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Ico, a story about a young boy with horns running round a castle dragging a young girl with him, was a surprise cult hit on the PS2 when it was released. Whilst a lot of hardcore action gamers disliked the lack of fighting, proliferation of puzzle bits, and got frustrated with Yorda, the girl, being a wimp, a whole load of other gamers who usually didn't enjoy action games (such as myself) seemed to get taken in with the story. If you haven't heard of Ico, and are a sensitive, puzzle solving type of gamer, then I'd highly recommend you get hold of it. However, if you have a swinging brick for a heart, then don't bother with it.
Why am I going on about Ico (again)? Well, this game is from the makers of Ico, and whilst it isn't exactly the same, it does share a lot of the same gameplay. It seems to be dividing audiences; again, people who like fighting are frustrated at the lack of battles (after all, there are only 16), whilst people who aren't into fighting are frustrated at the difficulty of the battles that there are. What cannot be denied is that it's definitely a game people are talking about, and there aren't really any other games like it around at the moment.
SO, IS IT A SEQUEL OR WHAT?
The original name of this game was Nico, a play on the words Ico, the game, and Ni, the Japanese for two. However, for some reason they decided not to call it that, and not to market it as a sequel. Plastered all over publicity material is the legend 'from the makers of Ico', but nothing about it being a sequel. However, I believe there is a planned boxset of the two games together, which suggests they have a connection somewhere.
After playing, and finishing, the game, the only conclusion I can draw is that it is a prequel to Ico, but even then, I don't really know, and you knowing that won't spoil the game. It could just as easily be a sequel to be honest.
The world Shadow (as I'll now be calling it) is set in seems to be the same world as Ico; the bleached out colour is the same, and the castles and other buildings appear to be the same style of architecture. The characters also have more than a passing resemblance to those in Ico; the clothing of the main character is the same sort of Nomadic dress, whilst the heroine could be Yorda's sister.
Looking online, someone on the GameFAQS board has read an interview with the creator stating it isn't a sequel, but "a spiritual successor". However, many other people have argued against that, quoting the bits of the ending which seem to make it obvious what it all means.
The best thing, I think, is not to get too hung up on whether it's a sequel or not (even though I've written 4 paragraphs on it); if you liked Ico, you might like it, or you might not, if you didn't like Ico, you might like it, or you might not. There, was that conclusive enough?
WHAT SORT OF GAME IS IT?
As I've already said, there isn't really a genre this game belongs in. It definitely isn't a platform game, or a game like Grand Theft Auto. It's not really a puzzle game, although working out how to kill the colossi are certainly brain teasers. It's also not really a fighting game, as there aren't that many things to kill.
Its closest cousins would be role playing games, for the following reasons; a. It looks like one b. you ride around a big world
Pictures of Shadow of the Colossus (PS2)
that's you bottom left - and the thing on the right you have to kill. help.
looking for things to kill c. you can upgrade your character d. there are boss fights e. you're doing it all to save the life of a beautiful young woman The biggest differences between Shadow and other role playing games are; a. you don't get random fights while riding around b. you can access the entire world right from the start of the game c. there isn't a storyline as suchTHERE ISN'T A STORYLINE?
Not really. At the start of the game, Wander arrives in a castle, with a seemingly dead girl (Mono). You lay her on an altar. A disembodied voice tells you that if you want to save her, then you must kill the colossi that roam the land. That's it. There's hardly any dialogue, and any dialogue you hear is spoken in an unreal language, based on Latinised Japanese. No one speaks to each other, the colossi don't speak to you, and your only companion is a horse, who obviously can't speak. In fact, the only way I actually know what the female character is called was by reading the titles.
WHAT DOES IT LOOK AND SOUND LIKE?
Absolutely stunning, without a doubt the most beautiful game I've ever played. The world you ride around in on your horse is perfect. The scenery and weather change from one section to another; there are deserts and forests, expanses of water. The light reflects off shiny surfaces, and through the trees in the most realistic way I've ever seen. The bits where you swim underwater are incredible.
Importantly, there are no loading areas, or glitches for that matter, anywhere. The world flows seamlessly from one area to another, making it feel like you're really riding a horse through a distant land.
As you can imagine, without much talking, it's a pretty quiet game. The only noises you can hear are the nature around you; scuttling lizards, rustling leaves, and of course the ever present hooves of your horse. When you meet a colossus, the stillness is broken, as you might imagine, but it still sounds like there's a beast in the middle of a real place. The music changes to help describe to you what's happening, if that makes sense. There is a certain theme when you're trying to get on the colossus, and then the theme changes when you're on it. It's helpful when you're trying to climb on it, and can't work out if you've done enough to climb on; just listen to the music, and when it changes, you know you've done what's needed.
The movement of the characters also deserves a mention. One thing I particularly liked in Ico was the way the main character stumbled as he ran, and had a very irregular pattern of running, as real people tend to. In Shadow, not only Wander but also Agro (the horse) move in a very irregular way, which you'll either love (like I did) or get frustrated with (like I often did with Agro).
HOW DO YOU PLAY IT? IS IT EASY TO PICK UP?
Shadow makes use of the shoulder buttons A LOT, which in my experience some people have difficulty picking up (after trying to teach my dad how to play SSX for five years). Like any game, it takes a bit of getting used to, so have the booklet near you for the first few plays.
As in most games, the left analogue stick controls movement, and the right controls the camera. The arrow buttons are not used (as far as I'm aware). The X button calls your horse to you, circle is an action button, and makes you hold your sword, pray, pick up lizards (more later), square is attack, whether it's a bow or a sword, and triangle is to jump. So far, so normal. However, L1 makes you focus on the colossus, R2, for some reason, zooms in, and bewilderingly R1 makes you hang on to ledges, grab fur, crouch, creep, stand on your horse, and any number of other random actions. If this sounds confusing, it is for about two hours. However, in the time it takes you to get used to it, you aren't in any real danger of dying.
The other important thing of note are the health and stamina gauges. Health is a long pink bar going along the bottom of the screen (if you eat enough fruit - more later), and each time you fall, get knocked over, and hurt by the colossus, it decreases. If you run out, you die, but it also renews just by walking, or more quickly by crouching. The stamina gauge is a pink circle; the longer you hang on to something, the more the pink circle gets smaller, and when the pink disappears completely, your hands will give up.
Reading back over this, it makes the game sound really difficult, but once you get the hang of it, it's easy to keep your eye on the gauges, and remember what button you need to press or hold. Only now and again, usually at the worst time possible, did I press the wrong button.
WHAT SORT OF MISSIONS DO YOU HAVE TO DO?
Every one of the 16 missions is the same. Find the colossus and kill it. It's a lot harder to do than that makes it sound though. To find each colossus, you must hold your sword to the light, and follow the rays. This is fine when there is some light to reflect, which all too often there isn't, right when you need to know which direction to go in. I highly recommend you print off a map to help you find them; there's an excellent one, as ever, on www.gamefaqs.com the best FAQ site I've found.
Killing them is also another challenge. To kill every one of them, you have to first get on it; the only way to kill them is by stabbing on their vital points, which can be found by shining rays of light off the sword onto them, and the only way to stab is by climbing on. They aren't called colossi for nothing; they are enormous, and working out how to get on them takes just as long as finding them.
Once you work out how to get on, the final part is stabbing them. The major obstacle here is that they move around, and you need to try and keep hold of their fur, whilst your 'stamina' gauge is running out. Couple this with the fact that there are more than one vital point on each colossus, and each vital point takes more than one stabbing, and you can imagine that you're probably going to get thrown off, or worst still, die, during every fight.
HOW DO YOU PROCEED THROUGH THE GAME?
Killing the colossus will take you back to the temple, and from there you simply start the quest again. As well as being prompted to save after each killing, you can also save at temples around the area, meaning that it's very rare that you have to retrace your steps too far if you die.
ARE THERE MULTIPLAYER OR ONLINE MODES?
No, and it's not really a shame, because I can't see how they could have added them.
IS IT ENHANCED WITH ANY ADD-ONS?
No, and again, there's nothing they could have done.
IS THERE ANYTHING I NEED TO DO OR COLLECT TO BE A COMPLETIST?
When you complete the game once, you can then start a game in 'hard' mode. You can also start another normal level game, and play in 'time attack'. If you finish the game in 'hard' mode, you can play in 'hard time attack'. This means finishing the game four times to be a completist. Once you finish it four times, you get to access the secret garden - however, it doesn't seem to me that the secret garden is worth going to, as the only thing I've heard about it is that eating the fruit diminishes your health, but there we are.
The other thing you might want to do, and I would certainly recommend doing at least a little of, is level up your character. Without reading this somewhere, I wouldn't have known how to do this, so for the sake of helping someone else, you need to eat the fruit from the trees to build health, and eat the white tails from lizards to build stamina. Yes, lizards. It's hard to find them in normal mode, but you can win items in time attack which make it easier to find. Or, you could do what I did, and print off a guide on where to find them. I didn't get Wander to full health or stamina, but finding about half the lizards and fruit helped enough to beat the final boss.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO COMPLETE, AND AM I GOING TO WANT TO PLAY IT AGAIN?
It took me on average half an hour to kill each colossus, except the 16th one, which took about 3 hours. No joke. Total gameplay was about eleven hours, which I was happy with. Any longer, and I'd have got bored. A lot of people have complained at the shortness of the game, but I personally prefer games which don't take long to complete, as I'm very impatient.
I personally probably won't play it again all the way through. I might well try the hard and time attack modes to see what they're like, but I'm not that bothered about finding this secret garden. Also, once you've worked out how to kill each colossus, the game is the same each time you play it, meaning by the fourth time it's probably dull as ditch water.
I CAN'T WORK OUT IF YOU LIKE THIS GAME - DO YOU?
Yes, I do, but not as much as I wanted to. I really enjoyed riding the horse funnily enough, because the scenery is so beautiful, and it really feels like riding a real horse (well, to me anyway). There were times I got so frustrated at each colossus that it was impossible to kill them without looking at an FAQ. However, the colossi I killed without cheating gave me a real sense of achievement, and as I only needed help with a few of them (and to be fair to me, they were things I NEVER would have done in a million years) I didn't feel too much like a cheating scumbag.
The ending is a strange thing as well; if you like games that get wrapped up at the end, then you probably shouldn't bother, as it asks more questions than it answers. I was left feeling slightly deflated, confused, and not at all as uplifted as I had at the end of Ico (or SSX, or Final Fantasy X, or any other number of games). If you're really interested in the theories relating to the ending, there's an FAQ about the plot theories on GameFAQS.
All in all, I'd recommend renting this game to see if you like it. You might even manage to finish it before the rental time runs out.
WHY DO YOU CALL THE MAIN CHARACTER WANDER? MY BOOK SAYS HE'S CALLED WANDA.
Wander is the real name; the translation to Wanda in the PAL version of the game is attributed to the way the Japanese pronounce words ending in '-er'. So there.
I bought this game after reading your review. its great!
Lazerhead 09.06.2007 19:26
Great review for a great game! I figured that the special lizards number 16 though - one for each shrine (I believe there's a shrine for each colossus?), so they shouldn't be too hard to find. One did annoy me by running away from his shrine when I turned up and over a cliff! I got him in the end though...heh-heh. x
Joscyn 08.09.2006 13:55
Brillant review, all the information needed was there and more. I thought it went off on a tangent with the Ico explanation at the beginning but that was the only thing.
I was thinking about getting this but not sure now as I wasn't too keen on Ico, I only played it for an hour or so before getting bored. Maybe I'll dig it out again, give it another chance.... Rachel x