Note: iOS 9 + Facebook users w/ trouble scrolling: #super sorry# we hope to fix it asap. In the meantime Chrome Mobile is a reach around
hot  /  reviews  /  videos  /  cblogs  /  qposts

Shadow of the Colossus

Shadow of the Colossus' controls are an exercise in art

7:26 PM on 02.29.2008 // Joseph Leray

The "videogames as art" movement is a funny thing

Artsy wonks like myself love to wax philosophic about the potential that games have in terms of narration or eliciting meaningful, emotional player responses. We laud innovative game designers for forcing us to make morally ambiguous choices about ourselves and the characters around us. Unfortunately, games fall short in one crucial, yet easily overlooked, way: they only go half of the distance.

What I mean to say is that while lots of the elements of the game are designed and featured in artistically and culturally relevant ways, a huge part of games is left out of the artistic amalgam: the controls. The controller is the fundamental aspect of videogames as a medium, yet developers and fans alike seem to totally overlook it. Unless the control schema is laughably bad or unnecessarily confusing, it gets nary a mention.

Even worse, the control scheme is almost exclusively relegated to a basic function and fails to convey any sense of artistry or contribute to an overarching metaphor. I'm not talking about good, responsive controls, or button mapping that is particularly intuitive; I mean a control scheme that, in and of itself, has something artistically important to say.

Fumito Ueda's Shadow of the Colossus does just that.

It's hard to appreciate just how creative the control scheme for Shadow of the Colossus is -- particularly in the way it achieves an artistic goal -- without comparing it to other games. To simplify, ponder this question: How does mapping "jump" to the X button contribute to the overarching theme of a game? Well, by and large, it doesn't, and that's fine.

However, I want to argue that Wander and Agro's controls contribute in some important way to the artistry of Shadow of the Colossus.

Take the grabbing mechanic, for example. In order for Wander to grab onto things -- ledges, walls, colossi -- the player must hold down the R1 button. The distinction is subtle: you don't just push R1, you have to hold it. The physical associations between holding onto a ledge and holding down the R1 button allow the player to always have a connection with Wander.

Similarly, to attack a colossus, the player must press the O button once to raise his sword, and O again to strike. Again, the player is never separated from Wander and controls all his physical actions. That is to say there is never a rift between what's happening on-screen and what's happening in your hand.

Compare this to a game like, say, God of War -- you press X once, and you've killed 8 skeletons, deflowered a virgin, and ransacked a city -- and you realize what a feat Ueda's accomplished. The blurring of the line between Wander and the player becomes particularly important with respect to the titular colossi. Unlike God of War, killing your enemies is far from automatic or easy -- it's a concerted effort and a pre-meditated choice.

This choice is inherent in the rest of the game as well. You have to find the colossi, ride across an entire continent, and then figure out how to kill them. You have to want them to die. The game forces you to make decisions about whether or not to attack the colossi, a choice you have to make over and over, at each step of the way. Even when you've climbed the colossus, found his weak spot, you have to choose again -- will you push O a second time and strike? Will you push O a last time and actually kill the colossus?

These moments can be incredibly poignant, and I would go as far as to say that Shadow of the Colossus is the only game in which "no" is an acceptable answer to those types of questions -- all because of the way the controls are mapped.

When Shadow of the Colossus was released, some reviewers criticized it's controls for being unresponsive or clumsy, especially in regards to Wander's trusty steed, Agro. Treated like a traditional mount, Agro handles with all the grace and precision of a battery acid enema. Most vehicles are relatively straightforward: you get in, get around, and get off. Furthermore, cehicles are usually treated, thematically and mechanically, like extensions of the playable character -- it's really just a more efficient way to get from point A to point B.

Agro, on the other hand, has much subtler controls. Once you get him pointed in the right direction, just tap X a couple of times and let him do the rest. Agro makes turns, navigates obstacles, and generally keeps himself out of trouble, allowing Wander to enjoy the scenery and shoot arrows at birds, lizards, and the giant colossi that are trying to kill him. However, if you try to "steer" him , he just spazzes out.

Agro's AI and his ability to take care of himself become crucial later in the game, as some colossi are impossible to beat without his help. By giving Agro the necessary for tools him to make decisions while Wander fights enemies, Shadow of the Colossus feels like a one-player co-op campaign. Wander fights the colossus, and his distinct, separate, intelligent partner Agro helps him out. In contrast to Wander's controls, Agro's purposefully put distance between horse and player, reinforcing his individuality and downplaying his function.

The implications of such freedom, and the dependence on Agro that the player develops, are far reaching and important. By creating several situations in which the player is dependent on Agro's independence, Shadow of the Colossus forces you to develop emotional ties to him. This relationship (coerced or not) lends pathos to both Agro's fall and his triumphant return.

This, in turn, ties into all sorts of overarching themes of the game: loneliness, isolation, and the nature of love and friendship. Granted, other elements in the game also contribute to these themes -- the fact that Agro is the only character with a name, or the sprawling, sparse landscapes -- but Wander and Agro's relationship is, at its core, based on how Agro is controlled.

What's happened here is that a really well-done gameplay mechanic (fighting the colossi with Agro's help) has engendered and contributed to a very compelling artistic metaphor (friendship). What's even more impressive is that said mechanic, and therefore said metaphor, is dependent on Agro's control scheme. Just let that sink in for a second: the artistic merit of Shadow of the Colossus is inextricably linked to its control setup.

Given that most designers don't seem to give a second thought to the way game characters are controlled (or, in Agro's case, not controlled), this feat is particularly impressive and goes a long way in showcasing the artistry of Shadow of the Colossus and Team Ico's vision.

Sacrificing intuitiveness or gameplay to make an artistic statement is obviously a risky move and a tough decision, but Fumito Ueda made his choice, for better or for worse. For Shadow of the Colossus, I am of the firm opinion that it was for better.

[Image by meiwen.]

Joseph Leray, Former Features Contributor
 Follow Blog + disclosure Tips
Joseph Leray is a long-time features contributor, reviewer, and (self-styled) editor-at-large for Destructoid. He lives in Nashville with a menagerie of pets and a Final Fantasy IX obsession. more   |   staff directory

 Setup email comments

Unsavory comments? Please report harassment, spam, and hate speech to our community fisters, and flag the user (we will ban users dishing bad karma). Can't see comments? Apps like Avast or browser extensions can cause it. You can fix it by adding * to your whitelists.

destructoid's previous coverage:
Shadow of the Colossus

  Dec 09

Colossal Shadow of the Colossus fan art is just that

Everything to scale means big things are big

View all:powered by:  MM.Elephant

Ads on destructoid may be purchased from:

Please contact Crave Online, thanks!

Cblogs of 11/25/15 + Turkey N Stuff

Cheat Codes Podcast - Ep. 73: Stay Classy

NVGR: Updated Album "ADBC" (No longer an EP)

So that just happened: The Talos Principle

Sick, Sad and just dumb news: 25th November - Leighapalooza

Context Matters! Fanservice's Secrets EXPOSED!

To editorialize or not to editorialize: An editorial

Tiny Dangerous Dungeons REVIEW - The Pocket Metroidvania

Cblogs of 11/24/15 + Big Ass Fort

Primal Carnage: Extinction Review (PS4)

 Add your impressions

Status updates from C-bloggers

LinkSlayer64 avatarLinkSlayer64
So Macy's parade had that performance from "The Wiz" which made me realize I'd much rather have seen "The Wizard" where everyone is dancing around wearing power gloves. Come on Nintendo, THE TIME IS NOW!
GoofierBrute avatarGoofierBrute
Happy #Darksiders2 day-I mean Thanksgiving. Happy Thanksgiving everybody!
Shinta avatarShinta
Transformers Devastation PS4 - $24. The Order 1886 $10. Digital flash sale on PSN. I think I'm going to have to bite on both these. And I hate digital if I can avoid it ...
SpielerDad avatarSpielerDad
Remember folks, don't forget to smoke cigarettes in between courses during thanksgiving to help in digestion.
Jiraya avatarJiraya
For friends in UK that want a 3DS XL - 99.99 pounds [url][/url]
Mike Wallace avatarMike Wallace
Playing New Vegas again because reasons, it occurs to me that it'd be nice if Old World Blues gave me the option to move the Brotherhood of Steel to the Big MT instead of wiping them out for Mr. House.
ShadeOfLight avatarShadeOfLight
Near heart attack as for a minute it seemed like the A button of my 3DS was busted. It's fine now though, I think we'll live.
Barry Kelly avatarBarry Kelly
There's now a £4/$5 Raspberry Pi. So cheap it's a cover extra on the latest Mag Pi. Based on the original chipset, it's single core but clocked at 1Ghz so it's quite a bit faster and oh so tiny. I can't wait to see what folks build with it.
Atleastimhousebroken avatarAtleastimhousebroken
After a lifetime of not spending a single cent on FTP games, I finally broke and dropped €1 in the Nintendo Badge Arcade. I just had to have all the Luigi badges asap. I feel dirty. Plus side, my 3ds will be covered in Luigi.
Jiraya avatarJiraya
The postman just brought me gifts i bought for myself ... [img][/img] [img][/img]
James Internet Ego avatarJames Internet Ego
Umm.. no Microsoft. Where is the 'go away' button? [img][/img]
StriderHoang avatarStriderHoang
I tried driving as Uber last night to start supplementing my income and everyone so far has been super chill. Also, I started practicing in my sleepy small home city so the training wheels were still on. No big city bar hoppers just yet.
RadicalYoseph avatarRadicalYoseph
Just got my Gwent physical edition. I don't understand special abilities - for example, Arachas have an icon with two knights beneath the close combat icon. Avallac'h has an eye in that same spot. Help? (I'm no longer a squid btw)
KyWii avatarKyWii
Happy Thanksgiving all! Load up on carbs and then get back to playing Fallout 4.
Archelon avatarArchelon
New extended television spot for The Force Awakens! [youtube][/youtube]
TheKodu avatarTheKodu
I dunno if I just had a freak incident but I think Ubisoft may have just changed the Renown gain in Rainbow Six Siege to be less shit as in overnight they've patched it. If true, kinda good on them.
Atleastimhousebroken avatarAtleastimhousebroken
Does it mess with anyone else's head that when beating a SMBW level in Mario Maker the music doesn't do that little 'booowoo oop' at the end. [youtube][/youtube]
ScreamAid avatarScreamAid
I've developed a new hobby to indulge in while on Skype with friends: creating stupid Sonic OCs. I have so much fun making them for some weird reason, and once I have enough of them I might as well post a c-blog of them, am I right? Look out in the future
El Dango avatarEl Dango
SeymourDuncan17 avatarSeymourDuncan17
Boy howdy, does Divinity: Original Sin take a while to get going. But, it was worth it in the end. Probably the most hardcore RPG I've played. Stellar writing, at that! Combat's pretty amazing too. [img][/img]
more quickposts



Invert site colors

  Dark Theme
  Light Theme

Destructoid means family.
Living the dream, since 2006

Pssst. konami code + enter

modernmethod logo

Back to Top

We follow moms on   Facebook  and   Twitter
  Light Theme      Dark Theme
Pssst. Konami Code + Enter!
You may remix stuff our site under creative commons w/@
- Destructoid means family. Living the dream, since 2006 -