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Shadow of the Colossus

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This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Shadow of the Colossus.

Transcript Edit

"Ooh, Yahtzee," moos the farmyard cattle, "we'd love to hear your opinion on StarCraft II." All right, then, you passive-aggressive future casseroles: in my considered opinion, StarCraft II can suck on a space tailpipe. I'm taking a holiday in my "No StarCraft II" clubhouse, and you're all invited to come up the rope ladder and join me.

I've got nothing against real-time strategy, except that everyone who plays them is obviously a massive coward, content to order soldiers to their deaths in fiery shootouts that are all taking place in the far end of a space telescope and therefore so is every country that likes StarCraft. That's right, Korea, I'm calling you out! But I had enough trouble commanding a cub scout troop, so strategy is a genre I've just never gotten into.

Sadly, it's August, and the release schedule has settled into its annual "tonguing the bottom of an empty KFC bargain bucket for nourishment" phase, so fuck it. I'm just going to clamp my hands over my ears and talk about a game I really like.

It seems like all my favourite games are on the PS2, but before that ugly black VCR starts getting too smug, the PS2 just had a massive game library because it had good third-party support, and for every killer7 and Silent Hill 2 there were fifty Red Factions and Onimushas and Silent Hill 4s. But if any company embodied the PS2 at its peak, it would be Team ICO.

Their first game, narcissistically entitled ICO, was a game that sounds fucking awful on paper: a platform puzzler that's spent protecting a princess who can't fight, jump, or walk and chew gum at the same time from continually respawning monsters apparently made from Vegemite. But it's tolerable because there's this very clear sense that the princess is part of something far bigger than is immediately apparent and, more importantly, keeps her mouth shut. Am I right, fellers? It's just a bit more sophisticated than the usual approach to romance in games, which is to say: "Here is your woman. You love her because: A) we say you do, B) she's the only thing in this plot with an X chromosome, and C) she's built like two shrink-wrapped bowling balls arguing over a sandwich."

Now in Shadow of the Colossus, the love interest spends the majority of the game flat on her back--seems Team ICO have a rather traditional view of gender roles. Suppose we should be thankful she wasn't wearing gingham and cooking us pancakes. But actually, her role is to just lie there driving the plot. You are a hot, young stud who has brought his questionably alive lady friend to a forbidden land in order to request that an imprisoned demon bring her back to life--because these arrangements always work out beautifully for all concerned.

The demon's terms are that you search the forbidden land for sixteen giant monsters and kill each and every one with a sword that, by rights, they would barely register as a splinter. And if you should happen to notice a mysterious black poison being released with each victory that slowly corrupts your body, then don't worry, that just means it's working! Or you could always just let it go, dig her a nice grave, and look into online dating, but no, giant monster black poison it is. This is what they call "true love," apparently, something I've always felt is virtually indistinguishable from brain damage.

Shadow of the Colossus is usually filed under "action-adventure" like everything else that's hard to classify, but really, it defies genre. The gameplay is divided between adventuring alone through the silent wilderness and the sixteen tussles with monsters so large you could hollow out their carcasses and repurpose them as low-income housing. In the former, everything's peaceful and contemplative, with no combat and no puzzling besides navigating the occasional mountain that sits obliviously between you and your destination like a fat guy in a cinema. And in the latter, everything's noisy and intense like you're playing Hungry Hungry Hippos backstage at a DragonForce gig. It creates an effective contrast, like riding a bike down a long and peaceful country road and every other hundred yards the bike turns into a bear.

Contrast is important! You quickly get sick of ice cream cake when it's the only thing you eat, and action games lose effectiveness when they're just a steady stream of nasties lining up for sucker punches. That's why Half-Life starts off with half an hour of listening to scientists complaining about the coffee before any monsters show up for a manaccino.

The monster fights themselves are equal parts boss fight and puzzle-platforming section, each of them utterly unique in their own way. But generally the first phase is to get onto their bodies and the second is to climb up their armpit hair to their weak spot and administer acupuncture while they try to shake you off like New Age dandruff. Leaping off a speeding horse onto a giant, low-flying snake thing and hauling yourself up to its face to stab it in the eye is a gameplay experience that clicking your space marines over to the Zerg stronghold can't really hope to match. And the dwindling grip gauge showing how much longer you can grip to the monster's thrashing beard adds another basting of adrenaline.

What I love about the colossi is that they actually feel colossal. They move ponderously around, sending out tremors with each step, their ancient husks richly detailed with dirt and plant life. They really do feel like something that has been sleeping in the ground for so long they've almost become part of the landscape, now rudely awoken and sleepily pawing at you like you're an unusually aggressive snooze button. You want to keep playing just to see what the next monster looks like, which few other games can claim: "Ooh, maybe the next enemy soldier will be wearing a slightly differently brown uniform! Oh shit!"

But as I keep saying, I've yet to play a perfect game, which would probably be a Prince of Persia sequel where the main character is a giant, disembodied breast. So Shadow of the Colossus has its gripes. One or two of the colossi phone it in a bit, especially the ones that are only about the size of a bull, which is disappointing when held against flying snakey speeding horsey leapy stabby wahey, like a gift box containing five thousand packing peanuts and a Kinder Suprise. And it can get very frustrating to fall off a monster's bald spot because your grip gauge ran out and have to start climbing all over again, the final boss being a particular hedgehog in my prostate for this reason. You can increase your grip gauge by shooting arrows into lizards in the overworld, which strikes me as incredibly arbitrary, like swatting a fly at work and getting inexplicably better at photocopying.

But these are the complaints of a tiny, irrelevant mouse clinging to the back of a roaring lion with a jetpack. There's nothing else like, and it's just damn good. Damn damn good good damn good damn damn. . .good.

AddendaEdit

His beard is made of grass and vines: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw

You know, 'Colossus of Roads' would be a pretty good name for a biker gang

Mmm I love the taste of horse


ScreenshotsEdit

Shadow of the Colossus 3

Gameplay is divided between adventuring alone through the silent wilderness and the sixteen tussles with monsters

Shadow of the Colossus 5

The monster fights themselves are equal parts boss fight and puzzle-platforming sections

Shadow of the Colossus 6

I've yet to play a perfect game

External LinksEdit

Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
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2008
Q1 Super Mario Galaxy · Silent Hill: Origins · Crysis · The Witcher · Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles · Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare · SimCity Societies · Yahtzee Goes to GDC · Uncharted: Drake's Fortune · Devil May Cry 4 · Burnout: Paradise · Turok · Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
Q2 Army of Two · No More Heroes · Condemned 2: Bloodshot · Super Smash Bros. Brawl · God of War: Chains of Olympus · Mailbag Showdown · Grand Theft Auto IV · Painkiller · The World Ends With You · The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion · Haze · Metal Gear Solid 4
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Q4 Mercenaries 2: World in Flames · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed · S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky · Silent Hill: Homecoming · Saints Row 2 · Dead Space · Fable II · Fallout 3 · Guitar Hero: World Tour · Mirror's Edge · Left 4 Dead · Sonic Unleashed · The Year in Review - 2008 · Prince of Persia
2009
Q1 Awards for 2008 · Tomb Raider: Underworld · Far Cry 2 · Gears of War 2 · LittleBigPlanet · Thief: The Dark Project · Skate 2 · F.E.A.R. 2 · Spider-Man: Web of Shadows · The House of the Dead: Overkill · 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand · Resident Evil 5
Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
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Q4 Scribblenauts · Wet · Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story · Brutal Legend · Washington D.C. · Uncharted 2: Among Thieves · Dragon Age: Origins · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 · Assassin's Creed 2 · Left 4 Dead 2 & New Super Mario Bros. Wii · Demon's Souls · Holiday 2009 · The Saboteur
2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2017
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5 · Remastered Editions · Outlast 2 · Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 · Prey · Wilson's Heart

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