Why Remakes, Like Shadow of the Colossus, Are Awesome

By Chris Kohler on at

After spending a little bit of time with the PlayStation 4 version of Shadow of the Colossus, I have to say that I’m really into the idea of game remakes.

Yesterday, following its Paris Game Week announcements, Sony held a small event in San Francisco for those of us not lucky enough to be visiting the City of Light. The star of the show, which had a constant crowd of press huddled around its lone demo station, was Shadow of the Colossus, remade with all-new assets for PlayStation 4 and scheduled to be published February 6.

Although Sony has already said that the remake from Bluepoint Games, the development studio behind the remasters of Ico and Shadow for PlayStation 3, would not alter the game’s actual structure, playing the demo really drove that point home. It seems very much like a shot-for-shot remake of the 2005 original, in which a boy must kill 16 massive, mute beasts after being promised that doing so will resurrect a certain girl.

The original is a beloved classic, and I count myself in that group of lovers (here’s my Wired review from its launch). I often tell people they should play Shadow of the Colossus. But with every year that passes, it gets a little bit harder to make that recommendation without caveats. The little annoyances of the original, like the camera or the controls that we put up with in 2005, might cause a 2017 player much more frustration. And the graphic technology that may have been breathtaking on the standard-def PlayStation 2 wouldn’t be nearly as impressive today.

The upcoming remake touches up the graphics and sounds and tweaks the controls a bit, but otherwise it leaves the core of the experience intact. It strikes me as a great way to continue to introduce Shadow of the Colossus to new players.

When I picked up the controller and mounted the boy’s horse Agro, it felt like old times again. I galloped to the cliffside that serves as the game’s tutorial, showing you how to jump, clamber, and shimmy up the rock formation and get to where the first Colossus awaits. This is more of an aperitif—it’s pretty easy to figure out how to climb the Colossus’ legs, jab him in the calf to get him to kneel down, and climb to his head to deliver the killing blow. The rest won’t be so simple.

It felt very much like the original; the boy’s movements were awkward and gangly, all limbs flailing everywhere. A low-angle camera captured the massive height of the Colossus fully in the frame. Only this time, the details were crisp, the textures intricate instead of blurry, the lighting more refined. It was gorgeous all over again.

This got me thinking about The Secret of Monkey Island. I enjoyed playing this classic of the point-and-click genre back in the day, but only much later did I discover that what I played was actually a remake. The 256-colour VGA version of the game that I played was not actually the original game as it was designed by the creators; that was the 16-colour EGA version. The content of the revamped version was 99 percent identical, but the graphics were redone with newer technology. At the time, it was necessary to update games with VGA colours, as those who had shelled out for a new computer were unlikely to go back and play games with a limited colour palette on their expensive new tech. So too, I think, with games like Shadow, which strikes me as the modern-day equivalent of a “VGA version.”

I jumped ahead in the demo to the fight against the third Colossus, which is preambled by a run up a spiraling pathway that leads out of the water and up onto a massive platform where the fight takes place. The original, and this version, have a notorious pain-in-the-ass jump that you have to make. I whiffed it the first time and suddenly became very conscious of the assembled press corps surrounding the couch.

I told myself if I blew it again I’d quit the demo. Fortunately, the boy’s fingers barely clung on the second time I tried, and I got back into the fight. This Colossus is incredibly tall and swings his massive sword down at you, which you can run up to get onto his body. As I was circling, waiting for this moment, I found myself possessed by one thought: Wow, the sun shining through the clouds looks really pretty! He smacked me with his sword. Oops.

I’m sure there are some people to whom the idea of taking an older game and giving it a modern-day technological upgrade, even while preserving the original’s aesthetic sense, is anathema. And yes, if you do want to experience the real game as its original creators intended (director Fumito Ueda is not involved with this remake), you do need to go back and study the original.

But I think a remake can get more people interested in going back and looking at the original, by providing a more friendly entry point for new fans—and by astonishing them with graphics that make them feel the way we felt in 2005. And for those of us who already experienced the original, a remake is a way to see it with new eyes. I don’t think game publishers should look to remake everything, but for a few select landmark releases like this, I think it’s a great idea. (Do Ico next.)