Wednesday, August 02, 2000

Shadow of the Colossus 9.0

Shadow of the Colossus is one of those all-too-rare titles that defies easy description and doesn't really fit comfortably into any existing genre. Is it an action game? Yes. Adventure? Sure. Puzzle? Yep. Platformer? Yeah. It even has slight horror elements.

On the surface, Shadow sounds simple: search for the colossus, find its weak spot, and stab it. Sounds easy enough, but that's like saying that To Kill a Mockingbird is a legal drama, or Platoon is about the Vietnam War - it's not the whole story. Even Shadow's story - boy wants to save girl - slowly reveals itself to be something much more complex and mysterious.

Where Shadow excels is in its design. Finding each colossus requires travel through a landscape that can only be described as dreamlike, yet it feels real. You'll seamlessly travel from a cliff overlooking a river to a thick forest, and then you could find yourself in the middle of a desert or at the edge of a lake. Since the land is so vast (and, besides the colossi, relatively uninhabited), you travel by horseback, courtesy of Agro, perhaps the best-animated animal character ever seen in a game. Controlling Agro is initially complex, yet intuitive, and thankfully his A.I. is sophisticated enough to keep you from riding him off the edge of a mountain. You're armed with only a sword and bow (with unlimited arrows), and there's no way to upgrade your weaponry. The real upgrade lies in the learned experience of defeating each of the colossi hidden in the valleys and mountains.

Each colossus is haunting, fantastic, ominous, and awe-inspiring, and there's even a slight sense of innocence. I won't go into specifics because the sense of wonder and discovery is vital to the gameplay, but if you avoid walkthroughs and spoilers (and you certainly should) you will constantly be surprised at each one. Defeating them requires careful thinking, experimentation, and trial-and-error, and there's not always one way to achieve victory. Just as the brilliant bosses of the Gamecube's two Metroid Prime games demanded quick thumbs and quick wits, the colossi are masterfully imagined, rendered, and designed, and get more complex as you progress. They had to be, as the game is basically sixteen boss battles. Still, there's nothing like the rush of finally discovering the key to each beast, but that's only part of the battle, as you then have to put your plan into action. Simply put, the colossi are some of the most cinematic and exhilirating experiences in gaming, and each one is unique and memorable.

If you have a PS2 and want something challenging, beautiful, and unlike anything else you've played before, Shadow of the Colossus is an absolute must. It's an instant candidate for Game of the Year, and should at the very least get recognition for its design. Games like this don't come along often - enjoy it.

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