Ico and Shadow of the Colossus Collection (Part 2: Shadow of the Colossus) Review

-Nøél Villa

Shadow of the Colossus, known in Japan as Wanda to Kyozou (Wander and the Colossus), released 2005 for the PS2 and 2011 for the PS3 port, is considered to be both the spiritual successor and prequel to Team ICO’s debut game, Ico.

Though I begin this review by placing doubt on the term “spiritual successor”, the original meaning having been lost through history. To succeed something means to take the place of that thing, and to subsist independently of it, which is why gaming companies that were limited in the production of direct sequels because of legal issues chose to create thematically similar games instead. The thing is, Team ICO describes Shadow of the Colossus as both a spiritual successor and a prequel, which causes me to doubt the self-glorification of their own franchise by creating something that can stand on its own, but is also further enriched by the experience of the previous game, Ico. It’s like saying you were inspired to create a sequel because of your own writing. And besides, Ico and Shadow of the Colossus are two completely different games. The first is a Zelda game with traditional puzzle-room and hack-and-slash elements, and the other one blends puzzle with action, platforming, and sandbox elements.

Story: The game takes place at an unknown time before the events of Ico. Wander enters the Forbidden Land astride his trusty steed, Agro, in hopes of reviving the deceased Mono he brings. No details are given as to wherever he came from, what position he held, what his relation was with Mono, and how he stole the ancient magical sword, and the only things we know for certain are revealed to us by Dormin, a disembodied magical being that was sealed in the Forbidden Land. Wander must now slay the sixteen divisions of Dormin, sixteen colossi that once defeated, hold the key to Mono’s revival.

Just like Ico, the story is pretty simple. But isn’t it usually the simple yet poignant stories that manage to strike a chord? The ending of the game left me with several conflicting emotions but all in all, it could be described as a cathartic experience that I wish never happened, but was bound to happen anyway.

Gameplay: So you have two weapons: A sword with which you use to stab colossi with, and a bow, which is really an optional use, since you can’t use it to kill the colossi, but you can use it to draw their attention.

Obviously, the colossi are huge. This isn’t your typical action adventure game, though. The brilliant thing about this game is that it blends several genres together, but the core aspect of the game lies in the colossi themselves. They bodies of those huge giants are puzzles, and they’re the sort of puzzles that necessitate experimentation and finding out how to draw out their weak spot. Each colossi has grass-like fur on their bodies, which you can grab on to and climb your way up their bodies. But you get to those sweet spots, you must first find out how to get their attention so they can come at you, lose their attention so you can sneak up from behind, and various other methods that test your swiftness of adaptation on the field.

Wander has a stamina bar, which limits his holding onto things. As you kill colossi, your stamina bar increases, but at the cost of your own body. Of course, revival of the dead doesn’t come without a price. After each colossus, Wander loses the color from his hair and skin, veins start popping out, and his eyes turn dark, and by the end of the game? You’ll have to play to find out. Ohoho.

Presentation: The way the game prioritizes silence and adventure during your times away from Colossi makes you want to spend lots of time doing nothing. Your forced companionship with Agro becomes a necessity as you learn that you need him to traverse swiftly through the landscape, to help with fighting colossi, and to simply look stylish as you surf on horseback like a boss. Never has forced companionship in anything other than a Team ICO game been so emotionally binding and rewarding. Because you learn to depend on Agro throughout the whole story, the part where he  falls from a bridge to save you left me lost and empty, just like my wallet.

Every aspect of the game is cinematic. With a masterful soundtrack composed by Kow Otani and a variety of BGMs to match the temperaments of the different colossi, every colossus encounter becomes a struggle against something completely out of Wander’s control. Calm music plays during the cutscenes, when you’re away from the colossi, and no music at all when you’re there on the badlands on your own, on the frontiers of an adventure where there is no rush. The music, the minimal dialogue, and the cinematic camera effects perfectly set the mood for an epic adventure in an unknown fantasy land.

Conclusion: I wouldn’t call either Ico or Shadow of the Colossus an art game. Perhaps it may deserve that title because of the excellent yet minimal storytelling, the innovative gameplay, stunning visuals (for a PS2 original), immersive world, alluring characters (Best supporting character: Agro), and magnificent soundtrack, but there is just so much an art game can be without sounding lofty and pretentious, like most indie/art games are, anyway. But it is certainly a gaming experience that the world needs more of, and it’s the type of game I’d play over and over again just to do nothing. It’s mystifying to imagine what kind of civilization had lived long before the Forbidden Land was destroyed and deserted—what kind of communities lived outside the walls of this land—how it would be like to live amongst them.

So buy the collection. It’s worth it, I swear.

Verdict: 99%

Shadow of the Colossus HD exclusively for PS3 trailer

How do you feel about this collection?