“Thou art to destroy ALL of them!”
Those of you who know me know I love the Zelda series (and those who don’t could probably have guessed from my username). My journey with those games started in Ocarina of Time a whole decade ago. I remember being in awe at the first sight of the beautifully realised forest, then again inside the dank, dark Deku Tree. Then once again when faced with an evil armoured spider five times my size! In fact, to my 11 year old self, that game was one jaw-dropping moment after another!
It took a whole 10 years for another game to have the same effect on me, and its name is Shadow of the Colossus – the sophomore effort from Team Ico. I may go so far as to say that this game has usurped Ocarina of Time’s throne as the king of jaw-droppers!
On paper, SotC must have looked like a terrible idea: No side quests, no NPCs, no upgrades, no minor enemies… just 1 man and his horse, a sword, a bow and arrow, and 16 boss fights. That’s it. But to reduce the game like this is to do it a major disservice. For what the game lacks in numbers, it makes up for in scope.
From the very beginning of the game you know you’ve begun something that can only be described as epic. I know that’s a word that gets bandied around far too easily nowadays but with Shadow, it really fits. Your goal is to fight your way through the guardians of a forbidden land in order to bring your love back from the dead. A mysterious disembodied voice instructs you to destroy these beasts, giving you vague clues as to their whereabouts.
So you set off on your trusty steed Agro, into a land that’s both barren and beautiful. Team Ico’s goal in removing traditional enemies from the game was to create a massive and engrossing world that wasn’t afflicted with loading times or affected by the graphical limitations of the PS2, and they certainly achieved that goal. No matter how far in the distance, the landmarks of this desolate place can be seen in all their glory – you don’t often get immersed by graphics like you do here.
Another feature which adds to the immersion is your character’s movement. In creating this and Ico beforehand, director Fumito Ueda listed games such as Flashback and the original Prince of Persia as major influences on the game’s design, and the best way to see the similarity is through jumping. While most older games simply had your character “bounce” when you hit the jump button, Flashback and PoP actually made your character more real by having him struggle to get over gaps and climb up ledges. The same can be seen in this game but on a much larger scale. Wander will lose his footing on uneven ground, he’ll hang precariously onto ledges and when he lands from a jump he reacts similarly to how you or I would. Even the horseback physics are steeped in realism, albeit this can often lead more to annoyance than amazement!
These factors give an unsurpassed level of realism in an otherwise fantastical game, and it only serves to make the already awesome fights with the Colossi even greater. I’ve only fought 4 or 5 of the giants to date but each fight is more epic than the last. The cinematic score from anime stalwart Kow Otani only adds to the feeling of monumentous triumph when you bring each Colossus to its knees as you deliver the final blows!
I started this feature by referencing Ocarina of Time in terms of sheer spectacle. There’s a point in that game where you rescue your horse Epona from the ranch, and the following cutscene shows you leaping the fences of the ranch and riding off into the fields of Hyrule – the deep satisfaction you get from this and other moments in the game etched it in my mind forever. But every single part of SotC, from the seemingly mundane to the powerful and immense, is an experience that will stay with me for as long as I remain a gamer.
Apologies for the delay in getting this one out folks. The HyPE will be taking a break next week as I’ll be away from my PS2. In the meantime, feel free to comment or PM me on the boards with suggestions for what the next game should be! Thanks for reading.