Shadow of the Colossus’ remake has me pondering the convenience of modern game design

Shadow of the Colossus design analysis

We’ve come a long way

After over a year of the physical copy of the Shadow of the Colossus remake sitting on my shelf, I finally started playing it. I could immediately see why it was a classic — it’s simple but elegant, has some cool lore, and I can absolutely understand what made it so revolutionary at its time. But I’d also be lying if I said it felt amazing to play right from the start.

Just for some context, I haven’t really played many games that came out before 2010, so even playing the remake, the controls are much jankier than I’m used to. In the first hour, that was my biggest point of contention, and let’s just say the gamer rage took over me at some points.

Of course, as I pushed through another hour, I slowly acclimated to everything, and settled into a rhythm. That’s something I can really appreciate about Shadow of the Colossus as an older game — it makes me slow down in ways that modern games do not.

I was not prepared for how much of this game would be waiting — waiting for Agro to slowly canter where I wanted him to go, waiting for the Colossus to enter its attack animation so I could jump aboard, waiting for the Colossus to stop trying to shake me off so I could stab it; you get the idea. Whereas more recent releases seem to throw as much at me as they can to hold my interest, Shadow feels really empty and minimal, and I mean that in a good way.

So yes, I’ve learned to appreciate this game a lot in spite of myself, but that doesn’t mean it’s without its flaws. Even in a remastered version, it shows its age in quite a few instances. I feel like I’m fighting with the camera all the time — it seems to move on its own a lot of the time, or move in ways that are counterintuitive to what I’m trying to do. During a fight that takes place over an area with tons of water in it, the camera was low enough that it would clip under the surface whenever I aimed up at all, which was kind of important because I was fighting a flying Colossi. Not my favorite.

Were older games really harder?

Naturally, I got to talking with my roommate about my frustrations with the game, which led to a discussion about older games in general. As a gamer of a younger generation (my first console, ironically, was the PS2), I often hear people talk about how much harder games used to be back in the day. The more extreme gamers even imply that the gamers of today have gone soft, because they don’t have really hard games to help them build character, or something like that.

As someone who has more recently come to appreciate the experience of challenging myself with games, I understand this sentiment more than I used to, but I don’t long for the days when you’d have to replay huge sections of a game because there was no autosave, or when you’d have to give up on a game entirely because of its difficulty. Older games were often difficult by design, but I’ve also found that many of them take longer to play because of design choices that I don’t think were particularly intentional.

[Image Source: Gameranx]
Part of what makes modern games what they are is not the fact that they’re easier, but that they have a whole swath of quality-of-life upgrades that didn’t exist twenty years ago. Whether or not games are easier these days is a subject that’s still up for debate, but I do know one thing for certain: games are just more convenient now.

Like I said, I enjoy how Shadow of the Colossus makes me slow down in ways other games don’t, but I’m also not a kid with no internet playing this on summer vacation. Unfortunately, I am an adult with adult responsibilities, which means I have much less time to spend playing games than I would like.

The sheer difficulty of classic games that you just have to brute force your way through has its merits, but man, sometimes I think about how glad I am that we’ve come this far with game design, because it’s all much more efficient than it used to be.

[Image Source: Variety]
PlayStation developers even acknowledged how certain aspects of the game remain true to the original, even if it meant keeping the gameplay slower than modern players are used to. The producer of Shadow of the Colossus‘ remake gave some insight into their process in a PlayStation Blog post from back in 2018:

“There are things we decided we weren’t going to change. For instance, Wander still standing still to fire a bow. Everything about Shadow is very deliberate. The way Wander moves throughout the world is heavy. It’s not light and fast and arcadey. He carries the burden of his actions in how he moves. Making the game the way you remember it is the most important mission we have, regardless of everything else.”

What really strikes me is that last sentence. After beating the first three Colossus, I probably would have disagreed with him, and wanted even more modernizations on top of the few changes they did end up implementing. But now that I have settled into that rhythm, now that I kind of get it in a way that I didn’t in the beginning, I guess I’m glad they kept it the way they did, warts and all.

The remake finds a good middle ground of making a gaming classic more accessible while still keeping true to what made the original a classic in the first place.

Noelle Warner