Review - Shadow of the Colossus (PS4)
Rarely have I played a game so revered and come back with such trepidation. Shadow of the Colossus is a dark fantasy tale with haunting visuals, a brilliant score, and an ending that sticks with you, but the game controls so poorly I kept questioning why it’s considered one of the best games of all time and why in the world weren’t the controls updated for the remastered version on Playstation 4 from its 2005 counterpart on Playstation 2?
The premise is simple: You’re a boy named Wander set out to save your girl so you made a deal with a divine voice in a strange land and in exchange for slaughtering fifteen giant creatures called Colossi, that deity will bring your girl back to life. Or so it seems.
Shadow of the Colossus on Playstation 4 is everything a remaster should be. The updated graphics are breathtaking with exceptional scale and a wonderfully minimal HUD, allowing you to take in spectacular vistas as you ride your horse Agro across the plains without any sort of waypoint, compass, or objective list getting in the way. Visually, Shadow of the Colossus was ahead of its time. The camera is situated in such a way that the player is on one side of the screen or the other, really allowing you to take in the landscape and in order find each colossus, you simply raise Wander's sword in sunlight and the glow leads you in the right direction. To add to that scale are the Colossi, large bosses that comprise the entire game when you’re not riding across the plains in search of any hidden mysteries.
And when I say large, these creatures are laaaaaarge. Their size does a great job of making you feel like an ant in comparison, aside from a couple that are surprisingly small but real mean. In order to topple these great beasts, the player must climb the creatures and attack specific weak spots, but you can only grapple onto ledges and hairs of the Colossus. So as to keep you on your feet, you can’t always climb a Colossus in ways you’d think; sometimes you need to use the environment or even the creature's movements to your advantage.
This brings me to my main issue with the game. Climbing a colossus should always feel exhilarating, which in some cases it is, like the way you’d expect climbing Godzilla to be, but it sucks the rest of the time. These days, you could press the jump button and immediately climb up a building with ease, but in Shadow of the Colossus you have to hold the R2 button while making your way up these forces of nature and instead of relishing that moment and gasping at the awe, I kept wrestling with the controls to make Wander obey my inputs while he’s flailing about about like a rag doll. And when I do manage to get a hold of the controls, moving up and down is so slow even with the added jump maneuver, and the character is easily staggered when the colossus starts moving around. I know that this was originally a Playstation 2 game and developer Bluepoint wanted to keep the original controls but it would have been nice if the controls were updated, even as a separate mode for whiners like me.
You're right, I’m definitely spoiled by modern games like Assassin’s Creed: Origins and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild with how well they can make climbing smooth and engaging so this was just aggravating. Climbing aside, there’s even little things like maneuvering Agro that really feels like I’m trying to turn a pickup truck without power steering as well as times where he doesn’t respond at all to my calls. Another thing is how long it takes Wander to recover from being downed. Good gravy, it takes so long I bet dying and restarting from the last checkpoint takes less time than getting back up does.
The controls may bum me out but everything else about Shadow of the Colossus is great. I love the Colossi designs and the unique ways to defeat each one. Most of the time it’s never the same. It took the first two or three Colossus to get in a rhythm of how to take them down because each one has a unique AI that will react to certain actions of the player. It’s a great feeling when you’re able to outsmart these godlike creatures and take them out but it kind of takes away from the creativity of the player. One such colossus I nearly finished off but I messed up so I thought I could maybe hop on top of a rock and then onto its back to finally take it down, but the colossus “knew” to avoid the rocks. In order to finally take the creature out, I had to patiently wait for it run back to its starting position at the beginning of the battle before re-enacting the same bout.
The music from Kow Otani is on another level. When you're riding across the plains, there's little score but when the battles commence, oh boy, it is heart pumping. The way the music swells when I land on a colossus reminds me of why I love video games and of course, Otani also worked on the 90s Gamera trilogy and Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All Out Attack so I gotta give props where it's due.
Shadow of the Colossus is a grand adventure that is very much worth its five to six hour journey as long as you're able to forgive the archaic controls. While I don't feel like it's one of my favorite games of all time, I certainly understand now why so many others make that claim.