Has it really
been an entire decade since Team Ico first pinged our radar? In that time, the
Sony development outfit has given us just two games, but they’ve been two of
the most beloved, highly regarded adventures ever to appear on the PlayStation
2. And now, finally, they’ve been packaged together in what may be the most
eagerly anticipated HD collection to hit the PS3.
The Ico and
Shadow of the Colossus Collection has been years in the making, and it’s something
we’ve wanted to see ever since Shadow of the Colossus overtaxed our aging PS2s in
2005. Of course, games have gone through a lot of changes since then – but in the
intervening years, the industry still hasn’t really produced anything quite
like Ico or Shadow of the Colossus. In HD or otherwise, the games still stand
as easily recommended must-plays, whether you’re a newcomer or a fan clinging
to nostalgia-clouded memories. And the collection, if nothing else, is the best
they’ve ever looked, even going so far as to add slick 3D visuals for those
with the TVs to support it.
That’s not to
say the games don’t look a bit dated, though. In particular, Ico and his
herky-jerky stick-man movements take a little getting used to, as do some of the
game’s environmental textures, which can look kind of blurry close up. The blurriness
is even more pronounced in Shadow of the Colossus, although it could be argued that,
given Shadow’s soft-focus, ethereal look, having backgrounds that weren’t a bit blurry would detract from
its unique appearance.
wouldn’t excuse the fact that – while looking much sharper and running at a
much smoother framerate than its PS2 predecessor – Shadow still suffers from
occasional visual hiccups (like textures that pop in suddenly) while you’re riding
across its vast landscape.
aside, the games still look stunning, in large part because their art direction
was always more about creating a moody atmosphere than about cutting-edge
visuals. Ico’s colors are just as vibrant, its shadows are just as menacing and
its characters are just as fragile and sympathetic now as they were in 2001.
Shadow of the Colossus still retains its sense of foggy melancholy, although
its vast, open landscape is even more impressive to ride through now that it
doesn’t visibly chug as it streaks past. It also benefits more from 3D than Ico
does, as the addition of depth makes its enormous sense of scale seem more
tangible. Things like the bridge to the game’s central temple, for example, now
look less like abstract background scenery, and more like massive, looming
objects that just happen to be far away. It’s a cool effect, and it makes the
battles against the towering Colossi feel a lot more urgent and
vertigo-inducing than they are otherwise.
aside, the games play about the same as they did on PS2, which is to say they manage
to be hugely engrossing in spite of somewhat fiddly controls and a few
surprisingly frustrating challenges. They also feature just 10 save slots per
game, which seems like an unnecessary throwback There’s one key difference,
however, at least for American gamers: the Collection features the European
version of Ico. That means you’ll encounter some noticeably different (and
sometimes more difficult) puzzles and room layouts, although it also means that
all the dialogue gets translated on the second playthrough – and that there’s a
two-player option, for those who’d like to try Ico with co-op.
A boy and his princess
never played Ico, well, you should. It’s
a puzzle-focused adventure that revolves around a young boy – Ico – who’s
brought to a mysterious castle and entombed alive because he was born with
horns. He soon breaks free, however, and meets a pale, fragile princess, Yorda,
who’s constantly hunted by intensely creepy shadow monsters. Together, the pair
attempt to escape the castle, something that involves Ico trying to protect
Yorda (who’s essential to clearing certain obstacles) while opening paths for
her (and, more often than not, literally pulling her by the hand) across the
treacherous, crumbling architecture.
A sidekick so
helpless might evoke rage in just about any other game, and Yorda can certainly
be annoyingly slow and unresponsive sometimes. But there’s also something about
her – whether it’s her delicateness, her obvious fear or her seeming
determination to overcome the first two – that makes her sympathetic, and makes
us want to keep her from harm instead of pushing her off a cliff.
Aside from that
crucial, symbiotic dynamic, Ico’s puzzles – which tend to involve a lot of climbing,
exploration and experimental switch-pulling – are enjoyably challenging, and the
occasional bouts of smacking shadow-demon kidnappers around with a two-by-four keep
things from getting too placid. It all makes for an unusually sweet (if
sometimes frustrating) romp that’s still achingly pretty after 10 years. It
also comes with a handful of high-value Trophies that are relatively easy to
get, so that’s a plus.
Next page: Shadow of the Colossus, and the verdict
harder they fall
For a lot of
gamers, though, Shadow of the Colossus will be the real reason to pick up the
Collection. One of the PS2’s last great games (and the first time a lot of
reviewers started using the word “melancholy”), it provoked a lot of
discussion, pre-Bioshock, about the nature of free will in games and whether doing
things simply because a voice in the sky tells you to is really ever a good
idea. It also gave players a chance to climb up the flanks of massive creatures,
each one a unique puzzle with hidden weaknesses, and stab the shit out of them.
So there’s that.
a young hunter named Wander, Shadow’s gameplay is made up of two distinct
halves: in the first, you’ll roam around its immense (and immensely varied)
landscape on horseback, using beams of light from Wander’s sword as a compass
to find the next Colossus. It’s a fairly lonely experience; with no enemies to
fight aside from the Colossi themselves, your main challenge is simply figuring
out how to navigate the rough terrain (and how best to control your horse,
Agro, who kind of has a mind of his own).
you reach each Colossus’ lair, you’ll have two challenges, the first being how
to actually reach said Colossus. This
frequently involves picking your way across treacherous ledges and other obstacles
that tend to involve a lot of climbing. Then you’ll meet the Colossi themselves.
These range from towering, humanoid giants to smaller creatures that look and
act like crosses between bulls and tigers. Some are extremely dangerous, while
others are almost completely harmless, but either way they’ll all have to die.
There are 16
of them to hunt, and while each one is unique, the battles tend to follow the
same pattern: first, find a way to weaken or distract it enough so that you can
grab onto whichever part of it has the most fur. Then, as your grip meter
slowly decreases, resist its attempts to buck you off and clamber around until
you’ve found its glowing weak points. That’s your cue to stab until either you’ve
been shaken off or your massive prey falls over, dead, in moments that aren’t
so much triumphant as they are strangely sad.
atmospheric touches, though, we’d forgotten just how much sheer frustration
there is in playing Shadow. The landscape’s maybe a little too vast, and although the game’s structured to keep you from
revisiting the same areas (unless you want to), getting anywhere is not something
you can do in a hurry. Also, when you begin the game, Wander is relatively
weak, and so stabbing the average Colossus to death takes ages. This also
increases the likelihood that you’ll fall off the Colossus while you’re trying
to kill it, which then means you’ll have to repeat whatever you did to reach
its weak point in the first place. This can be anything from hitting a weak
point with a well-placed arrow to a grueling climb to a lengthy, high-speed
horseback ride followed by a hard-to-time jump.
For those of
us spoiled by the convenience of modern videogames, this can be extremely
annoying, although never quite enough to be outright discouraging. It’s also
never enough to mar the fun of discovering each Colossus’ weakness, or of
climbing up their massive furry backs and delivering the hard-won death blow.
Melancholy or no, there’s a definite satisfaction in bringing down something
hundreds of times your size with nothing but strong hands, keen eyes and a
sharp hunk of metal, and it hasn’t been dulled by six years of generous
checkpoints and easy victories.
In spite of
any irritations or hiccups the Collection has, Ico and Shadow of the Colossus
were both easy 10s when they were released – and while they’re maybe not quite
as impactful now as they were then, they still belong in any serious gamer’s
library (especially if said serious gamer missed them the first time around).
These are brilliant, memorable, inventive and emotionally involving adventures, and the combination of remastered visuals, 3D options, Trophies and a $40
price tag make them more irresistible than ever.