I'm going to be frank- when I first started Shadow of the Colossus, I hated it. I hated how the character, Wander, was so very awkward as opposed to the normal badass I'm used to controlling in a videogame. I hated how the controls felt needlessly unconventional. I hated the horse, Agro, because he was so stubborn and hard to control.
But then, something changed. I started to appreciate how Wander was so different and felt more...real. I started to appreciate that the strange controls only added to that feeling of awkwardly trying to find a way to fell a massive beast hundreds of times my size. I still hate that goddamn horse though, but I'll get to him later.
In most games, you fight hordes of mindless drones, maybe a sub-boss or two, then take on the main attraction, the big boss. And when you're done, you move on, no big deal- you've slain plenty of baddies before, so why should he be any different? In Shadow, that doesn't really apply, and thank God for that.
At first, I was pretty skeptical at how it all would work. I mean, 16 boss fights and no grunt enemies? Didn't really make a lot of sense to me. But, as with a lot of Shadow's unique qualities, they take some time to fully appreciate. Each boss fight felt absolutely creative and epic. You're just a scrawny teenager facing off against a huge and daunting creature, and you actually win. It's a feeling of accomplishment that is severely lacking in most games- when you finally fell a Colossus...it's a rush. It's one of the few moments where a videogame has made me feel literally proud of something I've done, something I've accomplished.
But Shadow did something else as well: It made me feel guilty. Some of the Colossi will just outright attack you the moment they lay eyes on you, and I took an admittedly morbid pleasure in slaying those few. But some of the Colossi ignore you until you attack them. Some of the Colossi refuse to attack you, even when you're stabbing them to death. They'll cry out in pain, writhing around, trying with all their might just to save themselves from this little parasite that's killing them.
And that's what you are to them- a mere parasite. Imagine if you saw an ant crawling on your toe. Do you honestly consider it to be any sort of threat? Of course not. But what if that ant just kept crawling? Soon it's on your leg, now your back, and now it's on the back of your neck at your brain stem. Now it bit you, and you're in searing pain, trying in vain to shake and claw and do whatever it takes to get that ant the fuck off of you. That's what the Colossi are going through.
One of the best moments I've ever had in gaming to date actually came from Shadow of the Colossus for that specific reason: One of the Colossi has you dangling from his hand, examining you as though you were a fairly amusing insect. It's just an utterly captivating moment. And the game's story, while minimalistic, is actually pretty moving, something rare in videogames. Without giving too much away, I've never been a big fan of happy endings where everything just conveniently all works out in the end, so I loved this one.
It'd be a crime not to at least mention some of the sweeping and powerful melodies that play as you deal with each Colossi. To be perfectly honest, they made me feel like a hero- here I am, hanging on for dear life on top of a beast hundreds of feet tall, stabbing it in the head with a shining sword, trumpets blaring and drums pounding. It's truly amazing. I'm proud to say that I own that soundtrack. And the land, characters, and environment all share a gorgeous art style that really accentuates those feelings I just mentioned.
But let's go over some of the negatives now. Yeah, those graphics I just talked about? The PS2...has a bit of a hard time keeping up. The frame rate suffers, though never enough to significantly affect your enjoyment, but you will notice it at the very least. And the limitations of your character? Yeah, those can get a little annoying at times. Also, one Colossi is like a bull and just a really poorly designed fight- I got knocked down almost immediately, then the moment I got up... BOOM! Knocked down again. Rinse and repeat for about half an hour. Yeah, not fun. (The two bull Colossi in the game were the ones I took morbid pleasure in killing, by the way.)
Finally, Agro, the horse, is just DUMB. I get that it's supposed to be more realistic that he doesn't come to you all the time because that's apparently what real horses do, but dammit! This is supposed to be a game first and a horse simulator never. So out in the field when we're just chilling, that's fine, I don't really mind. But when I'm about to become nothing more than a small splat on the bottom of a Colossus' fat foot? Not so fine. And the last thing I feel it's necessary to mention about Agro is that he tends to pull one way or another, guiding himself (like a real horse would I guess), which is actually great on narrow, windy bridges because you don't have to steer him at all, but going through areas full of trees is a different story- the idiot heads straight for a tree, rears back and turns around, so I'll try to take over, but with him pulling every which way, I'm still going to end up with nostrils full of bark.
All in all, Shadow of the Colossus is a fantastic and moving game that is one of the rare few to give you a sense of accomplishment and question your actions.