It’s a rare game that can pull off making a vast, barren, empty landscape as interesting and as poetic as Shadow of the Colossus does.
In this game, you travel around that landscape, slaying sixteen colossi—giant beasts of all kinds, including flying, swimming, towering, battering, and more—in search of a way to save your companion, and perhaps yourself.
To get it out of the way, my main gripe with the entire game is the controls that sometimes feel directly inherited from the PS2 era. Although this is a remaster, the controls seem untouched. Sometimes your horse will stop running for seemingly no reason. Jumping around on frantically swaying colossi is sometimes difficult not because of the colossi, but because of the controls, which is far more frustrating.
Other than that, every moment of this game is beautiful, engrossing, and worth thinking more about. Originally, 48 colossi were planned but I think that probably would have been too much. As is, each of the sixteen is different enough to be interesting, while maintaining enough of the same mechanics to be approachable.
The original definitely has visual charm, but the remaster shows us a world as beautiful as I had always imagined it to be. Grass swaying in the wind, just enough life to not be a massive empty rock, ocean in the distance, forests dappled with sunlight. There’s a lot to look at.
The music that plays when you defeat a colossus is sweeping, sad, and weirdly poignant. You’re not meant to feel happy that you’ve just annihilated another majestic beast. But your drive to save your companion, as laid out at the outset of the game, keeps you moving forwards.
The colossi really do feel huge. There’s enough space in between each (with a clever “where the reflection of the light off your sword converges” compass system, instead of a boring map) to let each battle really stand on its own. They’re difficult, but not overwhelming.
If you really strip it down, this game is merely riding your horse and fighting another colossus, sixteen times over. In fact there’s barely anything added on top of that premise. However, it’s done in such an intriguing way that the game feels incredibly full—its ending almost philosophical, its gameplay all building to a final interesting-yet-understandable finish. This is a phenomenal game.
You enjoy vast, sweeping landscapes, interesting boss battles, minimalism done right, or merely want to experience one of the best games of all time.