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Which Console Did You Buy/Receive Over The Holidays?

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Game Profile
PlayStation 2
Sony Computer Entertainment Japan
GENRE: Adventure
October 18, 2005

The Last Guardian

Team Ico Collection


 Written by Chris Reiter  on October 31, 2005

Review: Does size count? Because I've got a Shadow of the Colossus hovering beneath me. Copy of the game I should say, not my...ya know.

Down the line from the suspected sequel to ICO, called NICO. Following the beautifully illustrated early screenshots. Past the game's tentative title, Wanda and the Colossus. Reaching over the gaming world's initial test drive with this gargantuan holiday release: Shadow of the Colossus is and always will be a big deal for Sony. Ever heard of ICO? Yeah, you have. Ever played ICO? Now that's the question of the moment. The blending of art and video game collaborations done over the past you might think is a rather big number. Video games are an art form indeed, so every game you could consider is already associated with style and grace. But unfortunately, that's not true at all. In fact, most game developers make software from the gaming angle. They don't have Picasso or Michelangelo swimming through the back of their cranium while they're placing a gun in the hands of some generic hero whose overly violent array of abilities is what players could view as the fun part. Entertaining maybe, but it's not exactly art. It might've not been the hottest selling game on the system, but ICO was truly a depiction of digital inventiveness at its best waiting not just to be played, but to be seen on top of that. With that in mind, ICO's fanbase was born, a sleeper of the year award was given, and now best of all a followup from the same Sony team that crafted that same monumental masterpiece is finally on display for your interactive pleasure.

Having watched Pet Cemetery one time too many, our unnamed hero on horseback longingly gallops across the great land toward his final destination. Entering forth into a magnificent structure, the hero winds down the circling stone steps eventually leading to a hall with an altar at the very end. Off his horse he carries an unidentified woman, placing her decayed corpse on the slab. A mystical mask calling itself Dormin speaks out to this young man, confiding in him the very nature of its presence. This hero, whoever he is, asks the spirit for an improbable favor. He wants this dead girl brought back to life and he'll do whatever it takes for that to happen. All that is known about this mysterious voice in the dark is that it is the control behind all souls in the afterlife. His response isn't straightforward, you see. Mortals are bound to the law that you can't play God with human life no matter what. That means you definitely can't resurrect a person, whatever the cause. However, that doesn't mean the right tools for the job aren't there. There's always a way. To revive someone who has fallen into the depths of the beyond, Dormin makes it clear to our hero that he must defeat an army of 16 colossi across the cursed land before him. His mode of travel is horse. His arsenal of weaponry is but a mere sword and bow. He may not have much, but he does have it all.

The one thing Sony's ICO team understands greatly is that you don't always need a complex strategy in order for a game to work on its own merit. ICO was fun, grand, clever, and inspiring all at once for its puzzle-based boy and stick, girl and magic powers, and flock of reproducing shadow-based enemies game of running around a maze-like castle. That game did so much with so little and got the most out of it. Shadow of the Colossus is no slouch itself. Piling itself up with layers and layers of gameplay mechanics does not complete this game. It lives in a world of its own without the necessity of people, mounds of weapons, and the production of a Hollywood lineup of actors to make this simple game soar. Already, Shadow of the Colossus is massive. That is, it's huge based on the name alone. Would you expect any less from a package that depicts a large stone golem on the front? The whole point and the only point in playing Shadow of the Colossus is to literally extract the life from 16 total colossi. That's it. Case closed. The catch? You're a fragile human being. You're made of skin and bones. They're made of concrete and fur. You've got a sword and a bow. They've got scale and power. Each colossus is unique. Each one comes with a different set of challenges. Each one is an experience you'll never forget in the first of its kind epic-sized adventure.

Sixteen giants, limited weaponry, and only one brave horse-bound lad to conquer the climb and removal of every last goliath probably leaves you wondering just how this procedure gets done. Quite simple, really. Shadow of the Colossus begins from the shrine, where the dead girl rests on the altar. Upon exiting the building, players are introduced to a spacious valley that is home to all 16 colossi. You can't actually see them immediately, and never more than one at a time. All that exists is a never-ending openness that crosses mountains, deserts, forests, and the occasional bird and lizard. All you can do to track down your mammoth prey is by levering your sword toward the sky. Not your average blade, this main weapon of Shadow of the Colossus reacts to sunlight. Roaming around the valley wherever luminescence may rain, tapping on the circle button presents a shimmering ray that can be redirected in any location. In this way, the sword is meant to detect a vibrating spot on the map. Once it's found, that's where you and your horse will journey off to. Once reaching the colossus, the true beauty of the game rears its fascinating big self, puts up its dukes, and prepares for hammer time.

Considering that honing in on each behemoth can take up to around 10-20 minutes of your time, this may not sound like great fun in the instance of returning to the limitless channeled basin to find every colossus every time. But it's not all that bad considering the remarkable landscape design along the way, next to the somewhat puzzling challenge just to dig them up out of this massive sandbox world. This'll all make you think in a good way. Not to mention, you'll be driven wanting to get to your mark, because every time you face a new colossus is another way to make you say, "Oh my god." The real genius behind Shadow of the Colossus exists within tackling its powerhouse giants. Compared to them, you're like an ant or a little flea hopping up and along their arms and shoulder blades. You're scaling their backside to climax toward the summit. You're clinging to a fifty-foot long tail. You're hanging on for dear life as they wriggle, and rush, and crash through sand and water trying to remove you at the top of your game (game meaning bodies). But the real beauty about all of this is that no colossus is ever the same. Each one is characterized by their dimensions and environment to befit a certain structure and strategy for proper disposal. One such being, a towering humanoid, wields a sword made of concrete. When it's not trying to stomp on you with its foot or thrust its sword into the earth, the objective is to wait for this particular godlike entity to slam its sword right where you stand. Even then the situation is not that easy. The body of this colossus is layered in marbled armor. Seeking out a round hard platform that's protruding from the earth will be the solution that causes the beast to crack its armor with the sword-pounding power it then lays on you. Thus giving you free room to climb, and thus giving you entry to where the colossus' weakness may lie. Every colossus comes with a weakness. Glowing glyphs that react to the presence of your sword are placed around the very body of the colossus. Find them, stab them enough times, and then they'll disappear. The catch: most colossi bear more than one marking. As long as there's still life left flowing to their soft spot, you'll have to continue commissioning punishment at the heel in their Achilles until their doom is sealed. The other catch: you must do this all whilst these enormities wildly contort causing loss of balance and placement. A bug's life is never easy.

Cool part is, "Ginormous Shank Guy" is only one of the many colossi you will face. They have bigger, faster, and stronger ones through all 16 iterations paired against one another. Ones that fly, and swim, and can stick to walls. Ones that can charge at you, claw at you, and even fire laser beams. It's no simple matter of scaling a colossus and pricking it with a sword just like that, however. Literally, there's always a new and different way to solving just how the heck you're going to climb all the way up onto a colossus' body. This occurs whether you must shoot it in the foot and then wait for it to drop down so you can get on its furry knee cap, or jump from strip to pillar while a hounding colossus chases you along the way in an eventual outcome of taking off its "party dress." Depending on the situation, it can take you up to 20 minutes, or it may take you around an hour just to find out and finish off yet another one of these hulking abnormalities. When damage approaches these extremes, you guessed it: the hero of the game has his own life gauge. Along with a pink-colored grip/swim meter that gradually shrinks while under water or clutching onto a colossus for extended periods, your health bar decreases after falling from heights, getting smashed, or generally feeling the rupturing effects around a giant's toes. The good news is both modulators recharge on their own when there's no impact on their deteriorating status, which all the more adds to Shadow's strategic development. Retaining stability for each indicator will allow you to keep doing what you gotta do is the name of the game.

Surprisingly, Shadow of the Colossus is not just made extremely fun to play; it's also made doable. With an ambitious project like this one, it's expected that you need a control scheme that functions right with the flow of the game at a consistent rate. Doing just that, Shadow of the Colossus is built around a few diverse control methods that actually come off as fairly responsive and play well together all the same. Using Agro (the name of the horse) consists of exercises in the line of boarding him (triangle/R1 + triangle), starting the engine (X), and leaping off (triangle again). Attacking a colossus on the other hand ranges from latching onto something (triangle to leap upward then R1 to stick), rolling to avoid harm and dash underneath structures (R1 + triangle while standing), and utilizing the weaponry on hand (left or right on the d-pad to select tools, and square to fire arrows or jab the creature with your cutting utensil). All conditions are very easy to manage, especially with the instructional tutorials that are displayed onscreen as will show up at the right time starting from the gameplay's initial reaction. The only major issue players may find to be of a tad annoyance is the camera. Inverted and embroidered with a mind of its own, the camera likes to flow slowly back to center from a low point behind the back to a high point set on the colossus itself when generally facing toward it. This isn't much of a problem, though. Regressive angling is adaptable, and you still have full dominance over the view even though it does like to pull back a ways sometimes. You can even change the camera options in the menu to normal mode (as in left goes left instead of left goes right) if you want to. All in all however, 15-30 minutes are the time frame in which it should take anyone to get a good sense out of the game. Not bad.

Perfect. Well, almost. If you're not someone who can't appreciate the fine arts out of life, you might not actually "get" Shadow of the Colossus. It's not just a different kind of gameplay adventure. It's also drawn with one of the most elaborate graphical schemes ever crafted on the PlayStation 2. This is one of the first elements you'll notice right off the bat, as the game sucks you into its fantasy-based world. Picturesque is one of the many terms that'll be running though your mind while eliciting Shadow's remarkable splendor. Its landscapes brush together all sorts of environmentally sound designs. Dusty mounds of desert sands, enormous canyons, lush forest greenery, craggy caverns, delicious rich frames of waterfalls and lakes, and heavily clouded gray skies with beams of light peeking out every so often. Its ground smothered in heavily textured depressions and grass. Its brightly lit vacant foregrounds trailing toward an ominous foreground blackened by spot on shadowy degrees. Beautiful in every drop, Shadow's one and only concern for players would be in its consistency of objects in the background popping up (think bits of mountains) once in a while from commuting along the immense valley. Otherwise absolute in every sense, deep, passionate, and oh so lovely is the wave of Shadow of the Colossus.

Breadth of the world enchanting the game is brilliant. But then, so are its animalistic formations of the sixteen divergent pieces of colossi. Standing next to a colossus, or on top of a colossus, or gripping onto its chest, or tail, or an eye gets you many angles of intricate detail. Brownish grasslike matted fur envelops a colossus' body, merged with chunks of statuary platforms and prickles. Their glowing yellow eyes, their rustic facial and body armor you can hang on, their size 40,000 boots, and wiggly tails. It's all so gorgeous. From the seat of the colossus, the hero of the game is captured like a spider on the wall. In his decoratively patterned, flappy garment and other properly attired apparel items (brown tunic, dark pants, bandaged arms, long shaggy hair, etc.), the hero's visible and yet a near microscopic young guy shifting his weight around while being flung to and fro. Every bit of detail you could imagine is added. The hero's arm lifts only a crack if you hold the sword up for a stabbing thrust. Do it for longer, and he'll pull back more. Horseback riding with Agro isn't always easy to do, but it sure looks great. Agro is smart and will completely cease when touching upon the side of a cliff or in front of any impassable object. Legs hoisted into the air, Agro will settle back down like an actual horse would. The hero's arm motions when smacking Agro to speed faster. When leading Agro in a different direction you'll catch the hero tug on the reigns. Just seeing them both knocked on their asses together from a crushing colossal blow is so astoundingly lifelike, as both animal and man are knocked flat. The horse rises and shakes off. The man rises and leaps back on blacky for another stunning go.

Without sound, Shadow of the Colossus is nothing. Its range of audio, music, and even its ability to communicate handsomely is as much an adding factor as the rest of this triumphant treasure is as the rest. Probably the game's strongest audible component is its sweeping musical score. While nonexistent in-between battles against the colossi, its pulsing of violins, flutes, and other instrumental types truly dramatizes the abundance of epic action happening right onscreen; properly fading when falling from a colossus' heaven point and kicking up a notch when getting back on the saddle. If you were an ICO player, you shouldn't expect anything different from this one's voiced aura. English is not the game's first language like last time, as subtitles lend understanding to the otherworldly language very few presentable characters are able to string along lines in as rarely as they do. Dormin is practically the king of dialogue scenes through the majority of the quest. Relaying riddles that reveal clues to the next foe every round, and springing up with a hint in between battles, this grim bubble of garbled male and female composites may sound make-believe but is all the better because for it. Similarly, the hero in question embodies even fewer lines throughout the game. Story just isn't a prevalent factor that much (not that it needs to be). Who's he going to talk to? That dead girl? Thin air? The wall? Other than his limited moments with Dormin, this also strong but garble-gabber phrases only a shout out to Agro in nicely scaled pitches. If they're far apart, he'll yell to him. If they're closer, he'll plainly speak his name for example. Then there's that ear piercing whistle from way over yonder, amongst a bevy of other pitch-perfect noises. Like the crunchy smooshing of a sword stab, or the impending feet pounding along the rubble scattering ground. Like Agro's hooves ambling hastily and in declining phases as you slow him down. Like water gushing as it's swum through, and like the echoing growl of a colossus in pain as the hero tortures it painfully so. As already said, without the sound, the game just isn't the same.

Bottom Line
Exquisite, peerless, and redefining video games as we know it: Sony's ICO team has come to the inevitable conclusion again that digital art forms can and do influence higher quality standards. They have imagined a very irreproachable essence in Shadow of the Colossus. To kill a man is easy. To kill a zombie or a demon... In real life those are probably difficult obstacles to overcome, where games have simplified that breed of predictability for several years. But to kill a titan in every sense of the meaning? Now that's something you have to see to believe. You will see it. You will believe it. You will play Shadow of the Colossus, an undeniable fact. This is the first must-have game of the fall. Game of the Year material it has by the gallon full, so why not? Near-unbeatable in every step of the way, Shadow of the Colossus is a creamy, dreamy, tasty-filled treat like ICO before it. Not just any game, Shadow of the Colossus is a life changing one. Alter your reality today.

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