Shadow Of The Colossus Was Unfinished, And Better Because Of It

Image credit: Natty Dread

Technically, Team Ico did complete Shadow Of The Colossus. It shipped in 2005. You could put the disc in a PS2 and and experience what would become one of the most iconic adventures in gaming. But a much more sprawling vision for its world and the colossi that would inhabit it was never realised. Shadow Of The Colossus was broken, unpolished, and incomplete, and the upcoming remake shouldn't try to fix that.

After Sony revealed that the game would be making the jump to PS4 in 2018, the company's President, Shuhei Yoshida, confirmed to Famitsu that the game would go further than just a remaster, include updated controls, and that designer Fumito Ueda was not much involved in the project. If they were going that far then, why not also look at expanding the game's original scope and polishing not just the look and sound but the feel as well?

Shadow of the Colossus as it exists today only has sixteen colossi. Some of them are more memorable than others, but all have been killed millions of times. The game even includes time trials to reward players for finding unique and innovative ways to go about doing it. One player has managed to complete all of them on hard in under an hour.

There used to be more though back when Team Ico first started working on the game. Not surprisingly given what we know about him now, and the ungodly amount of time Last Guardian spent in development, Ueda had planned for up to 48 different hulking bosses to be roaming about the game's map. Based on interviews, concept art, and the game's code combed over by ravenous fans, we know that some of these colossi looked similar to ones that ended up making the final cut, while others, like this giant spider, are quite distinct.

One of the game's more famous players, who goes by Nomad, compiled a thorough investigation of the matter over at his blog several years ago. Part of a large group of colossi hunters searching desperately to unearth every last available secret in the game, Nomad and others have helped demonstrate not just that this stuff exists, but what was so compelling about the underlying game to make people go looking in the first place.

Shadow of the Colossus has all the markers of a cult classic but it's not one. Roger Ebert talked about it, sparking a decade-long collective migraine about the relationship of video games to art. Adam Sandler and Don Cheadle played it in a major motion picture. And it's not hard to see why. The game's appeal transcends gaming and is immediately obvious, with an ambiance that's both contemplative and intimate by virtue of how open and hands off the world is. People like wandering across a valley toward a mountain only to realise that mountain is alive and has just noticed them.

You don't have to beat Shadow of the Colossus or even be good at it to be taken in by the mysteries embedded in its geography. What are these crumbling ruins? What kind of previous civilisation do they hint at? And why do some of them move and try to kill me? Aided by the game's penchant for silence and its minimal exposition, as well as an ending whose twist is just the right mix of irony and ambiguity, its easy to let these lines of questioning take over, and be driven forth by them into the unknown. Fortunately for the millions of us who originally fell under that spell, the maze was never finished, and so we as a result never had to be finished with it.

The original Shadow of the Colossus is rife with glitches. Some appeared the result of tight (by Ueda's standards) production schedules and a challenging QA process, while others almost seemed intentional, as if the game's creators were gesturing toward another level of mysteries below the game's surface. Birds you could hop a flight on, a lake that didn't obey the normal laws of physics, and a secret garden atop the game's central tower players spent years trying to ascend -- they all helped extend the life of the game and resisted pat interpretations of its meaning and the designers' intents. Who creates a door that can't be opened and then taunts players with it?

The best ruins in Shadow of the Colossus are the ones left there by the artists themselves and which players have spent over a decade struggling with. A remake as beautiful looking as the one Sony showed at E3 can enhance the details on every tree and replace a hellish third-person camera with a control scheme less rage-inducing, but it's not likely to find a way to recapture the magic of playing a game filled with mysteries it never intended to create in the first place.


Comments

    Nope. If you want to play your unfinished version go play it on PS3 and stay under the "spell"

    I disagree: the remake should aim to fix few broken/unfinished mechanics that are present.

    I recently played the HD re-release on the PS3 (which was my first time playing SotC), and because it was 'unpolished' I found parts very unimpressive and frustrating; particularly the controls. But also, many of the bosses had a poor 'mechanism' - doing the exact same climb up the colossi became tedious and repetitive; worst were the colossi who could only be killed in one fashion (that thought of by the developers). 'This game is unfinished' was the thought that ran through my head the majority of my time playing.

    This is only my opinion though.

    Great idea behind the game but having the game be spruced up will, hopefully, make this great idea into a great game.

    I enjoyed the atmosphere of the game: the mystery and the emptiness in the landscape. If this was all a result of being unfinished than I'll accept that there was some benefit. This is one area in which I agree with the article.

    I doubt the remake is setting out to recapture the magic of the original, it would be fatuous; because it is the original game still at its heart (it cannot recapture what it already is). They should strive to make the game more accessible (a word that is unnecessarily misconstrued with easier) by refining the clunky mechanics and controls.

    *patiently waits for Kotaku review negging the new game for still being unfinished*

    How about an article that if they change things in the Resident Evil 2 remake, or Final Fantasy VII remake it'll ruin the game. The greatest remake ever, Resident Evil, completely re-structured the game, changing existing areas and puzzles and adding in completely new ones. If changing the game is in the scope of this remake, let's not be afraid of that, maybe this team can improve on an already great game.

    the upcoming remake shouldn't try to fix that.

    This. The flaws are part of what makes the game interesting IMO and the way that the games industry is willing to go back and tinker with their legacy this way is terrible. People should be way more upset at this remake than they are.

      I'm a big fan of Team ICO, and I _want_ the remake to be tinkered with. I want a modern take on an old classic. Smooth out the controls, add new colossi, redo the final colossus, which was compromised in its vision because of the lack of power of the PS2. It wasn't supposed to be a fixture on the landscape.

      As long as it's done well, and done with consideration, I want 'em to go to town on this game. Unfortunately though, that'll take a lot of effort, so they'll likely stick with the original design.

        Yeah except it's not Team Ico doing it. It's someone else entirely. Ueda isn't involved - he's not even at Sony any more - and from the trailer, they've swapped out the music too. Is that what you want? Because I want absolutely nothing to do with it personally.

          From the article, they say Ueda is not much involved. That doesn't mean he's not involved at all. Team ICO is no more, but members of the team would likely be working on this. The music seems designed for the trailer, and not a good indication of game music.

          I'm willing to give 'em a go. Sure, it's possible it could be woefully done, but it could also be done very well. Here's hoping it's the latter. I wouldn't mind replaying this on my Pro at 4K.

            Nope. It's being developed by Bluepoint Games. Team Ico isn't involved. Hell, Japan Studio isn't involved - Bluepoint is an independent developer in Texas that specializes in porting stuff (they worked on the PS3 ports of Ico and SotC).

            I'd have no problem if it was a simple port and upres. The instant they start screwing with it by smoothing out animations and stuff, it loses its character and is no longer Shadow of the Colossus. The jank is part of the charm.

              Ahhh, fair enough. In that case, you make a good point.

              Still, they did a great job on the PS3 remakes. Chances are they'll keep the remaster as simple as possible. I've also got no problem if they remodel the characters, colossi, and environment. It will look better in 4K. ;)

                See that's the thing. It's not a simple remaster, they're calling it a remake. A remaster I have no real issues with. I also don't mind the idea of complete remakes a la what Square is doing with Final Fantasy 7, because they're effectively making a brand new game that will be a completely different experience. I think my issue is the underlying implication that the original game wasn't good enough to simply do a remaster of, that it needs to be dressed up and made all slick and AAA-like. Change the mechanics, the animations and everything else and I feel like it's diluting what made the original special. And IMO Shadow of the Colossus is a very special game.

    I am just happy as long as it brings the newer generations into the mix of experiencing this games greatness. Because i know for a fact, a lot of people won't go back and play such an old game. Even remastered games are a turn off for some people.

    To my mind, the original is still available for anyone who wants to play it.

    For me, I don't see the point in re-releasing the exact same product over and over - I'm in favour of making changes.

    I don't mind remakes. I don't mind director's cuts. I don't mind reboots. As long as they stand on their own in terms of quality, I'm open to it.

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