    I killed all the colossi except the last 1 i need help. if you need help with the other 1ns hit me up @ semillero@peoplepc.com

  37. Matt says:

    I just bought it tonight and have finished 6 of the fights. So far I think from a design perspective it’s probably the best thing I’ve seen on PS2, tied only with GTA3. The puzzles are tough but the “Aha!” moments when you figure them out make it worthwhile. There’ve been moments where even though obviously I was just doing what the designer intended, it really felt as if I was coming up with an ingenious solution on my own. I don’t think I’ve ever played a game that made me feel as much like an epic hero, and that’s sad because I mostly play RPGs. Even the great Baldur’s Gate series had more DIAS fights. I can see how SOTC might seem to work that way, I think it’s actually pretty forgiving. You can run away, hide and heal, then dive back in. So far I’ve only had to redo 2 of 6 fights. Compare that to the GTA games where you’re constantly reloading until you get the timing perfect.

    So far my favorite has been the “so crazy it just might work” solution to climbing up the 6th one.

    Truly a work of art.

  38. nevered says:

    One of my favorite games ever.

    My only complaint is the horse.

    I.HATE.THAT.HORSE

    you know the colossus that burrows in the sand cave?

    yea.

    damn that horse

  39. 1up dude says:

    ‘love the game.i heard there was collossus 17 after you beat the hard mode somewhere above the temple…

  40. 1up dude says:

    The graphics on the game are cool.huh…what happens if you escape from the black strings after you kill a collossus? ‘.’

  41. Shadi says:

    A really awesome Game, everyone that owns a ps2 should try out this game. Its unlike any game you’ve ever played.

  42. MikeSSJ says:

    There is no 17th Collosus – someone made that up, and it stuck around for some reason. What there IS above the temple, however, is a secret garden only reachable by various tricks.

    As for “escaping the black strings” – that’s impossible. You can’t get away from them.

    Personally, I LOVE this game – completed it several times already, just to experience it’s beautiful story again. There were two Collosi I absolutely HATED, though – keywords “geysir” and “underwater”

  43. Scott says:

    @Shamus: I know you go through these comments and I am interested to know… Did you ever beat this game? You never made a follow up post.

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