You know that game that you pre-ordered eight months ago in the hopes that you will get one of the first copies in what will prove to be the always sold-out "it" game of the year? It is the one where the mutated alien zombies kidnapped the princess leaving it up to you to massacre your way through them while collecting the mysteriously appearing coins which are used for the weapon and armor upgrades, purchased in the villages full of aimlessly wandering villagers, that you need in order to fight the over-sized and anonymously evil final boss who is set on world domination and who lives in, on, or near a volcano. *Deep inhale* Ya know which one I am talking about? Final Fant...Hal...Resident Ev....The Legend of Zel...well you get the idea.
Don't get me wrong. These are all good games in their own right, but they are pretty much the same game with different graphics. Luckily, director, game designer and art director Fumito Ueda and producer Kenji Kaido, along with the rest of the development team behind ICO, have broken the mold and released, exclusively for the Playstation 2, what has become the single most original and awe-inspiring gaming experience of my life, Shadow of the Colossus.
In Shadow, you play a nameless hero on horseback who, in the opening sequence, takes the lifeless body of a nameless girl and places it on an alter in a temple to which he has been journeying. You are then informed that in order to bring her back to life, you must destroy sixteen idols that line the temple's walls. To destroy an idol, you must kill the colossus which is represented by each of the idols. This admittedly does not sound much different than any other plot to an action/adventure or RPG. The plot is, however, much more involved and cryptic than it first appears.
The actual gameplay is quite different than the average game as well. Unlike other games (The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, Halo, etc.) where the player is to run thru an area hacking or blasting away at throngs of enemies in an attempt at leveling up, Shadow has no leveling up other than a few increases to the health meter and strength meter. Also, Shadow of the Colossus has no field enemies. None. Nada. Instead of the standard "fight, fight, fight, mini-boss, fight, fight, fight, dungeon boss" layout of gameplay, it is simply "boss, boss, boss, boss, boss." They've cutout the middle man or men or demons or skeletons or rabid animals or whatever other games throw in to pointlessly slaughter. This did, at first, seem a bit odd to me mainly because I kept expecting something to be lurking in the bushes to pounce at any given moment. Shadow's focus is on the task at hand. That task being to kill the colossi and restore the girl's life.
Do not let the lack of filler enemies fool you. Some of the colossi are difficult to find in the huge landscape (I could write another few pages on the games beauty alone) that is yours to explore. You are equipped with a sword that, when held up to the sunlight, shines a beam in the direction of your next foe. Sometimes however, this can be misleading as you'll find that you have gone around the wrong side of a mountain and gotten lost in a forest trying to follow the light. Other times, you'll find yourself in a valley where the sun's light does not reach, and you are stuck having to explore the area in an attempt at tracking down your next victim. As soon as you start thinking to yourself, "Well, this can't be the right way," a 250 foot tall creature will slowly stride past bringing about a whole new set of obstacles. Each of the sixteen colossi is a puzzle in and of itself, and each one must be killed by hitting a series of "pressure points". Unlike other games where you can simply whip out a missile launcher from a ridiculously over-sized arsenal and blast your foe or pull out an obscenely over-sized and ornate sword and start thrashing at it without any strategy, in Shadow you are equipped only with a sword, a bow with unlimited arrows, and your horse Agro. Of these, only the sword does any damage to the colossi. Since most colossi have their main weak point located high on their torso, you'll have to climb them to make the kill, all while clinging on for dear life. Many of the battles take over of an hour to complete and will have you so drawn into the action, that when you finally do defeat the colossi, you find yourself out of breath and with a sense of achievement.
The only negative things I can say about the game are of its length, the control of the horse, and the camera. This game was a little too short at about thirteen hours for my taste. There are features that are unlocked by playing through multiple times, and you'll want to play this one again and again. Agro takes a little getting used to. I walked everywhere when I began the game after attempting to control him. Once you get a feel for him, it is not as difficult but still not perfect. The major flaw in Shadow is with the camera. Every single place that I've read about this game has mentioned the camera. It is not always horrible, but it seems to be the worst when you are in crucial moments during a battle. Another reviewer described it as a conspirator against him. It is a pretty major flaw, but not so much of one that it should keep every single person who owns a PS2 from dropping whatever they are doing and going out to buy the game immediately. I could, obviously, go on about this game forever, but it is just one of those things that everyone should experience on their own.
Dude, it's just awesome!