Last week I sat down for some facetime with Shadow of the Colossus, the spiritual if not direct successor to Sony's cult hit from 2001, ICO. The basic premise is, in keeping with ICO's scaled-back aesthetic, simple: a nameless protagonist seeks to restore his lost love to life and must defeat an increasingly complex series of mind-bogglingly tremendous Colossi to do so. The twist, if you can call it that, is that this is literally all there is to the game: there are no platforms to jump, respawning baddies to fight, or levels to gain. The Colossi in question are so big as to become levels in and of themselves; they're "living puzzles" to be solved with your wits, sword, and bow.
Now, I'm all for games-as-art, experimental gameplay, and epic boss battles, but I have to confess that this game, however highly anticipated, left me a bit underwhelmed. Battling the Colossi was certainly tense, but it was tense in the same way that any Mario 64-style platformer is tense: you have a linear goal to reach (the giants' weak point), and if you fall, you have to start over again. Furthermore, while I appreciated being able to fight these bosses on horseback, I did so as a jaded veteran. You see, I had already played Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, whose horseback boss battle was so exhilarating that I literally whooped out loud while enacting it.
In the end, Shadow of the Colossus's biggest flaw may be poor timing. It's going right up against Twilight Princess this holiday season, and I can't help but picture Mars trying to eclipse the sun: you want to root for Mars, cuz it's a scrappy little planet, but when the sun's there, it just sort of commands your attention. I recognize that in light of yesterday's diatribe this post may seem a bit nitpicky, especially since I'm criticizing what may prove to be one of the more unique games to come out this year. But in the producer's own words, Shadow of the Colossus boils down to bosses as living puzzles. And as far as I can see, that concept plain old originated with Legend of Zelda.
So am I being to harsh on these guys? Will Shadow of the Colossus offer something that Twilight Princess can't match, aside from shipping on a console with some semblance of market share? That's why we have TalkBacks. Let me know what you think.