"I disagree w/ @@YahtzeeCroshaw. Shadow of the Colossus was pretty terrible I thought. 'Hey let's have lame boss fights and NOTHING ELSE!'"
- xSmootx, via Twitter
xSmootx wins the daily prize for "Person I Most Want to Throttle," but his statement illustrates how all opinions are subjective and you can't rely on any reviewer to give you a definitive idea of a game without playing it yourself, no matter how witty, English or astonishingly handsome they may be.
Shadow of the Colossus isn't for everyone, but I'd consider it very ignorant to call it "lame boss fights and nothing else." The colossus battles have more in common with intense puzzle platforming sections than a boss fight in the traditional "keep firing at a big lad's weak point while constantly running so his missiles hit wherever you used to be" sense of the word. But they're only half of the Shadow of the Colossus experience. The other half is tracking down the colossi, and that means exploration.
Exploration in this case refers to the ability to see and experience the game world you have been given, opening up more and more sections of the map and calling on your Boy Scout orienteering lessons to navigate your way to the next checkpoint. Shadow of the Colossus is one of the few games I can think of that absolutely centralizes exploration as a core mechanic. It's not just an incidental requirement of finding all the hidden collectibles or killing fifty gnolls in exchange for a pair of a farmer's old pants. SotC has no wandering mobs and very little in the way of collectibles. All you have is a magic sword that points you in the direction of your next target, and an open game world of incredibly stark, serene beauty that's well worth seeing to the full. Yes, it's a little annoying when you try to go straight to the marked destination as the crow flies and find you were supposed to take a considerable detour to avoid a dead end, but that's where the challenge comes into it.
I think the use of exploration for its own merits is something that's been neglected lately. I can think of a lot of open world sandbox games that seem to actively discourage it; the ones with dreary, repetitive environments, a minimap you will spend half the game staring at, and a live GPS system to hold your hand in case the freedom gets a little bit too scary. I'm thinking of you, Red Faction: Guerrilla.
Here is a brief list of games. Metroid Prime. Zelda Wind Waker. Silent Hill. Batman Arkham Asylum. Thief 2. What do all these games have in common? Well, they're all games I like, and they're all games that have a strong exploration element, without which I would have liked the games considerably less. You'll notice my serial favorite Prince of Persia: Sands of Time isn't on this list. It's very linear with no exploration factor. The sequel, Warrior Within, has a little bit, and I've said before that Warrior Within is actually a stronger game, gameplay-wise. It's just a shame the story took a new direction straight down the S-bend.
Metroid and indeed the entire sub-genre of games that go by the amusing heading "Metroidvania" (see also Castlevania and Shadow Complex)are defined by their exploration emphasis - the first thing you have to do is fill out the map, then you spend the remaining two-thirds of play time backtracking through the map looking for missile expansions and candles with meat in them.
Metroid Prime's first person perspective did horrible things to the platforming element, but it really brought out the bleak, exotic environment design. Most notably, the game added an intriguing little mechanic in which you could scan virtually anything in the game and get a little flavor text added to a logbook. In one stroke, this added a collectibles sidequest, a hint system and a means to enrich the game world and its history, for you see, exploration can mean more than just filling out the map.