Could this be the most beautiful game in the world?
A few years ago Sony Entertainment Europe produced Ico a game that was unlike any other on the market at that time. It was a game about a little boy who was trying to rescue a young girl from a castle. There is nothing different about that you may think, there are numerous games with a similar plot, but Ico was different. For a start the control system was so simple, there were no complicated button bashing or combination spins, there were two basic moves jump and attack. There was no multitude of weapons, potions or allies that that you could call on for help, just a little boy with a wooden sword. And there were no increasingly difficult enemies to overpower or big bosses to defeat. The only enemies in Ico were shadow creatures, seemingly made out of smoke. As Ico solved puzzles and guided the girl by the hand around the castle these "shadow creatures" would emerge from black puddles in the ground try to steal her away. They would grab her and try to take her down to the underworld with them through the black puddles and Ico had to defend her with his wooden sword, if the girl disappeared into their world - game over! There was hardly any dialogue, and what there was you couldn't understand, and no accompanying mood enhancing music either. Sounds pretty boring? Well what made the game different was the environment and the atmosphere that the game created. It was absolutely breathtaking. The attention to detail of each new location, every blade of grass every brick was something to savour. In one location there is a windmill that has to be negotiated to get to higher ground. Around the bottom of this windmill is a pool, it looks so real that it makes you want to get in and get wet. The only sounds that you hear are the wind and maybe the occasional bird call, this makes the game extremely eerie and atmospheric. The game was not widely promoted and initially sales were low, however the gaming industry loved it and it was acclaimed as the most beautiful game ever produced, the game soon had a cult following.
Now several years later and Sony have released another game in the same genre, Shadow of the Colossus. Now whether this game follows on from Ico is not clear as the plot is not really an issue in either game, (personally I think that it is a follow on, but what do I know). Anyway the intro cut scene shows a young man on a horse travelling miles across country until he comes to a bridge which spans a huge chasm that leads to a temple. When he enters there is a spiral path that leads to the bottom, the boy rides the horse down. At the bottom the young man (you are never told his name) gets off his horse and reveals that the horse has also been carrying the body of a young girl draped across the saddle. The boy picks up the girl and places her on what appears to be an alter. A voice from the gods then booms down and tells the boy that if he wants to resurrect the girl he must defeat the creatures known as the colossus, as these creatures hold a power capable of bringing the dead back to life. This is where you take over.
Once again the concept of the game is simple, still no complicated moves, and no allies to call on, this time however you do have two weapons to chose from, a sword and a bow, and you do have a companion in the horse, and trust me you will need him as the area the game spans is immense and travelling is an important part of the game. There are sixteen colossi to defeat each one harder than the last and with different characteristics. The voice in the temple will give you a clue to where you may find the first of these creatures that are the size of mountains and made from stone. However these clues are a little ambiguous to say the least. However your sword will point you in the right direction, once outside in the sunshine, press the circle button and the young man will raise his sword, the sunlight bounces off the blade and shoots rays of light into the distance. Keep your blade in the air and turn around you will notice that the rays of light will either spread out or converge together to provide a pointer, this is the direction that you need to take. Now get on your horse and ride, pressing the triangle button makes you jump and also lets you mount the horse if you stand next to it. Now the distances you travel in the game are immense so the chances are that you will want to go at a faster pace than just a walk, by pressing the X button the horse will pick up speed, however if you don't keep your finger on the button the horse will eventually slow down. You may need to keep checking your direction with your sword as there are often mountains or chasms that you need to go round and it is quite easy to loose your direction.
Once you are in the right place a cut scene will show you the colossus breaking out of a mountain or whatever the environment happens to be. These creatures are enormous and you may think impossible to defeat, but each colossi has its weak points. By shining your sword on the beast the suns rays will show you where its weak points are. All you have to do is attack these points and the beast goes down with a bang. The first few are reasonably easy but they get harder as the game progresses. The hard part is to get to the weak spots. Each colossus is made up of rock and hair. If there is hair you can climb up and hang on, if there is rock these offer ledges that you can stand on or grab on to. However you can only grip on for so long, on the bottom right of the screen there is a pink circle, as you hold on this circle will gradually deplete, once the circle disappears you will loose your grip and fall, however if you can find a place to stand on the beast without falling the circle will refill itself. Underneath this circle is a red bar this is your health meter, as you take damage this will reduce but again if you can stand still somewhere safe this will recharge itself. Once you have found and made your way to the beasts weak spot (it takes the form of a kind of glowing tattoo on the beasts body) you need to plunge your sword in. If you press the square button you will see a small expanding circle appear in the pink circle on the bottom right of your screen, once the circle has reached its perimeter this is the optimum time to strike with your sword (or bow) to create the most damage. The health bar for the colossus is at the top of your screen. Sometimes there is more than one weak spot. If the weak spot disappears from view and the beast is still alive it means that another weak spot has appeared elsewhere on the beast and you must find and destroy that before the beast will die. Once the beast is dead the young man absorbs its energy and goes unconscious, he then wakes to find himself back in the temple, the stone replica of the beast will then disintegrate from the wall leading to the shrine and the voice of the gods directs you to the next colossus.
That is basically the game, there are no enemies to defeat in between each battle and no intricate twists of plot. However once again the simplicity of the game is its special quality. Again the environment is breathtaking, each new location that you visit brings a new spectacle, from mountainous regions, to barren, dusty dry lake beds to the luscious greenery of a wooded copse where the sunlight breaks through the trees. You could spend hours just riding across the terrain exploring this strange and beautiful world. The lack of dialogue and plot does not detract from the game at all. We don't really know who the young man is, what happened to the girl and how he came to know about the temple but none of that matters, the game is what it is, simplicity itself. If the game does have one flaw it is the camera angles during the fight, you can sometimes loose your direction or a piece of scenery will obstruct your view causing you to take damage, but I can live with that.
Shadow of the Colossus is a game like no other. If you like hack and slash battles then this is not the game for you. It is a puzzle based fighting game with the emphasis on the puzzles. If you like a plot that will engross and absorb you, then this is not the game for you, as we know or learn nothing about the two characters in the game. But if you want serenity, beauty and even a kind of gentleness (how often can you say that about a battle based game) or just something completely different then this is the game for you. It is a difficult game to describe and I would like to bet it wont be long before this game also has cult status.