lauantai 23. maaliskuuta 2013

REVIEW - Shadow of the Colossus | PS2 | 2005

GENRE(S): Action / Adventure
RELEASED: October 18, 2005
AVAILABLE ON: PS2, PS3 [Ico & Shadow of the Colossus Classics HD]
DEVELOPER(S): Team Ico, Bluepoint Games (PS3)
PUBLISHER(S): Sony Computer Entertainment

Shadow of the Colossus went into development in 2002 under the working title of Nico - "Next Ico" - and it was intended to be unleashed as a sequel to their still quite obscure debut, soon to be cult Ico. In time, Fumito Ueda made it clear that he didn't want to make sequels, so the game quickly began to take a whole different form from its "predecessor" - another just as minimalistic, but much more straightforward game with the simplest of goals. There's a whole new story that could easily be linked to that of Ico, but the connecting strands could be spotted by the players themselves - the development team didn't force any direct connections to their first-born. A small team of 35 people got Shadow of the Colossus on North American and Japanese shelves by the end of October 2005, and this time, they had both a critical and commercial success on their hands. Praised for its unique gameplay outline and awesome audiovisuals, Shadow of the Colossus is widely considered one of the best video games in the world. I liked it when it came out, but I didn't appreciate it, as ironic as it sounds. Let's see if time's been kind to my ability to judge... and of course, to the game.

Killer of giants

See that crap on his club? That's you.
Believing she was wrongfully accused and sacrificed, a young man named Wander brings the dead body of a girl named Mono to the Shrine of Worship. There, he makes contact with the entity Dormin, who is said to possess the power of resurrection. Dormin says that returning the girl's soul to her body is possible, but seeing that Wander is in possession of a powerful, ancient sword, he will only help if Wander sets out to slay the sixteen colossi that walk the land.

Previously on VGMania...

If you read the Ico review, let's save the recap and go straight to business. Since I talked a lot about Shadow of the Colossus in the last review, it's safe to think that this little speech is about Ico, but the truth is I never played Ico before the HD collection came along, despite all the praise and my sudden realization that the game had strong ties to Shadow of the Colossus. This is a story about that HD collection, and how it ended up in my hands.

So, I gave up my copy of the original Shadow of the Colossus, and as always, I've regretted parting with it - just as I regret parting with subpar games such as Castlevania: Lament of Innocence and Blood Omen 2. I'm a collector, and Shadow of the Colossus' packaging really wasn't from the most typical end of a standard commercial release - but that was pretty much the only reason for me to regret parting with it, for the longest time. Well, then I met a girl. We both have a strong passion for games, only she's a PC nerd and we still have arguments that are about PC vs. consoles. (Back in the day, those arguments ended a little bit differently, if you catch my drift.) If she liked a console game, it had to be GOOD. Better than GOOD, capitally AWESOME. She played some games that were exclusive to consoles with a bitter smile, but Shadow of the Colossus was a game she truly wanted me to have. She had a glint in her eye when she spoke of Shadow of the Colossus. When I told her that I actually used to have the game, but I gave it away, that glint turned into a blue flame. So, the next time we were at GameStop, she bought me the HD collection of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus for the full price of fifty. What's a man to do but to play the game?

Barf bags ready.
Well, I didn't play it. She took Shadow of the Colossus for an almost immediate spin, but we didn't stay together for all that long after that, and when we broke up, the collection ended up just another big ole' dust ball on the shelf, never to see the innards of the PS3 again... before the moment I got my third mail concerning Ico, as well as some newsletter that had information about Team Ico's latest eternity project, The Last Guardian (or "Ico 3", as some call it). "Hell or high water", I thought to myself, and finally, after all these years, played and finished Ico. The next logical step - from every possible angle - was to take on Shadow of the Colossus. It's been seven years... and Shadow of the Colossus still feels the same as ever. Unlike in the cases of Resident Evil 4 or God of War II, or [insert PS2 classic here], in the case of Shadow of the Colossus that's not an entirely good thing. Not from my perspective. Although I still like it, I still find it hard to appreciate it.

Shadow of the Colossus' original release nearly coincided with the launch of the Xbox 360, and the European release came out about a year before the expected halt in the production of PlayStation 2 games - which was quite damn far off, actually, as you all know. Anyway, Shadow of the Colossus was slated to be one of the last big games of the PS2, and with that in mind, the developers went all the way with how they originally envisioned the game: minimalistic design, epic proportions. Just like Ico. When the game starts, you surely won't expect to see one of the most visually stunning PS2 games, but when the first boss passes you by with his extremely heavy feet, the truth reveals itself. Team Ico went all in with the colossi. As a friend of mine would put it: this looked good on the PS2, but imagine playing the HD version on the PS3, in stereoscopic 3D, from a 48" screen. THAT'S something else, I hear. The variety in characters is still the very same - there are only three central characters, apart from the corpse that sets the whole plot in motion, and the voiceover work can't really be judged by one who doesn't understand a word they're saying. Which would be just about everyone, since even though the spoken language sounds like Japanese, it's entirely fictional. Like Icoish or something. The music is just outlandish - epic as hell. It might start to get on your nerves if you've been spending the last hour just trying to make it past your opponent's ass to his lower back, but that's a flaw we will discuss in another context.

I would definitely not like to see your momma.
If Ico had a simple concept, then Shadow of the Colossus is a whole new high - or low - on that front. You simply take down the sixteen colossi one by one. Nothing else. There's nothing else you need to do to finish the game. There are some collectables - all of which come with Trophies in the newer release - but they are not relevant. You start at the Shrine of Worship, where you are presented with the next task, meaning the next huge fucker you need to kill. Then you get on your horse, see how the sunlight reflects on your sword and use that sunlight to locate the colossus. In constantly increasing difficulty, you need to figure out how to slay the behemoth before your eyes - its vulnerable points, and the way to get to them. It starts out nice and easy - you don't have to do much else than climb the sumbitch from his feet up to his head and stab his brain, but later, challenge is thrown into the mix by ways of the introduction of different forms for the colossi, such as a bird and an earthworm. Sometimes you even need to figure out a way to get their attention, otherwise they're out of your reach - like whistle like you would call your horse, or if that's not enough, put an arrow between their eyes.

Back off, dude. I have a knife.
The concept sounds so simple and weird that you wouldn't believe just by reading that this game is truly considered one of the finest, most unique video games in history. I seriously don't understand why - as far as the concept goes, I agree: as weird as it sounds, it works. It would work even better with a faster tempo and better controls, though. Shadow of the Colossus is one of the most frustrating games of this basic caliber I know. I had fun with well over a half of it now that I finally got around to truly playing it instead of merely "testing" it, but I truly don't understand why people are so worked up about the game. I know the slow tempo of the game and Wander's overall clumsiness could - and probably should - be interpreted as a simulation of the futility of this David vs. Goliath round trip, but I'm the kind of gamer who takes it as just what it is. Frustrating drivel, which only gets more frustrating with each colossus. I seriously considered breaking the controller in half and wiping my ass on the game disc when I got to the tiny one who keeps ramming you all the time. Just getting on his back to have a small hope of killing him is a royal pain in the ass, since Wander's jumps are so out of control and the window to strike is so frustratingly small. The environment is so big, that missing just one jump - or grab, remember that you specifically have to grab ledges in this game - and having to backtrack to the beginning of the path is more frustrating than in any other game just about ever. Controlling your horse, Agro, is a neverending pain - double that if you have to use him in a boss battle. Climbing shit in general is unnecessarily hard at times - Wander just jerks off in place, no matter how hard you keep pushing. I could go on and on about the controls, and since this game was out in 2005, when the current standards were pretty much in check, age is no longer a valid excuse...

...But I digress, 'cause after you get over the controls, you'll find a pretty good game. I say pretty good in contrast to a million other gamers' "OMG SOTC!!!111", 'cause as satisfying as it can be to tread carefully from one hole in the Earth to another to see what lurks in it - and kill it (with fire?) - I still sincerely consider Shadow of the Colossus one of the most overrated games there ever was, and that over a half of its high level of challenge comes from lacking controls and Wander's artful incompetence. This game was not made to please everyone - even at the risk of being the only outcast who never saw the entire greatness of the game, I refuse to give it any charity.

+ The audiovisuals
+ The colossi
+ The unique concept and the surprising fact that it actually works

- Controls, both on foot and horseback
- The size of the environment can turn against you
- The slow tempo and the main character's "fascinating incompetence" ain't for everyone - including me

< 7.8 >

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