Top 100 Games of All-Time: #94

Shadow of the Colossus

Release Date: October 18, 2005

Platform Played On: PS2

2018 Placement: #75 (-19)


What It Is:

Shadow of the Colossus is a revolutionary game that took the idea “what if only boss battles?” and made it artistic and compelling. It’s you and your horse Agro versus sixteen colossi and each one a different puzzle. You have a sword and a bow and your climbing ability and that’s basically it – there’s no skill trees or RPG elements. Each colossus has a weak point and it’s up to you to figure out how to tackle each fight.

The world itself is empty except for the colossi, so the time between battles is mostly spent enjoying the vistas as you ride Agro to your next destination. There are occasional map puzzles forcing you to figure out how to get to the next colossus, and there are lizards to find and kill to add to your stamina, but not much beyond that. The simplicity of the game’s objective is deliberate and intended to be part of the appeal.

Why It’s Important to Me:

I remember sitting down with my friends and us taking turns at tackling different colossi. Collaboration was a huge part of my experience with this game, as some of the colossal battles made us scratch our heads until we all collectively went “oh!” after somebody cracked the code. It was exhilarating to take down a colossus with an audience who collectively breathed a sigh of relief when the final hit took the giant down.

It’s such an elegant game that existed before the time of “systems” and “skill trees” and turning every game into a numbers-go-up simulator to get the endorphin shots from EXP bars completing. The art style is beautiful and each colossus is designed so well – from the environments you fight them in to how they move to what you have to do to defeat them. And they feel like majestic creatures – I remember coming up to the first colossus and just watching it move for a while before even attempting to go after it. It was just such an impressive game when it released – it stood out from what was being made at the time and even now no game really comes close to evoking the same feelings.

My Strongest Memory:

The fifth colossus was when the game went from good to holy shit god-tier for me. The battle takes place in this large lake area that is filled with ruins. You swim inside the ruins and climb up part of them, only to see a giant bird-like colossus fly past you. It’s breathtaking and shocking at the same time – up until this point the colossi have all been walking around and getting on them has taken some form of climbing up their limbs. But this creature is flying! How are you supposed to tackle this?!

The journey of figuring out how to climb onto this colossus is just the first part. Then there’s the absolute terror-inducing part of hanging onto its wings for dear life as it flies around the lake. You have to Spider-Man your way across its back as it soars through the air, flapping its wings, turning left, right, and upside-down, circling around while it (and you by proxy) defies gravity. All while an epic score of music is playing over your feats. It’s the stand-out colossus for me simply because of how awesome it felt to tackle the entire scenario.

Why It’s #94:

This game is so important to me I’ve bought it three times: the PS2 version, the PS3 collection of it and Ico, and the PS4 remake by Bluepoint. And yet…I’ve only played it fully through once. I made it through two or three colossi on the PS3 before stopping and one of my biggest PS4 shames is never even installing it after I bought it – I have yet to touch the remake. Am I scared that it won’t deliver the same epic, emotional beats it did my first time playing? Do I just have problems revisiting games nowadays, regardless of how I feel about them? Whatever the reason, while Shadow of the Colossus is an amazing game that’s also a work of art, I find myself unable to place it higher due to my lack of motivation in replaying it. Maybe it’s a game I relegate to fond memories. Or maybe I just need to bite the bullet and play the PS4 version and fall in love all over again.