Shadow of the Colossus (2018) Review

TL; DR(eview) - Bluepoint Games has recreated the definitive version of the Team Ico classic, bringing a full redesign of the game, rather than a simpler port with mildly better resolution. But a frustrating control scheme and ragdoll physics keep this good game from greatness in my eyes.

I missed Shadow of the Colossus when it originally launched on the PlayStation 2. After it became one of those games everyone tells you that you have to play, I picked up the PlayStation 3 remaster of the game. I made it through about 75% of the game (the 12th colossus according to my trophies) but nothing really stood out for me. Had the game been hyped up too much? Was it too much a product of its time (especially with how the game and camera controlled)? Whatever the case was, something else came along and I never went back to it. And after hating my time with The Last Guardian and even a demo of the new Shadow of the Colossus at the PlayStation Experience, I was fairly certain I’d be skipping the game.

But I fell victim to the fear that I’ve been missing out on something all these years and decided to pick the game up as a palette cleanser of sorts after Celeste. I finally beat it after all these years and my major takeaway is this: I like the idea of Shadow of the Colossus infinitely more than the execution.

For those unfamiliar, Shadow of the Colossus has you in control of a young warrior who has brought a young woman into cursed lands to perform a ritual and bring her back to life. The ritual in question requires him to travel about the cursed lands and strike down a series of colossi. Each colossus is unique and requires a different strategy to tackle. They pretty much all require you to climb the beast and repeatedly strike it in a glowing weak spot until dead but the methods for reaching or uncovering these weak points vary from beast to beast, turning each encounter into a puzzle in need of solving.

You’ll encounter the colossi in a variety of environments around the beautiful, lush open world that has been expertly recreated and modernized by the team at Bluepoint Games. Vast deserts, vibrant forests, expansive lakes, and cavernous temples make each arena feel fresh. But even a graphical overhaul doesn’t stop the rest of the world in between these milestones feel empty. There are the occasional cookie cutter prayer shrines and fruit trees scattered about with available power-ups to your stamina and health, respectively, but for the most part, traveling across the world is an exercise in patience as you try to keep the horse/camera combination in control, which brings me to the heart of my issue with Shadow of the Colossus…

Controlling this character on his journey detracts from the enjoyment of the experience. Much like in The Last Guardian, the off-kilter physics and control scheme meant that I found myself struggling more against the game itself than I did against the colossi. There are few things that will get me frustrated in a game quicker than when I have identified the solution to a puzzle but can’t execute it because of poor controls. I’m not fighting against a massive colossus in those moments. I’m fighting against the handful of developers that coded the game that way. Time and time again in Shadow of the Colossus, I had a nice little “oh that’s what I need to do” moment that was almost always undercut by being unable to do so the first few attempts because of the camera going askew or the ragdoll physics, or unresponsive directional changes while climbing. It even undercuts the emotional connection to the game’s only companion: your horse Agro. When I’ve already spent multiple encounters unloading arrows onto the horse myself, frustrated that he wasn’t going where I wanted him too, scripted moments where he is endangered leave me muttering “good” instead of the sadness the scene should invoke.

Overall, I think Shadow of the Colossus is a good game, kept from greatness by its often infuriating physics and controls. The world Bluepoint Games has recreated is certainly one of incredible beauty based off of Team Ico’s original but it also brings the original’s problems to the new generation.