Crispy Gamer

Man Versus Shadow of the Colossus, Part 1

Read Parts Two, Three, Four and Five of this feature.

Many things embarrass me -- my penchant for cheap sport coats, my $10 haircuts, etc. -- yet few things embarrass me more than the fact that I've never actually finished Shadow of the Colossus.

I'm not even sure why. I remember loving the game. The year was 2005. (Cue the foggy screen and harp music.) I'd finally reached the 16th and final Colossus. I climbed him. And I fell. I climbed him again, and fell. Climbed; fell. Climbed; fell. This went on for two straight nights. Like the sirens who lured weak-willed sailors to their deaths in ancient Homerian poetry, some other game came along and lured me away from SotC for what was supposed to be a cheap, one-night affair. I never went back.

The game's eerie, understated opening plays like "The Lord of the Rings," only with 100-percent less talking.

A few weeks back, just before the holidays, I was coming off the game-journo burnout months of September, October and November, when I decided to return to Shadow of the Colossus to right this wrong.

I watched the game's opening cinema. It's spare. It's understated. It's like a really good IFC movie. A man/boy on a horse hauling what appears to be the corpse of a pale girl/woman silently descends into what appears to be a long-shut tomb. Sound arty? It is. But the authentic eeriness of it all, coupled with the fact that the same guys who made the terrific Ico also made this game, made me give the game the benefit of the doubt.

After this oddball trio reaches the bottom of the tomb, the boy places the lifeless woman on a stone dais. A booming voice begins speaking through a hole in the ceiling. "RWWRTT TOONAWAH. BONVITE HOLCHUM COOBAHYOU," the voice says. Thankfully, there are subtitles to translate. If I can defeat the 16 guardians, the subtitles explain, then my wish -- to resurrect the lifeless lady -- will be granted. Climbing aboard my horse, Agro, I set off into this at once familiar and foreign land, to do the voice-from-the-ceiling's bidding ... And so begins my story.

Colossus One (Friday, 12/12)

Man Versus Shadow of the Colossus: How I Killed 16 Colossi In 16 Days, Part One
Colossus No. 1: The game's first Colossus is a big, cuddly teddy bear of a Colossus. Who will stomp you into figgy pudding, should he find you underfoot. Seriously, he's harmless. Mostly.

It's Friday afternoon in the Crispy Gamer offices. My friend and fellow videogame journalist John Sellers (hi, John) is getting married the next day in Philadelphia, so I need to pick up my cheap sport coat from the dry cleaner before heading home to kill my Colossus. Managing Editor Elise Vogel and Copy Editor Ryan Kuo both giggle when I say the words, "I need to go home and kill my Colossus."

"You two have dirty minds," I say.

It's cold and gray outside. Perfect Colossus-killing weather. I look up at the buildings surrounding Herald Square. I imagine a Colossus elbowing its way between the Midtown buildings. I remember the original black-and-white Godzilla, the one with the footage of American actor Raymond Burr spliced into it. After seeing the movie, I went to bed every night imagining the giant lizard pushing its way through the backyard trees in our rural upstate New York, wondering what I'd do if that really ever happened.

When I locate the first Colossus in the game, I do something I'd never do in any of my Godzilla fantasies: I run towards the big, shambling behemoth. This shaggy Colossus has piercing blue eyes that never seem to blink. And he's got a "Joy of Sex"-caliber hirsuteness to him. He looks a bit like one of the Muppets.

I get knocked about by his crushing footsteps. But then I locate a hairy patch on the back of his left leg. I climb aboard, and stab him in the calf. This makes him drop to a knee like a genuflecting parishioner. This is my chance. I leap to the fanny-pack/ledge on his waist. I rest for a moment before using his hairy back to climb towards his head.

The Demise of Colossus No. 1: Cue "The Love Boat" theme: "Climb aboooard; he's expecting yooooooou."

My finger on the R1 (grip) button cramps a little. "I'm not in Colossus-killing shape yet," I write in my notes. After a few worrisome moments, with my right index finger aching, I reach the top of his head. I plunge my sword into the glowing spot on his cranium. Black liquid -- Colossus blood? -- geysers forth.

At this moment, my girlfriend wanders through my office. "What are you doing to that thing?" she asks, clearly horrified. She is the type who sees a stray, limping cat on Roosevelt Avenue and wants to take it home. A few more stabs to the top of his head, a few more geysers of black blood, and the Colossus goes down. He looks like Joe Frazier when he got KOed by George Foreman. He falls in dramatic slow-motion, directly onto his Muppet face.

"He wasn't helpless," I say, trying to defend myself. "Look how little I am! I'm just this little guy. I weigh about 80 pounds."

But she's right. There's no glory in the Colossus' demise; I'm not in the mood to celebrate my "victory." There are no fist-pumps, no woo-hoos. There's mournful music. I'd forgotten how sad this game is.

Colossus Two (Saturday, 12/13)

I've never been to Philadelphia, so I should be excited. Will I eat a cheesesteak while climbing the "Rocky" steps? Will I ask a stranger to take a picture of me standing in front of the Liberty Bell? But as my southbound Amtrak train chugs forth, my thoughts wander back to the Colossus I laid low that morning.

Man Versus Shadow of the Colossus: How I Killed 16 Colossi In 16 Days, Part One

Colossus No. 2: Look closely, and you'll see Agro in the way here. Yet again. (The big, pointy-headed dummy.)

He was a big four-legged beast with a severe underbite. He looked like a distant, inbred cousin of the Statue of Liberty.

Throughout the battle, Agro keeps galloping back and forth, putting himself in harm's way, and worse: annoying me. I yell like a crazy person: "Get out of the way, Agro!" It's comical the way he streaks back and forth, but after the Statue of Liberty's illegitimate cousin steps on him a few times, it's not funny anymore. Agro, you dumb bastard.

Suddenly, the Colossus rears back on his hind legs. I quickly shoot an arrow at the glowing spots on the underside of its front feet. He collapses long enough for me to climb onto his back. It's on, now.

Man Versus Shadow of the Colossus: How I Killed 16 Colossi In 16 Days, Part One

Colossus No. 2: When he lifts his leg, it means he's about to pee a little. Aim for the white glowing spots on his feet. May your arrow be true!

This one has two glowing tattoos: one in front, near the head; and one in back. I drive what has to be the World's Smallest Sword -- it's really not much bigger than a butter knife -- into the back tattoo. Blood gushes forth. Then I make my way to the front, and take care of business there, too.

This one also topples in a humiliating fashion, its legs collapsing underneath it, dust clouds rising, face falling into the sand. My brother told me that when he had to put the family dog down last year, they stayed with him and held his front paws as his life expired; then, perhaps as his last will and testament, the poor old Lab pushed out a big, so-long-cruel-world turd. The only thing that could possibly make this more pathetic would be if the Colossus, in its final moments, soiled himself. Thankfully, he doesn't.

Colossus Three (Sunday, 12/14)

I spend the night in a sterile hotel in downtown Philadelphia called "Club Quarters." There's a morbid air about the place. My tiny room feels like my long-dead grandmother just finished cleaning it. The wedding takes place in a brewery. Sellers is pals with the PC guy from the PC/Mac commercials, John Hodgman. I'm making small talk with Hodgman, but all I want to talk about is the Colossus I laid low yesterday. "Have you ever played Shadow of the Colossus?" I ask. Hodgman excuses himself when I bring up the subject of videogames. He vanishes into the crowd, and gives me a wide berth the rest of the night.

As I'm waiting for my late-morning train to take me back to New York, I remember how once each Colossus is defeated, glowing black spaghetti comes flying out of the Colossus and flies into my little warrior-man/boy. He collapses, only to wake up on the floor of the shrine where I started.

An announcement comes over the train station's P.A. system. My train is delayed an hour. Great. I buy a sandwich and sit alone, wishing some glowing black spaghetti would come flying out of nowhere, and I'd pass out and wake up on the floor (hopefully in a clean spot) of Penn Station.

Back in my Queens apartment, with the winter sun already fading, Agro and I find ourselves standing next to a dank, dark lake. Somewhere out there is Colossus No. 3. Agro can't swim, so I leave the horse on shore and walk into the dark water.

Man Versus Shadow of the Colossus: How I Killed 16 Colossi In 16 Days, Part OneColossus No. 3: Let this big bastard take a swing at you. No, seriously. Let him swing. Just make sure he hits the raised stone platform instead of you.

Swimming creeps me out. The lake seems primal and menacing. It feels like I'm the first person to touch these waters in hundreds of years. Strange shapes on the bottom appear to be moving. A platform appears in the mist. I take a circular pathway upwards. A few precarious leaps later, the screen shifts to the familiar letterbox format, indicating that IT IS TIME FOR THE OFFICIAL PRESENTATION OF THE COLOSSUS. It's an awesome sight; it's very theatrical. This Colossus is bipedal. And he's bearing down on me, taking pokes at me with a sword that's only slightly smaller than New York's Chrysler Building.

I find a slightly raised, circular piece of stone near the center of the arena. It's the only aberration in the place. I'm studying the stone piece when the Colossus creeps up behind me and takes another swing at me with his sword/Chrysler Building. Because of where I'm standing, the sword lands directly on the stone platform. The reverberations send shivers the length of his arm, causing a chunk of concrete to break free in the elbow region.

He takes another swing at me, and misses. His sword conveniently gets stuck in the terrain for a few extra moments. This is my chance. I scamper the length of the sword, and grab the now-exposed ridge at the elbow. Once the beast brings its elbow close enough to its hair-covered torso, I leap from the elbow to the torso and begin to climb.

This one has two weak points. I give it to him first in the blue tattoo on his chest. Then I climb higher, and finish him off, with a couple of jabs to the tattoo on his head. He crumbles in slow-motion before my eyes. More glowing black spaghetti. Again, I wake up on the floor of the shrine, in the same way that Robert Downey, Jr. used to wake up in his neighbor's houses after his benders.

Read Parts Two, Three, Four and Five.