"Would sir like boss battles with his hordes?", "Actually, could I just have the boss battles?"

July 18, 2008 § 1 Comment

In resent years the Japanese game development community has suffered a lot of criticism for a lack of innovation in next gen titles. Lost Odyssey, Devil May Cry 4, Gran Turismo: Prologue, all great games in their own right, but for the most part they’re treading on a well worn path, taking the safe route if you will, with a formula that’s proven to be popular. That’s not to say Japanese game development is stale, it isn’t by any means, but these developers tend to make a habit of reusing old ideas, adding a lick of HD paint and shoving them out the door.

Part of that was what made Shadow of the Colossus so amazing to me. Granted it wasn’t unexpected – this is Team Ico, the people behind the magnificent Ico from way back when the Playstation 2 was knee-high to a grasshopper. It was a given that this game, when released, would be a good game, what was unexpected though, is just how great a work of art it was.

For those unfamiliar with Shadow of the Colossus, it tells the story of a young man named Wander who takes a woman named Mono to a temple to resurrect her. All we know about her is that she was sacrificed for “cursing destiny.” She may be Wander’s lover, sister, or just a good friend, this is left entirely up to the players own interpretation. What you do know for certain however, is that you must destroy sixteen colossi in order to use a “forbidden” spell to resurrect Mono.

Looking at the game from a gameplay focused point of view Shadow of the Colossus is a truly innovative game. Each of the colossi have weak points which need to be stabbed in order to kill them. The challenge is getting to these weak points. On a very basic colossus you may be forced to simply grab a passing leg and slowly traverse your way up to the glowing weak point, but on harder bosses this tactic is made ineffective by stone armour the colossi wear, which unlike hair you cannot climb up. This transforms the game into more of a puzzle game, forcing you to think logically about how you’re going to get to your target. One example of an early boss is a bipedal colossus with a beard. In order to reach his head you need to hide underneath some form of cover and then grab his beard when he bends down to look for you. Working out these little puzzles really add to your sense of accomplishment, when you feel as though you haven’t just had to get from point A to point B.

If we take a step closer and examine the technical aspects of this game we once again see the most incredible design in a PS2 game. The forbidden land the game takes place in is as vast and detailed as any city from Grand Theft Auto, but it manages to feel empty at the same time. whilst still interesting. Wander animates as you’d imagine a real person would, his body language emanates fear, and when he’s being being thrown around whilst holding onto a colossus’ fur, you really fear that he might fall to his death at any moment.

Take a step back however and you’ll see a game which has the most subtle and yet most emotional plot you’ll ever encounter. There are no cutscenes to illustrate Wander’s love for Mono, but throughout the entire game you just know he’s on a selfless quest to save her, with no regard for his own safety. Ultimately the game is as close as interactive entertainment’s ever come to an epic love story, and it does it in a way which any gamer can appreciate. The star of the game however, is not Wander or Mono, but the colossi themselves. Throughout the game you often run into colossi who appear to have no interest in destroying you until you provoke them. Then, when you manage to finally get to their weak point and start stabbing away the colossi writhe and shriek in agony, in a way which makes you empathize completely with them, forgetting that they’re hunkering stone giants.

Like any game Shadow of the Colossus isn’t perfect. The camera can sometimes get overwhelmed by the frantic action on screen, and whilst Agro the horse is an amazing sidekick, using him in battle is more cumbersome than it should be, but then if you’re looking at Shadow of a Colossus from a pure gamers perspective you’re kind of missing the point. It is a classic in the eyes of anyone who has ever laid eyes on it, and if you haven’t experienced this game yet then you’re missing out on one of the best games ever released for PS2.

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§ One Response to "Would sir like boss battles with his hordes?", "Actually, could I just have the boss battles?"

  • SparkiJ says:

    I have a question about wander..Does he talk during cutscenes and what do cutscenes consists of? I think the fact that you said no cutscenes are shown to represent his love for Mono is quite effective also the fact that she could be a lover to just someone on the street he wants to help. A really good example of messages being brought across in a “less is more” kind of way. Thank you for bringing those points up :D.

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