Important note number one: finding and killing the colossi is the be-all and end-all of the game. Important note number two: that really isn’t as much of an issue as it sounds.
Why? Firstly, because the land itself is one you’ll want to explore. It’s a world of lush, grassy plains, vast canyons, raw deserts, misty lakes and crystal rivers, with murky forests pierced by sunbeams and caves that open up to reveal a hidden waterfall tumbling from a sun-dappled lake. And this world is peppered with the strange ruins of a lost civilisation; tombs, towers, buildings, shrines. And, eerily – apart from your horse or the odd gliding hawk and creeping lizard – you’re the only living thing for miles around. Riding around on your beautifully animated, headstrong steed, you don’t really need any more reason to wander. What’s more, the lighting – like Ico’s before it – has a voluminous, physical quality that just makes you want to mouth “wow.” Like God of War, Burnout Revenge or Criterion’s upcoming Black, it proves the PS2 can still make your jaw slack with amazement.
But if you want to save the girl, you’re going to have to find the colossi. This isn’t always an easy business, particularly as your guiding light needs sunlight to work, but the wait is always worthwhile. Because, once the colossi are discovered and awakened, the game goes up a gear from just amazement to sheer, dumbstruck awe. These are enormous, monumental beings, part animal, part mineral, part monster. These walking marvels of an ancient world aren’t just impressive in terms of size, but also in the detail that has gone into their construction. As they stride, fly or swim towards your suddenly feeble-looking hero, huge stone ramparts protruding from a scaly back, patches of moss and thick fur on their front, it’s hard not to feel a shiver that’s equal parts terror and wonderment.
And it’s these battles that bring us to everything that is best about the game, but also everything that is worst. Each colossus has one or more weak points, usually on the head or in an inaccessible spot. As dispatching the colossus requires stabbing this weak point several times, your first job is to find some way of getting on – not an easy job when the thing is threatening to crush you, flying fifty feet above you, or swimming towards you with unseemly haste. In effect, this bit is a puzzle. How do you exploit the behaviour of the colossus or the features of the landscape so you can get a crack in at its ‘Achilles heel’? Work that out, and it’s on with part two: clambering up the colossus to deliver the blows. Luckily, by using the R1 button to grab, you can hold on to protrusions or furry surfaces – at least until your stamina wears out. Finally, you reach the target point, pull back your sword, and strike. Do this enough and the colossus dies, then it’s back to base and time for some cryptic clues on the next target.