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The Shadow and The Sword

Brendan Main | 19 Oct 2010 12:04
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You have a sword, a bow, and a horse. That's it.

These are the tools you are given in Shadow of the Colossus, and they are there from the very beginning: The opening shows a young boy on horseback crossing a ruined bridge. The bridge itself leads on and on, a wonder of the world, and the plains that it spans are pristine in the oldest sense of the word. This descends into an abandoned shrine - and it's here that the first stirrings of menace begin to appear. Shadowy figures seep out of the stone floor and move threateningly toward the boy. In response, he draws his sword from his scabbard. This gleaming weapon, freed from its sheath, sends them shrinking back into the darkness. It's only at this display that the invisible spirit inhabiting these ruins speaks up: "Hmm? Thou possesses the Ancient Sword?"

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The tip of that sword carves out the plot of the game. The boy, Wander, has travelled to beseech this being to bring a dead soul back to life - a young girl, sacrificed by her people to break a curse. The spirit agrees, provided that Wander first track and vanquish sixteen colossi, chimeric monsters of stone and sinew, standing as tall as mountains. By holding the sword up to the light, the reflected beam points you towards the stamping grounds of these beasts. Much of the gameplay has you spurring your horse along with your sword raised high, following that thin strand for miles. The colossi themselves are invulnerable, save for a few scattered glyphs upon their bodies, which must be sought out through any means necessary - you duck, dodge, and leap, clamber up legs, scramble across shoulders, cower inside bellybuttons. After all that effort, finally killing one of the damn things is in turns monumental and visceral, a cross between St. George slaying a dragon and Joe Pesci slamming a pen into a guy's neck.

So. A sword, a bow, and a horse. Only in a videogame could such a setup seem Spartan. In the usual order of things, this is the start of a breadcrumb trail from one item to the next, with new technologies arriving to meet new challenges, until you have more gizmos than you know what to do with. This is the arc of games like The Legend of Zelda, which traditionally start Link off with a sock-cap and wooden sword and finish as a bristling swiss-army-knife of death. At the end of A Link to the Past, you're packing a thrice-upgraded sword, bombs, arrows, a mirror shield, a fire rod, an ice rod, a hookshot, magic boots, a magic hammer, a magic boomerang, a cape that makes you invisible, a medallion that makes earthquakes, and a wand that makes blocks. Just in case, you know, anyone needs any blocks.

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