Shadow of the Colossus — Bosses Ranked | Beginners Edition
Shadow of the Colossus is a video game classic, and is beloved by players all around the world. It’s often considered one of the best games ever made, and is regularly cited as an example of video games as art. You can see its influences in a lot of modern games: God of War. Titan Souls. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Journey.
It’s also a very short game with very little interactive gameplay, and the game design is streamlined towards multiple playthroughs — speedruns, time attacks and the like. For example, my first playthrough of Shadow of the Colossus was just 6 hours long.
To be honest, I don’t agree with the universal praise of this game. This game has been remastered twice now and apart from some featured boss fights, the game is super boring.
In this article, I rank the bosses from worst to best, detailing how each of them play as well as how they challenge the beginner player.
This post therefore comes in 2 parts:
1. Shadow of the Colossus — Bosses Ranked (for Beginners)
What you’re here for!
2. Shadow of the Colossus — Game Mechanics and Analysis
How I approached the game, my thoughts on the gameplay, and the context to which the game plays in video game culture.
My criticisms are detailed in this 2nd section.
* SPOILERS AHEAD! *
1. Shadow of the Colossus Bosses, Ranked from Easiest to Hardest (for Beginners)
#16: Eleventh Colossus — Celosia
This fight is the worst in the game because not only is it not engaging, it illustrates how overrated and poorly designed the game mechanics are. There are designs in this fight that are not seen anywhere else in the game.
Here’s how you approach the fight:
You enter the arena to confront the komainu. It is aggressive. There are pyres on both sides. You can’t climb the pyre from the front, so you have to scooch to the side. Up you go. The komainu headbutts the pyre in an attempt to knock you off, and this is where everything goes fucking crazy:
You need to drop down to pick up the stick that falls out from the pyre — you’ve never had to do this before, this has never happened, and never will happen again. You then light the stick on fire by climbing up the pyre again — you’ve never seen or experienced this before either.
You notice the komainu is backing away from you and your makeshift torch — colossi have never feared you or displayed fear before, yet this stupid komainu made of STONE is backing away from the makeshift torch. It backs itself off a cliff, where its armour breaks — wait, armour breaks if you fall on it?
After these steps, the weak spot on its back is revealed.
This raises so many questions: There are dry tree branches outside. What can’t you use them to light on fire? If it’s scared of fire, why is it surrounded by fire? Why is there a large door outside the arena that leads to nowhere? Does fire ACTUALLY affect colossi? How would you know if you don’t do anything with the fire?
Ridiculous. And that’s just the beginning.
#15: Fourth Colossus — Phaedra
This is the dumbest fight in the game, and a clear example of why The Last Guardian — the 3rd game from Team Ico — completely flopped as a game.
See, you’re supposed to play hide and seek with the rock horse with the connecting holes in the hillock. Shoot arrows at it to get its attention, so it can poke its head in and say howdy do. Then you climb it’s back.
The problem is, that’s not what happens. To climb up its tail, it has to specifically crouch down to look into the hole from BEHIND and ABOVE the hole, not from where it’s currently standing.
What sort of stupid, dumbass AI behaviour is that?
Also kinda related but not: why does it have dreadlocks? I was strategising to climb those things for ages!
Use YOUR stupid horse to jump onto its back limb heel, climb up the leg and hop over to the tail and up the back.
#14: Eighth Colossus — Kuromori
Fire lizard/pangolin in a tower arena. When it climbs up to take you on, it’s not immediately obvious to attack its limbs. But when you shoot arrows at it from any opening and it eventually falls onto its back, this exposes its underbelly.
Loses points because it shoots electric ball projectiles that leaves behind a cloud of poison gas. Uh, what?
#13: Second Colossus — Quadratus
I have no criticisms with this boss — it’s the 2nd boss in the game, and serves as a tutorial on how to use the bow. It does a great job of readying the player for the size of bosses to come. The weak points are hard to see at first, so it trains the player to be observant.
However, my criticism is the bow itself:
Why is there infinite arrows for the bow? If endurance/grip and health are consumed or used, why do arrows get a free pass?
Jump on its horn right from your horse as it gets up, then straight for the head.
#12: Fifteenth Colossus — Argus
This is a big fella with a big stone cleaver. It’s also an environment puzzle.
Step #1 of the puzzle is easy: it stomps on the weirdly angled stone, which allows you to climb up to the next level.
Step #2 is harder. It tries to whack you while you’re behind some pillars. You can hang and climb onto the pillars, but that’s a red herring. That does nothing whatsoever.
I don’t know why that’s in the game.
So instead you have to be behind the pillars for it to whack hard enough to dislodge several tons of rock ON TOP OF YOU that somehow doesn’t crush you. Okay fine, I’ll suspend my disbelief still.
Step #3 you climb up onto the bridge above it and you think okay this is the cool bit where you’re supposed to leap onto it’s body, much like the other Colossi. WRONG. It breaks the bridge, you fall down to the ground to start again, because in this game you can ONLY jump onto it from a broken bridge. Huh?
Then when you finally jump onto it and you injure its head, it drops the stone cleaver — revealing the final weakness on it’s palm.
The next bit was personally frustrating for me, because it kept stomping on me with its feet, rather than hit me with its fists. And so I wasted a lot of time getting up stairs and onto it again, trying to climb from its arm to the palm.
THEN. It finally fist slams you for the first on the ground and you think huh, that’s different. The hit detection also sucks, so when you dodge the fist slam, you can’t always grab onto the hairy palm to stab it. So I thought I was doing it wrong for half an hour… Nope. This is the correct tactic and technique, just really terrible controls.
Okay fine. But I have more questions:
Why did it drop its weapon? What happens to its weapon? It still attacks you with its fists, so what’s the point? And also, why does it have a hairy PALM? Hairy palms are not a thing. Not even horny teenagers are scared of hairy palms — because of how they’re used, palms are never hairy. What?
When it stomps you, you jump onto the opposite bent thigh, thus making your way up the torso. And also by taking advantage of the weird floaty physics engine.
#11: Twelfth Colossus — Pelagia
One of the weirder fights, and uses mechanics not seen in the rest of the game.
Swim into the water until it reveals itself on the platform to try and electrocute you. Then you arduously swim AROUND it to climb onto its back and up to its head. Unlike the other Colossi, there’s nothing to stab here. But there are green teeth that need flossing up here. So you hit the green teeth and it resonates, and like Remy from Ratatouille drive it to a landing.
You jump onto the landing because sure why not, and this time it rears up to electrocute you, revealing the sigil on its underbelly. Do all that again, and you win.
Also you find out there’s no point in climbing up it’s limbs, even though it looks like you should.
The swimming around it is the boring tedious bit.
Jump straight onto its face.
#10: Fourteenth Colossus — Cenobia
The is the 2nd komainu fight. Those things always comes in twos, don’t they? Anyways this is an environmental puzzle. You play The Floor Is Lava/Offground Tiggy for what seems like ages over a series of towers and catwalks. Then the final tower breaks into a different part of the arena. And then there’s more platforming. And now for some inexplicable reason the platform you’re standing on breaks, and this crushes the Colossus beneath it, destroying its armour. What I don’t get is why the platform breaks at all.
You can run to the last breakable tower, and jump up the platform from there using magic Team Ico physics.
#9: Seventh Colossus — Hydrus
I was the most cautious first seeing this boss, and therefore felt like a jack ass in subsequent runs. I mean, it’s a giant electric eel in the water! So many wrong moves to make! Nope. Just jump into the water and stab it.
I’ve played this boss heaps of times and I have no idea how the eel responds to you at all. Are you bait? Does it see or sense you? It’s never consistent.
And when it comes up to you it does — absolutely nothing. Doesn’t try to swallow you, doesn’t attack you or anything at all. Just kinda swims up to you and says hello. Then you cling onto it and stab it repeatedly.
Why does it not go deeper underwater when you’re stabbing it? Dunno.
My thoughts were that you’re not supposed to be in the water because of the electricity. But it has no impact on the gameplay. Why does the electricity do nothing in the water? That’s not how electricity and electric eels work.
I gave the game too much credit.
Stab it in the head with a jump plunge attack.
#8: Sixteenth (Final) Colossus — Malus
Final boss and is absolutely massive! Wears a giant metal skirt you must climb up from inside to outside. Has no genitals, so not sure what the modesty is for really…
Throws fireballs at you from afar as you dodge and weave your way through obstacles and caves to get to it.
It stops using fireballs when you’re up close, and never crushes you in its hand, even though a quick clap would kick your ass. And when you stab it, it just HOVERS its hand over the wound. Like its a hippy and using ‘energy’ to heal itself. Bananas.
Jump onto palm. Chest plate, then climb up straight to the head.
#7: Tenth Colossus — Dirge
Sand snake slug to which you have to outrun using your dumbass horse, turn around and shoot its eyes. It then slams into a ball, ready for you to finish it off.
Awful horse riding mechanics aside, how the fuck is shooting the eyes a tactic? It is the only Colossi to have eyes as a weak spot. It doesn’t work with any other Colossi, even though they ALL have eyes.
Also, its eyes are wide open the entire time — why doesn’t it get rocks in its eyes as it barrels through the desert cave? Also, its SAND — why does it have eyes to see SAND?? How the fuck does it expect to see in SAND?!
#6: Ninth Colossus — Basaran
This grumpy and aggressive fireball shooting lizard/turtle comes out of its cave to enjoy the sunshine, only to get flipped by a geyser that is located RIGHT OUTSIDE ITS CAVE. Boring, predictable and shouldn’t be considered a puzzle.
Jump from your damn horse onto its back thigh, so when it rears up you can jump onto its back.
#5: First Colossus — Valus
1st tutorial boss. Great introduction to the climbing and movement mechanics, considering you have to climb a cliff to get to it.
Grab its face when it goes down to the ground.
#4. 6th Colossus — Barba
It’s the only Colossi that’s smart enough to bend down to find you in your hidey hole. You therefore must punish it by running out, climbing up its magnificent beard and destroy it. You run out and jump into the beard, then stab it in the head.
Slightly better than Valus, the First Colossus above.
When it stomps down, grab onto the opposing hairy knuckle. Then when it pulls up to check, then jump onto the face for the execution.
#3: Thirteenth Colossus — Phalanx
This balloon bird dragon stays up in the air via sacks of helium or hydrogen. Pop the balloon sacks — because what comes up, must come down. It’s hard to take it out in one go because it’ll refill its balloon sacks for buoyancy while also diving into the sand… Uh what? How does that work?
Good and interesting fight.
Yet the next flying colossus is even more fun.
#2. 5th Colossus — Avion
Stone bird that swoops down on you over the lake when you shoot arrows at it. The towers in the water are red herrings — they serve no function. When it swoops at you, grab on and hold on for dear life.
Stab its wings as it soars up and over the lake. Very cool fight.
Also notable for having a very generously sized tail sigil stab area.
As it barrel rolls and the wing flaps, you can let go of and fall onto the other wing.
Most signature boss move in the game.
#1. 3rd Colossus — Gaius
The first proper boss after the 2 tutorial bosses, and one of the better of the puzzles in the game. I actually did not solve this boss in the manner as expected. I ran up onto the sword and jumped OVER the elbow guard. Hit the stomach, hit the head.
You’re SUPPOSED to break the elbow guard by having it slam the rock sword onto the centre metal plate. Which doesn’t make sense to me: if I had a rock sword and slammed it down onto metal, the rock sword would break, NOT whatever is around the elbow — that doesn’t make any sense.
Bypass the elbow guard and jump right over it when it lifts the sword. Like a boss.
2. Shadow of the Colossus Game Mechanics and Analysis
There’s a lot to admire about Shadow of the Colossus:
Atmosphere. Concept. Design. Art Direction. Minimalism — design by subtraction.
That’s the stuff people always praise about this game. And all that’s nice, but it isn’t GAMEPLAY. It isn’t STORY. It doesn’t make a videogame.
There’s also a lot of nonsense that sucks about this game, see below for more details:
Control Your Fucking Horse
Fuck I hate that horse. Riding your horse to each encounter is so boooooring. If you think that solitude and loneliness is part of the game, why are you playing a poor man’s horse riding simulator?
ARE YOU ABLE BODIED? THEN GO OUTSIDE AND RIDE AN ACTUAL FUCKING HORSE.
Conversely, riding your horse is also frustrating. Your horse doesn’t do well with slight variations to the terrain it walks on. The riding isn’t fun, and is awkward as hell. The artistic off-centre camera angle is uncomfortable for any stretch of time.
And also the horse dies because the game tells you it should — it doesn’t let you jump a gap you can make yourself anyway. It holds up an invisible wall. Why is the horse crossing that bridge anyway? You can see from the other side you have to CLIMB UP ANYWAY. There’s no need for a horse here!
And at the end of the game the horse comes back to life anyway, limping up a giant flight of stairs. That doesn’t help AT ALL! In real life, horses don’t just simply recover from broken limbs.
You shoot them in the head to put them out of their misery.
Climb the colossus. Stab it in the weak spot. That’s the base game. Everyone knows that.
But it’s not obvious what is a bit of flat design, and what is a ledge you can actually hold and interact with. The animation is also inconsistent when the colossus moves beneath you — it’s inconsistent, like gravity is optional or something.
The behaviour of the colossi get a lot of attention. But as you just read above in the Boss Ranking, this confidence is misplaced. The colossi will often shake around in an attempt to dislodge you. What they don’t do is crush you between it and the ground, or smash you into walls — like real behaviour.
So the colossi just buck and shake you for a while and that’s it? They assume that thing stabbing them in the head moments ago just… went away?
Colossus also don’t use hands for their intended purposes — they don’t grasp at you ever. Also none of the Colossi try to splat you like a bug. Step on you? Sure. Plough into you? Certainly. Shoot fireballs? Yup.
But never splat you.
There are 2 Colossi that have you in the palm of their hand and they NEVER ball into a fist to crush you. It is weird gameplay completely incongruent with the expected experience.
Stabbing them has a wide margin of error. You can stab the Avion bird tail nowhere near the sigil, and it still counts as full damage.
It’s also a small margin of error. You can stab the sigil in the same spot — without moving — and the 2nd hit doesn’t do any damage.
It’s a whole heap of boring. That’s coming from someone who lives in Australia. If I wanted to see a heap of nothing, I’d go out to the bush.
There’s also a photo mode in the game. Why? For backgrounds and screensavers? The real world has plenty of that stuff. And the physics engine isn’t much to write home about either.
You can interact with some animals, and aside from the lizard tails which are consumables, there’s no point to it.
And what purpose do the shrines serve? Health? Your health regenerates. And you don’t get hurt riding around the place because it’s boring and there is nothing hazardous to your health. What?
So is it supposed to be boring? Not to be entertaining or fun at all, but simply reflective and introspective instead?
Music is pleasant, but neither memorable nor epic.
Also the weather doesn’t change the whole game, yet for the last boss now it’s raining? The rain does not affect the gameplay in anyway.
And then the rain completely stops when you’re teleported back to home base.
Why do you play as Dormin? How does interacting as Dormin affect the game in any meaningful way?
“Jak! Feel like the Colossi you defeated!”
Really? Archers are just shooting at you. That’s not the Colossi experience of having a desperate idiot swinging through your armpit hair and stabbing you in the head. And if you do nothing, they still GO AWAY, and the consequence is the same. Then you do nothing for AGES. Fuck off.
Then you’re given brief momentary control of the main protagonist again, in a futile attempt of… nothing. The ending and long ass cutscene is predetermined. WHY??
The story is minimal. That’s fine. The characters are also minimal. That’s fine too.
But I don’t care about the main protagonist. I also don’t care about his girlfriend. I don’t care about the horse. I’m just killing these effigies to unleash a demon of ambiguous ambition and gender.
Are you supposed to project onto the characters? Loss of innocence? A treatise on negative space and mindfulness? Seeking meaning where no meaning exists? Questionable purpose and quiet contemplation?
The main protagonist probably sums it up best when he replies to the demon regarding the price of the actions to be taken, “It doesn’t matter.”
Shit, even the main guy doesn’t care.
None of the Colossi are referred to by name in game. Yet they all have names. And also latin names, because they’re a discovered species or something... Wait what?
Cult of Personality
Fumito Ueda — the director of Shadow of the Colossus and Ico, is often touted as a genius and auteur, much like Hidetaka Miyazaki is for Dark Souls. And just like Miyazaki with Deracine, he also produced some shit games those very same people would rather forget.
Ueda’s 3rd game — The Last Guardian — took 9 years to develop under massive hype and awaiting fans, and it is a really fucking awful game. The gameplay is awful the SAME WAY Shadow of the Colossus gameplay is awful.
This guy produced 3 video games in 24 YEARS. He obviously has no interest in game design. He just wants to paint and draw.
Unpopular opinion, but I think Shadow fo the Colossus is one of the most overrated games ever produced.
Remember that big James Cameron movie Avatar? It was pretty and epic, and everyone made a big deal about it? But it’s actually super boring and completely forgettable?
You can say the very same for Shadow of the Colossus.
If you want to experience gaming history, go for it. But I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re expecting anything related to fun.
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