If it sounds mechanical, then it is slightly. All the same, it’s impossible to describe how big a thrill it is to race up the gigantic beast, scramble for purchase as it desperately tries to throw you, then strike the killing blow. It’s unbelievable, and the sense of achievement when the big guy goes down is particularly satisfying.
But at the same time, you are effectively fighting a series of boss battles. And what do these boss battles have in common with most boss battles? If they’re not too easy, then they’re usually frustrating; a fact that isn’t helped by the fact that the initial stage – getting onto the colossus – frequently requires several tricky feats to be accomplished in a set order. To do this, then fall off the colossus and have to do it all over again isn’t always – sorry, guys – that much fun.
In fact, when falling off means you have to run or swim for about three minutes then go through the sequence, it’s even less fun. And that’s the real problem here – there were too many moments when playing Shadow of the Colossus where I stopped and thought “Am I really enjoying this?” and answered “Well, kind of.” When the colossus goes down, am I thinking “Hurrah, what a triumph” or “Hurrah, thank goodness that battle is over. I won’t have to go through that whole bloody rigmarole again.” When a game puts in boss battles to spice up the regular gameplay, that’s not a real issue. When a game IS the boss battles, it is.
And while I’m grumbling, the frame rate isn’t always perfect, there are some obvious signs of the textures swapping in, and the music – sweeping and magnificent as it is – has a horrible way of cutting out and restarting in the middle of the battle. This hardly spoilt the experience, but when we’re talking about a game that some believe is the greatest ever, it probably ought to be mentioned.
Still, remember how I said the backlash nearly starts here? Well, that “nearly” is really very important. While I can’t agree that this is one of the best games of any kind on any platform of all time ever, it is one I’m glad I’ve experienced, and one that I think you ought to too. In some ways, those who describe it as an ‘arthouse game’ couldn’t be more right – it isn’t flawless, it is demanding, it takes a lot out of you and there are times when it isn’t even that enjoyable, but Shadow of the Colossus has something that other games lack. While it hasn’t got Ico’s warmth or emotional power, it has magic, mythical force, and a unique, storytelling strength. You might not always love it, but there’s nothing mediocre or forgettable about it.
So, this isn’t a backlash, nor is Shadow of the Colossus a sacred cow that’s ready to be dragged off for slaughter. As long as you’re aware that it’s not perfect, and that it is going to be tough going at times, it’s a gaming experience to savour.
A demanding and even frustrating game, but one with a scale and majesty you can’t ignore. If you love games, it’s pretty much essential.