Founded in 2006, Bluepoint Games developed Blast Factor, one of only two launch titles on ps3’s Playstation Network store. Since then, Bluepoint has remained a remaster/port workhorse with their God of War Collection in 2009 effectively kickstarting the remaster craze. 2018’s Shadow of The Colossus marks the studio’s largest project to date. Does it live up to the original’s legacy?
Wander, a young warrior has escaped his village with a dead woman in tow. He travels to the Forbidden Lands, offering this body, Mono, to the temple’s altar. The disembodied voice, Dormin, assures Wander that reviving the woman’s soul may be possible if he can slay the sixteen colossi roaming the forbidden landscape. That is the entire setup. Only two or three pivotal cutscenes play out from this point forward. Dialogue from Dormin after each slain colossus only serves to inform Wander of his next target.
This minimalism extends to the fairly basic gameplay. From the outset, players are given access to all the required tools for success: A sword, bow, and horse. While hidden items exist to decrease difficulty, the game can be completed effortlessly with these starting tools.
Killing a colossus requires stabbing its weak point sigil until its health bar depletes. Stamina management is crucial, as jumping while climbing or gripping onto a beast’s fur as it deliberately attempts to shake Wander off drains stamina more quickly. This stamina management turns each colossal encounter into a war of attrition.
The colossi serve as an example of dual-purpose design. They act as not only enemies but levels. Getting onto a colossus is half the battle, often requiring keen perception and environmental manipulation. It begins with a starter colossus, allowing players to acclimate to the mechanics before things become immediately more involved with the second colossus. The astounding variety on display with each of the sixteen colossi tasks players with consistently employing new strategies. It is as much a game of wits as strength.
The immediately striking visuals of the Shadow of The Colossus remake allow it to stand up to its contemporaries. Bluepoint has done a masterful job of recreating each asset and adding flourishes to the game world without betraying the original title’s artistic integrity. Shadow of The Colossus looks exactly as it would have if Team Ico were just releasing the game for the first time on current generation hardware.
Not all is perfectly tidy, though. While the environments and colossi honor the original’s spirit, the human character models are disgraceful. Their skin rendering clashes with the rest of the visual experience. This almost clay-like appearance measured against beautiful backdrops and creatures is a stark contrast that keeps the visual makeup from perfection, though it’s a minor blemish on a categorical masterpiece.
Unlike some other remakes, Shadow of The Colossus isn’t concerned with fixing or adding anything substantial to the experience. Quality of life improvements including multiple control schemes makes the title more accessible for modern audiences, though the game is still perfectly playable in its classic control mode. An optional high framerate mode on the PS4 pro is also the first time Shadow of The Colossus has been playable at 60 frames per second. Aside from the massive visual and performance boost, the core experience remains preserved. While new animation systems are being utilized, the original game code is still running under the hood, leading to a faithful gameplay experience.
Some may say it’s faithful to a fault seeing as the bow aiming never feels quite right and Agro doesn’t always control exactly as you’d want. Scaling colossi can also lead to quirky animations and unintentional actions. Though falling off a colossus due to the game’s animations rather than user error can frustrate, negative emotions soon give way to feelings of astonishment and despair.
Even twelve years after release, Shadow of The Colossus remains in a class of its own. The seventh and eight console generations have made dramatic industry-wide improvements to animations, cinematic direction, visuals, writing, and acting. However, few can lay claim to mastering the art of minimalism.
The modern triple-A industry has absorbed itself in the hype of chasing “bigger” and “better” things. Games are marketed by bullet points. Any big budget title is over-inflated with meaningless mechanics and content because that’s what sells. The more features you can sell your game on, the more substantial it appears to mainstream consumers.
Shadow of The Colossus eschews industry trends in favor of attaining emotiveness through Ueda’s Design by Subtraction philosophy. The idea behind this school of game design is to remove any element and mechanic that does not contribute to the core vision or purpose of the title.
In this case, filling the empty land with grunts and side quests would undermine the creative vision. Shadow of The Colossus is a majestic and somber audio-visual experience; One which effectively employs ambiance and emptiness to elicit an emotional response. It isn’t concerned with telling the player how to feel. It just wants them to feel. Whether awestruck by perfectly framed vistas on horseback or disoriented by the imperfect framing of a colossus shaking Wander off as he clutches for dear life, emotion is central to the experience.
This emotional resonance is what makes Shadow of The Colossus a timeless classic. Even with slightly clunky movement and jumping, the experience transcends its quirks due to its sheer experiential nature. With a soundtrack working to elevate individual moments, it’s difficult to walk away from the game without feeling something. Shadow of The Colossus is one of the remaining vestiges of expressive emotiveness using minimalist game design in an industry filled with bullet points and superfluous mechanics.