Shadow of the Colossus a game I eagerly anticipated playing from the moment it was first announced. Yet I sit here having just given up in frustration near the end. You might feel differently, though, and that’s why I’ll talk about my experience with the indirect sequel to the masterful ICO.
In true minimalist fashion, the game begins with nearly no exposition. The protagonist rides through a barren and somehow ethereal landscape on the way to a massive temple. Once there, he places a dead woman on an altar. Before long, a disembodied voice asks him why he has come to this forbidden land. “I was told that in this place at the end of the world–there exists a being who can control the souls of the dead,” replies the Wanderer.
Eventually, our hero/anti-hero is charged to go out and slay sixteen mythical beasts so that his lover can be revived. Armed with only a sword and bow, he rides out on his trusty steed to do battle. But his sword is no ordinary blade; instead, it carries an enchantment that, when held up to the light, creates a beam that points in the direction of his next foe. All that awaits you along the way is desolation and the sound of the wind. Traveling is a lonely ordeal, affecting a strange emotion somewhere between wonder and despair.
Once you do encounter your quarry, however, everything changes. A sweeping, orchestral score (hands down one of the best game soundtracks ever created) kicks in as you sally forth to combat a behemoth. The earth shakes; your horse panics. Obviously, strength of arms alone won’t win the day–you’ll need to use your wits to succeed. The Colossus pictured above swings at you with such force that his pillar becomes lodged in the ground for a moment, giving you ample time to scramble up the creature’s arm, clinging to fur for dear life. In essence, the bosses themselves constitute the “levels” of traditional games, as you search for the multiple glowing blue symbols that prove to be your enemy’s weak points. I must admit that seeing the dumbfounded and innocent look in the eyes of the noble Colossi as they fell lifeless to the ground made me feel tremendously guilty for my actions.
Sadly, due to some troublesome camera and control issues, I ominously gave up on the thirteenth encounter, a massive flying sand serpent. One blow away from victory, I found myself unable to mount the beast again for the finishing strike. Frustration can cripple you in skill-based games, making you impatient and thus doomed to fail again and again.
Despite this, Shadow of the Colossus is the most compelling example that games can indeed exist as art. Play, and you may find your perspectives changed as mine have been.