If Hollywood wants to learn from the videogame industry — which outgrossed the box office last year — it should pay careful attention to Shadow of the Colossus, a game with the epic scale of a summer blockbuster but the emotional heart of an indie flick.
Shadow is brought to you by the same creative team that made Ico, a quirky, precious adventure that was hailed as a giant leap forward on the path to videogames becoming an artistic medium in their own right.
Shadow more than fills these enormous shoes, thanks to its giant enemies. Each of the 16 titular Colossi is like a living, moving monument. At 50 stories high, their scale is so impressive that you’ll gasp when they emerge from behind a quiet mountain or within a deep gorge to stare you down. You’ll have to slay all of them if you hope to bring your dead girlfriend back to life.
The game play is as easy as falling off a horse . . . which will, in fact, happen the first time the giants’ fearsome, Buick-sized fists pound the earth around you. Hunting each Colossus feels like Grand Theft Auto on horseback: You clip-clop across the vast landscape, guided by a beam of sunlight that acts like an ancient GPS system.
Each Colossus dwarfs you like Verne Troyer at an NBA party, so the challenge is discovering how to destroy something 100 times your size. Think Luke Skywalker versus the imperial walkers in The Empire Strikes Back. The best way to fell these beasts involves climbing them like furry skyscrapers and finding their weak spots, which glow bright blue. But it takes patience and timing, as they shake you like a rag doll on a massive mechanical bull.
The Colossi are the stars of the game, and each is an awe-inspiring, personality-filled wonder to behold. They grunt and follow you with their beady eyes and swat at you like an irritating gnat when you climb their massive bodies. When you stab deep into a Colossus and unleash a Tarantino-style spray of blood, you’ll actually feel bad for these noble creatures. Instead of a rousing celebration march at the end of the battle, a solemn and mournful orchestral score marks the bittersweet victory.
Some will find Shadow too relaxed in pace, the journey to each beast the equivalent of taking the scenic drive home. Besides the 16 Colossi, the lush landscape is devoid of anything but lizards and birds — no enemy encounters, power-up mushrooms, or coins to collect. Other games would be quick to choke the landscape with baddies to hack up, but exploring the postcard beauty of Shadow‘s serene locale is its own reward.
Ironically, the only problem with this epic of giants is that it’s too short. You can breeze through regular mode in about 10 hours. An unlockable hard mode and time-attack mode provide a bit of extra game play, but you’ll still be left wanting more.
Nonetheless, Shadow stands out as a David among Goliaths. It takes artistic, outside-the-box chances and succeeds on its own merits. Pay attention, Hollywood: Shadow proves that a moving, emotionally evocative story can be the biggest special effect of all.