Today’s game: Shadow of the Colossus. Developed by the same team that did the excellent Ico, and it shows: Liesl immediately commented on the similarity between the two games’ graphical styles, despite being unaware of the connection.

The gameplay of the two games is quite different, however. This game consists almost entirely of a series of sixteen boss fights, with only the smallest amount of exploration and plot development stringing them together. A paean to boss fights, I initially assumed; not something that necessarily excites me, but I trusted the team to not let me down too badly. I’m not completely against the concept of boss fights, after all: there is something satisfying about staying on your toes and figuring out the boss’s vulnerability, and when done well they can provide a satisfying sense of completion to your recent task. But when done badly, they just annoy me; I’m sure that I have ranted here in the past about how I dislike idea that the final boss fight should require you to first defeat the boss, after which the boss reveals his true form, after defeating which the boss then reveals yet another true form, all without any chance to save. Not the way that I want to spend a few hours of my time; gamefaqs make such battles (usually) bearable, but developers should know better.

Back to the game at hand: I’d been assuming it would be a paean to boss fights, but the reality turned out somewhat differently. Right before the first boss is a section of the environment where you have to climb walls, slide along ledges, jump from one ledge to another: a platformer tutorial area. And then I got to the first boss; lo and behold, fighting him was like playing a platformer, with the difference that the environment moves. Some areas of the boss you can’t climb on, but there are bone ridges that serve as ledges, and fur that you can climb on. (You’re supposed to work your way up to the boss to a glowing spot, which you stab repeatedly with your sword, while he tries to shake you off.) It didn’t feel like any boss fight that I’d ever played: a strange platformer variant, which is a pretty neat idea.

So, over the course of the next few bosses, my opinion changed: it’s not a paean to boss fights, it’s a paean to bosses themselves. It continued to have platformer elements that I’ve never seen in a traditional boss fight, and after a while, you start almost rooting for the bosses: they are noble, glorious creatures, and I started to feel like I was committing a crime against god by killing them. And they are gorgeous, gorgeous: no polygon was spared, the textures are lovingly designed. (The environment is quite nice, too, and I can only hope that the next Zelda will have a horse looking half as good as this one.) There have been some nice looking PS2 games recently; early in the system’s life, I would look at games and think “Soul Calibur looked better than this, and that was a Dreamcast launch game”. No more.

After a while, though, the game elements did start to feel more like traditional boss fights. In a traditional boss fight, you have to observe the boss’s movements, figure out the pattern, and chose the right moment (and method) to attack. Here, you can’t just start climbing up the boss: there aren’t holds on the bosses’ feet, so you need to figure out how to trigger an action which will cause a climbable part to appear, which is a similar way of thinking to a traditional fight. It’s normally much easier to dodge the bosses in this game than in a traditional boss fight, which is all to the good, given the number of fights in this game: rather than dying ten times while trying to figure out a fight and execute properly, I’d play for 45 minutes without dying while trying to figure out a fight and execute properly.

I’m glad the game wasn’t any longer than it was, but honestly I enjoyed it until the end; I wouldn’t have felt unfulfilled if the game had been half the length, but there was enough novelty in the fights to keep me going. (And the bosses are beautiful!) One of the defining games of the end of this generation (which is going out nicely; and we still have the new Zelda and, especially, Okami to look forward to!); it makes me happy that game developers are willing to experiment this way.

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