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An acquired taste

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By Alexander O. Cuaycong
and Anthony L. Cuaycong

TEAM ICO’S Shadow of the Colossus on the PlayStation 2 was nothing short of a grand spectacle. Originally released in Japan as Wander and the Colossus, the game was praised as being innovative, immersive, and exciting. Garnering critical acclaim and quickly becoming a fan favorite, it remains among the most beloved titles from the 128-bit era. Little wonder, then, that high-definition remakes were released in 2011 (as a bundle with spiritual successor Ico for the PS3) and earlier this month for the PS4.

Shadow of the Colossus has a simple premise. It has players guiding Wander, a brave and stalwart adventurer, on a journey to defeat colossi, towering giants impervious to most forms of damage. The only way for Wander to vanquish them is to hit them at their weak spots, first disabling them with arrows or sword strikes, and then climbing up their bodies to find key points on which to deal fatal blows. Once a colossus is brought down, Wander must then look for another. And so on.

Admittedly, there’s a plainness to the gameplay of Shadow of the Colossus that can’t be understated. The game revolves entirely around the idea of killing colossi and little else. There are no towns to visit, no traders to barter with, no dungeons to explore on the side. This is its entirety, and it hardly strays from what it has players set out to do.

On the other hand, there’s a striking appeal as to the way Shadow of the Colossus manages to execute its ideas flawlessly. Wander is easy to control, and is both athletic and responsive, able to latch on to walls and surfaces with surprising temerity, and even roll out of danger if needed. Colossi combat revolves around patience, with players needing to choose their spots and know when and where to strike. Normal attacks don’t hurt a colossus, and even when striking at weak spots in various parts of its anatomy, they must balance charging their strikes and holding on for when the colossus starts to groan and rumble in an effort to shake them off. (And if they’re up for a challenge, there’s a Time Attack mode that allows them to battle colossi under a time limit, with rewards in the form of items being given out once a certain number of colossi have been defeated.)

Parenthetically, Shadow of the Colossus offers a unique atmosphere. The story is told in vague and cryptic cutscenes, and the journey to each colossus changes by way of atmosphere and soundtrack. It allows players to bask in the loneliness of Wander’s journey, as well as marvel at the giant beasts he calls foes. These colossi aren’t just tall; they’re gigantic and dwarf him several times over. Gazing up in awe at what he has to slay is both humbling and empowering, especially as he begins to ascend the beast to seek its vulnerable spots.

To be sure, Shadow of the Colossus isn’t for everyone. For one thing, it’s a bit lacking in terms of content and variety. While the world is fairly open, the path to each colossus and how to beat it is rather linear. And while it’s easy to soak in the atmosphere and its almost oppressive nature, it also gives players an incentive to just meander about and enjoy how good everything looks, adding to the intrinsically slow pace. It’s a story-driven game that feels distant and cryptic, a linear experience with empty but open areas to explore, featuring boss hunts that, while exhilarating, can drag longer than necessary.

Certainly, Shadow of the Colossus deserves major props for being great at what it does and what it sets out to do. It’s beautiful and plays well. The remastered graphics on the PS4 are gorgeous and stunning, and it runs very smoothy and with no stutters, even when players customize the game with various filters to modify how it looks and feels. Nonetheless, it’s an acquired taste, offering players a strange, linear experience of adventure and excitement.

Taken as a whole, Shadow of the Colossus doesn’t hold back on its vision. It’s eminently enjoyable, but players should be aware of what they’re getting into lest they be fooled by its pretty appearance and large scope. And once it is accepted for what it is and isn’t, it proves its worth as a venerable title that, with help from technology, figures to stand the test of time.