Game Review: Shadow of the Colossus: Fantastic Beasts and Where To Stab Them

Image courtesy Sony Interactive Entertainment When Shadow of the Colossus first released in 2005, I didn’t play it. It was during a time in my life where I didn’t play many games – especially on consoles. I was an early adopter of the “pc elitist” attitude and saw most consoles as an inferior gaming platform. It wasn’t until years later, towards the middle of the PlayStation 3 lifecycle, that I finally played Shadow of the Colossus as its HD Remake. I was incredibly impressed, and defeated most of the colossi, but life got in the way and I never finished it. So when the remaster was announced for 2018, I was thrilled. Image courtesy Sony Interactive Entertainment Shadow of the Colossus was remastered by Bluepoint Games and Sony Interactive Entertainment Japan Studio – and they’ve done a very good job of it. Unlike the high definition upgrade the PlayStation 3 got, Shadow of the Colossus has been brought visually to this generation. Animations and character control didn’t get quite as updated – so though it keeps most of its authentic feel, it can be a bit frustrating to play. There is a modern control scheme, but it does little to change the way Shadow of the Colossus feels. This remaster looks absolutely stunning, though, and you’ll forget you’re playing a game that is mostly unchanged from its original release 13 years ago. Image courtesy Sony Interactive Entertainment Shadow of the Colossus’ core gameplay hasn’t changed from the original. You play as a young warrior, determined to complete a ritual that he believes will bring his loved one back to life. An entity named Dormin guides him along his quest to complete this ritual. Armed only with a bow and an enchanted sword, and with his only companion his faithful horse, Agro, he must find and defeat sixteen colossi that roam the cursed land. Sometimes beautiful, always fascinating, these creatures are scattered throughout the game world. Image courtesy Sony Interactive Entertainment The area Shadow of the Colossus takes place in is rather large. It is open world, and explorable mostly at-will -but you can’t fight the colossi out of order of the ritual. The open world is gorgeous, but mostly there as a backdrop for the task at hand. There are no enemies to fight along the way, or outposts to liberate. Wildlife mostly skitters out of the way when they see you, realistically blending into the backdrop in a way most games can’t achieve. The emptiness feels real – but also extremely haunting. There are collectibles, but they are few and far between and out of focus from your character’s determination to finish the ritual. The enchanted sword you wield acts as both a way to show you where to find your next colossus to defeat, and to expose weak spots on these giants. Image courtesy Sony Interactive Entertainment Each colossus is a unique creature with its own moves, and weaknesses. They are unlike normal bossfights, though, and each should be approached more like a puzzle to solve. Since most of these colossi tower over your character, you must find weak spots, get to them, and stab them (often repeatedly) while trying not to be shaken off, stepped on or gored. Being puzzle-like, some of these encounters can be solved quickly – others end up being a bit hair-pulling. Image courtesy Sony Interactive Entertainment Some of the colossi are definitely more difficult to beat than others – but that’s not necessarily because of their quickness, moveset or viciousness. Each one is a puzzle that has to be figured out, and they’re not always intuitive. Unfortunately, the remake doesn’t do much to fix that problem. Sometimes what you have to do is very clear – but there could have been some sort of environmental clue to allow you to progress. Dormin, the entity that sent you on this quest, does occasionally give you hints as you play. Sometimes they're so cryptic as to be meaningless, but other times they’re so specific I wish I didn’t have the clues active. Image courtesy Sony Interactive Entertainment Along with the updated graphics, are new quality of life changes. The shrines that are scattered throughout the world are no longer needed to save your progress – instead Shadow of the Colossus autosaves at key moments, and you have the ability to manually save at any time. The shrines also act as a respawn point and a way to regenerate health, so they shouldn’t be ignored altogether. But regenerating health and their reduced usefulness makes them mostly ignorable.  The not-so-updated controls make riding your horse and even climbing a bit frustrating, but these controls are mastered with a little patience. Image courtesy Sony Interactive Entertainment After finishing Shadow of the Colossus a few new modes open up including new game plus and time attack modes. This adds some replayability, as well as a built-in platform for speedrunning. Shadow of the Colossus also keeps track of your stats when encountering each colossus – your best time, how many times you were defeated, etc. Also included is the ability to play in “cinematic” or “performance” modes if you own a PlayStation 4 PRO, so you can choose graphics over performance or vice versa. Image courtesy Sony Interactive Entertainment Shadow of the Colossus is just as poignant a story as before, paired with updated graphics that make it absolutely stunning.  Its premise and core gameplay have aged well, and it remains a classic- now for the current generation. Shadow of the Colossus is available now on PlayStation 4.  
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Antal Bokor

Antal is video game advocate, retro game collector, and video game historian. He is also a small streamer, occasional podcast guest, and writer.