Shadow of the Colossus

Thy next foe is... productivity.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: October 24, 2005
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When gamers try to make a case for games being an art form, invariably Ico is brought up. I'm fine with this, since I agree 120% with anyone using that as the crowning achievement in games as a pure, blissful extension of game designer and gamer meeting up in a wholly unique way.

Ico has the kind of basic reticence that you wish all games could possess, but secretly wish they never will. It's a gem that rewards exploration over deep combat and without so much as a single word spoken in English, manages to endear you to the characters so tightly that you care about them.

Really care, and it's enough to cause you to suck in your breath every time it looks like the two intertwined characters may not make a jump or grit your teeth as you battle to keep Yorda, the damsel in distress, from being pulled down into the darkness.

In this way, Shadow of the Colossus is a natural extension of what the designers accomplished in Ico, but the way they approached the sequel is almost the antithesis of what Ico offered. Here the ratio of combat to puzzle solving is swapped, and in a way they meld so perfectly that one becomes the other half of the time, but the same richness of design and creativity in the environment is clearly present.

The very notion that the whole game is a series of 16 boss fights back to back probably wouldn't sit well with most gamers had it not come from the minds that brought us Ico, but the execution is utter brilliance. Sure, there are fights that aren't quite as good as others, but for every one that had me nearly throwing the controller in frustration, there were five that had me grinning from ear to ear as I experienced them.

All this fighting is brought on by one man's quest to save his dead love. That's really all the info you get at the start of the game, and up until the final cinemas start to play, you don't know any more beyond the fact that you have to kill 16 colossi to revive her. The story, motivations and even the players in question are left intentionally nebulous.

This works to fantastic effect, because the whole time you're relishing the game's one and only dynamic of skittering about on these oft-times hulking beasts, there's a nagging feeling in the back of your mind that these guys never really did anything to deserve this. At no point does the game expressly state that the colossi are evil, and even the ones that look menacing and culled from the depths of some passage from Revelation usually end up, dare I say cute once you clamber up to an eye-to-eye level.

But it matters not, for this dead girl you know nothing about, you will toil and you will fell these sometimes slumbering, nearly always passive creatures, stinging them with arrow volleys and eventually plunging your sword into pre-set weak points scattered across their bodies (though the big one's usually on the head).

Once it's over, the deed done, an inky darkness spreads over the tumbled colossus and tendrils born from the same blackness reach out and plunge themselves into your heart, either killing or knocking you out (it's never really said, though I tend to lean towards the former) where you rise again in the temple to start your search anew.

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