Tuesday, November 15, 2005

VG REVIEW: Shadow of the Colossus

Do you like the reviews kids? That's good, because I've got the reviews:

"Shadow of the Colossus"
for the PlayStation 2
rated T for Teen (blood, fantasy violence), $39.99

In a sparse but green land surrounded by stone ruins and populated by little more than the occasional lizard or bird, a young warrior makes his way on horseback toward an enormous temple.

Once inside he deposits his burden, a young woman, presumably dead or unconscious, on a stone altar.

A mysterious voice comes from above. What does the warrior want? To bring the young lady back to life, he replies.

To do that, the voice says, he must defeat 16 colossi, enormous creatures the size of mountains. Only then will he get what he seeks, though it might come with an unexpected price.

I’m supplying this long-winded introduction not just for exposition’s sake, but to try to clumsily describe the unique sense of time and place that Sony’s new game, "Shadow of the Colossus" superbly evokes. While most games seem content to get your blood pumping, "Colossus" is striving for something more.

This is no real surprise when you realize that the creators behind "Colossus" are the same development team responsible for "Ico," one of the finest games ever made for the PlayStation 2, if not one of the finest games ever, period.

"Colossus" seems to take place in the same fairy tale universe as "Ico." But, while the latter game confined players to battling small, shadowy enemies in tight spaces, here you are crossing vast plains to go up against monsters the size of skyscrapers.

This is essentially a video game pared down to 16 boss battles. There are no minor enemies to defeat, no power ups or other familiar tropes. It’s just ride, battle, defeat. It might sound a trifle monotonous, but "Colossus" is all about the overall emotional experience, not about how many buttons you have to push.

Defeating these gigantic beasts usually involves climbing up and on them, and then stabbing them repeatedly in a special, highlighted area, such as the back of the head or on a wing or shoulder blade.

The trick comes in figuring out how to get on. For one flying beast, that involved shooting arrows to get its attention and then jumping on as he dived down to attack me. For another creature I had to find a way to destroy the armor bracelet around its wrist so I could climb its massive sword and cling to the fur around its arm.

Getting on and staying on are two different things however, as the creatures will frequently try to throw you off whenever possible. Pressing and holding the R1 trigger will allow you to get a grip, but your strength will hold only for so long, meaning you might quickly find yourself falling down if you don’t find a place to relax your grip every once in a while.

Any time not spent battling the various colossi is time spent trying to find them. By following the glint of sunlight off your magic sword you can find the direction each beast is in. But while getting to each beast takes time, it’s never boring, as it gives you time to drink in the beautiful scenery and astounding graphics. Very few games would be brave enough to make you spend 10 minutes or more just riding across the countryside, but "Colossus" manages to pull it off.

Very few games would also seek to create such a deliberate feeling of melancholy. Sadness pervades the game, from the blue-green-brown color palette to the comatose princess to the defeat of each colossus.

You would think that wouldn’t be so; that overcoming each colossus would be an exhilarating experience. And it is, to a point.

When you’re in the midst of battle, holding on for dear life and the (very lovely) soundtrack is blaring, it’s an unparalleled thrill ride. But each victory has an undertone of pity; a mournful quality not just brought about by the change in music.

Think about it for a moment. Your motivation for defeating these beasts is, to a large extent, extremely selfish and more than a bit desperate. And even though these humongous monsters may be trying to squish you, there’s no question that you are the aggressor in these instances. The fact is, the death of each colossus feels like a loss, as though you were a big game hunter out to rid the world of blue whales.

Most video games wouldn’t try to evoke these sorts of thoughts and feelings. Most games wouldn’t have the chutzpah to reach higher and attempt to be more than mere product. That’s a shame for the industry overall, but good for us that there are games like "Colossus" that strive so high and succeed so admirably. A few moments with the game and you’ll come to the same conclusion I did: "Shadow of the Colossus" is one of the best games of the year.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2005


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home