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21 in ’21: Shadow of the Colossus Was a Colossal Disappointment for Me

Due to the world shutting down, last year I played and finished 15 games, more than I ever have in a single year! This year, I'm trying to top my record by doing 21 in '21. I'll be posting some thoughts on games that are a part of this journey here 🙂

Shadow of the Colossus

Shadow of the Colossus is a gorgeous, exciting, atmospheric mess.

I never played the PlayStation 2 original, but Bluepoint's PS4 remake, in my opinion, misses the point of a remake. The visuals have of course been overhauled, but some of the mechanics, and especially the controls, needed to be updated along with the graphics. Shadow of the Colossus feels rough and unrefined, and while that may be part of the charm for some, particularly those that enjoyed the original, I think that's a problem in 2021 (or 2018, when the remake originally released).

In Shadow of the Colossus, you travel across a desolate landscape with the goal of killing 16 large beasts, or Colossi. The game loop consists of tracking down a Colossi using your magic sword compass, and then figuring out how best to kill it; sometimes that means climbing it and hacking away with your sword, while other times you might need to use the environment to your advantage, or even use a bow while riding your horse.

A major issue for me was the controls; in the days of the PS2, developers were still figuring out how to make 3D work; some bad decisions are excusable, because there wasn't always a template for what control schemes worked or didn't. Not so, today. There's no reason I should have to hold triangle to move my horse forward, while still needing access to the right thumbstick. Cameras have also come a long way since 2005, and Shadow of the Colossus has the most frustrating camera I've dealt with in a modern game. The game constantly tries to frame things cinematically, which looks great and all but has a nasty habit of keeping me from seeing what I need to see… such as the thirty foot monstrosity trying to kill me. Even more unforgiveable is that you can move the camera, but as soon as you release the stick, it swings back to where it was before.

This back and forth with the camera, while fighting with the clunky controls, means that most of the traversal just isn't fun, and it had me wishing for a more streamlined experience. Beyond that, there's just a lack of polish that leads to many frustrating situations, such as being knocked over, and then knocked over again as soon as you get up, until you die. When a Colossus kills you, you can restart the battle; but if the game crashes and you have to reload (which only happened once in my experience), you're sent back to the "hub" area and forced to redo the "hunting" step, which can mean repeating 10 or more minutes of horseback travel and clunky platforming.

As critical as I'm being of the game, I don't regret playing it. I think that the core concept is brilliant, and most of the battles with the Colossi are thrilling, scary, and emotional. There's great satisfaction to be found in these fights, as you solve the puzzle and figure out how to reach your foe's weak point. I was invested in the story and characters, including the stupid horse that I grew to like despite how much I hated actually controlling. The environments are incredible, as is the music. Shadow of the Colossus is truly a beautiful and unique game that is worth playing. I just wish I had actually enjoyed it more after hearing it talked up so much over the years.

The 2005 original was limited based on the hardware available to the developers, whereas 2018's remake is limited not due to the hardware or a weak concept, but due to a seeming need to conform to the original's feel. For some games, that would be admirable; but I think those games had a solid, polished foundation and likely only needed a graphical update. I wish Bluepoint would have put their own spin on it and made it into a more modern, polished game that respected what the original did without accepting its problems as a necessary part of the experience.

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