The Ico & Shadow of the Colossus Collection ReviewChris Morgan
What began as an experimental project when Bluepoint Games sharpened up the first two God of War games and brought them to us again in glorious high definition on the PS3 has, to some extent, spawned an entire sub-market for HD remakes. Few games are as deserving of an HD upgrade as TEAM ICO's ICO and Shadow of the Colossus, both artistic, beautiful jewels in the PS2 crown.
Originally released in 2002 (was it really that long ago?), ICO tells the story of young boy destined for suffering, born with the ominous mutilation of having two horns sprouting from his head. Scooped up and carried away by a bunch of men we can only assume are protectors of Ico's village, he is soon confined to a tiny cell inside an enormous castle that is haunting in its beauty. Happenstance leads him to escaping his cell and encountering Yorda, a girl whose luminance seems the ultimate counter to the creeping shadows that pervade the fortress. Together, they decide to make an escape from their mutual prison.
Perhaps the most striking thing about Ico is its aesthetic. This is a game that has, in many ways, informed current-gen games in its minimalist, very visual approach to games that currently flood the PSN and XBOX Live marketplace. Games like Limbo and Outlander particularly come to mind, and even retail games exhibit elements of strong influence look no further than last year's Lost in Shadow on the Wii for perhaps the most obvious example of Ico's continuing effect on modern gaming.
Ico has no HUD, no health meter to mar its highly cinematic experience, and this allows you explore the windy vistas of the castle walls, the huge courtyards, the sprawling gardens and perhaps most memorably, the windmill. Ico is a stunning game to behold, and no heady prose can do justice to the sights and sounds of the world, which is more akin to a heart-piercing song or poem than a point-to-point story. ICO is not about the narrative, nor the gameplay, but the fable-like quality of its simplicity and the world in which the characters live, and in HD, it's never looked better.
That said, the gameplay is something that certainly warrants discussion. The majority of the game requires you to literally hold Yorda's hand, as you guide her through the almost empty castle. Ten years ago, this feature of gameplay was bordering on irritating, but in today's streamlined, spoilt market it is all but infuriating. Unfortunately Yorda's AI is less than stellar to say the least, and there will be agonisingly long periods where you stand at the top of stairs, yelling at the top of ICO's lungs for Yorda to follow you, only for her to walk around like a headless chicken, blithely ignoring the excruciatingly close stairs you so desperately want her to climb.
Elsewhere, the combat is intentionally simplistic. Ico is, after all, a feeble young boy. When he runs he seems to outpace himself as if his legs are too long for his own good and when knocked down by an enemy, he falls entirely without grace. Your only weapon, a wooden stick, is as clumsy and frail as its wielder fortunately as you're only fighting enemies that are made of shadow, this is a sufficient arsenal, but the sheer number of enemies that are constantly thrown at you can become exhausting and tiresome very quickly.
The puzzle sections of the game are intriguing but feel limited compared to the potential TEAM ICO had at it's disposal the section featuring the windmill is one of the best in the game due to its lack of enemy encounters and focus on platforming, something the game could have benefitted from had there been more. It's an unfortunate combat vs. puzzle ratio, but fortunately there is just enough here to stop you from losing faith.
Shadow of the Colossus has aged better than its predecessor, still offering a relatively unique experience in the videogame market today, and one that is all the better for the HD restoration. Much like ICO, it's a game heavily focused on the visuals, less of gameplay mechanics and story. Again, TEAM ICO trend towards the fable-eqsue in their simplicity. You play as Wander, a young man who has arrived in The Forbidden Land (you'd think that would be a hint of some kind) in the hopes of reviving his dead love. Carrying her body atop his trusty steed Agro, Wanda arrives and makes a deal with Dormin, a disembodied power that speaks with a rumbling voice that defies gender. Dormin informs Wanda that there may be a way to save his love, but that to do so he must slay sixteen "colossi".
These "colossi" are gargantuan, hulking beasts that roam a vast unpopulated land, occupied only by towering cliffs, vast lakes and a plethora of shrines. The Forbidden Land is as wide and open a space as you are likely to encounter in videogames, with no other characters to interact with, no towns to visit, this terrain feels like the long lost garden of Eden (there's even fruit that increases your health) ripe for exploration. You are likely to spend hours simply riding on Agro around the terrain just for the simple joy of it.
Visuals aside though, Shadow possesses many of the same game mechanics that plague ICO. While there's no airheaded AI partner seeking your constant attention, much of the game is committed to climbing the landscapes or scaling the colossi themselves. In itself this can be a pleasure, but the need to continuously be holding down the R1 button while a colossus makes its damnedest attempts to shake you off its body, disrupting your flow and frequently stemming your progress can be a serious strain on your patience and induce some considerable frustrations. The camera can also be maddening at times, adjusting itself in highly counter-intuitive ways.
Despite these flaws though, neither of them is severe enough to dampen enjoyment enough to ruin the experience. Both Shadow and Ico offer gameplay experiences that, regardless of their age, continue to be unique and original in today's growing gaming market.
If you keep exploration to a minimum and focus entirely on slaying the Colossi, it's possible to have the game defeated within 8-10 hours. Shadow is a game with such a primal, clearly defined focus of simply moving from enemy to the other that it's easy to breeze through to the destination whilst missing the point of the journey. The best way to appreciate the world to its maximum potential is to simply lose yourself in it, traversing the land aimlessly for hours.
When ICO and Shadow first came out in 2001 and 2006 respectively, both found themselves to be darlings among the critics, but while Shadow was a commercial success, ICO struggled to make its mark upon its initial release but achieved cult status. Now, both have been restored masterfully, not only in HD but also 3D. This collection is undoubtedly the definitive version to play of both games and is a worthy addition in any collection. If you're lucky enough to have never played either of these before, get yourself a copy as soon as you can.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.