Mary Rose Cook

The stabbing in Shadow of the Colossus

You finally realise how to get off the ground and onto the legs of the colossus. Maybe you need to shoot arrows into the soles of its feet so it kneels in pain. Maybe you need to hide under an archway, wait for it to stoop down low and make a leap for its beard.

You enact your plan, haul yourself up and begin climbing the body of the colossus. As you go, you might occasionally find part-time horizontal surfaces - armour, shackles - upon which you can rest and regain your strength. Or, you might plan your route so you can shimmy up as fast as possible, avoiding the limbs that sometimes flail and force you to stop climbing and just cling on.

You reach the top. The shoulders of a biped. The back of a quadruped. This moment is magic. You stagger across this great roiling mass that feels like moving rock. You cling on as it rears up. You creep over it, whispering, “stay calm”, praying it will not buck.

Being at the top is relatively safe. Though you must cling on when the colossus bridles, there is always a reprieve when you can stand and regain your strength. Your aim is now to reach one of the glowing tattoos on the colossus’s body. To get to a tattoo, you must leave your perch and climb to the crown of a swaying head, or a flank that can only be reached from above. These forays are a commitment. Once you set out, you have a ration of strength that cannot be replenished until you return. If your strength runs out during your expedition, you will lose your grip, fall to the ground and possibly die.

You reach a tattoo. To kill the colossus, you must repeatedly stab it here. You raise your sword. The longer you hold it aloft, the more powerful the stab will be. The more powerful the stab is, the fewer stabs you will need.

This piece of the game is particularly beautifully designed. If the colossus bucks while your sword is raised, you must lower your sword and cling on. This means you have wasted grip strength. Having your sword raised is a tense balancing act where you want to wait as long as possible, but no longer, before you strike. There is an elegant mapping between the sword and your controller. You press and release X to raise your sword. You press X again to stab. A more intuitive system would have you press and hold X to keep the sword raised. But the way the controls actually work is better. Stabbing the tattoo is such a cathartic, primal screaming moment, to attach it to the release of a button would diminish its power. The way it is, you jam your finger back down on X like you really are astride the colossus’s neck, like it is about to throw you, like it is the only thing stopping you from winning back your girlfriend.

Subscribe to my newsletter to hear about my latest work