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Game Review: Ico/Shadow of the Colossus collection

09 Sep 11

We’re now well into remake season, and the latest offering is a compilation consisting of two classics from the PlayStation 2 era: 2001’s Ico and 2006’s Shadow of the Colossus. While such HD remakes are often the ultimate in fan service, it’s also an obvious opportunity for newcomers to experience the magic for the first time.

That’s certainly the case for me in this instance; for whatever reason, most of the PlayStation 2 classics passed me by. Therefore, I’m unable to comment much on the improvements made since the games’ original incarnations. I can, however, assess each on its own merits and whether they can still hold their own against PlayStation 3 titles custom built for the hardware.

Ico is a puzzle/action-adventure title that tells the tale of a young boy with horns, the titular protagonist. Ico is banished to confinement in a tomb-like vessel within a desolate castle (as is custom for any children born with horns in his village). Shortly after he’s locked away, he’s able to rock his cell, sending it crashing to the floor so that he can make his escape. It’s not long before Ico encounters a ghostly, pale-white young girl by the name of Yorda, hanging in a cage suspended high up in one of the castle’s towers. Yorda appears to speak a completely foreign language, but still the pair form an instant, co-dependent bond.

The core of the game, then, focuses on Ico and Yorda’s attempt to escape the castle. Ico assumes almost a brotherly role, calling Yorda, leading her by the hand and clearing a path for her so that the pair can progress. Yorda is simply not as agile as Ico, but she can climb ladders and Ico can pull her up ledges of a certain height. So you’ll have to bear Yorda’s limitations in mind when tackling the many puzzles ahead, which entails all manner of lever pulling, crate pushing, bomb detonating and more. On the other hand, Ico requires Yorda’s supernatural powers to open the many magically sealed Idol Gates that prevent them from accessing certain areas of the castle. You can save your game by taking a rest at one of the many stone couches littered around the castle, but the catch is that both Yorda and Ico must be able to sit on the couch at once. Ico might easily be able to reach a couch, but Yorda is sometimes a different story.

There’s also a light combat element to Ico: shadowy apparitions will occasionally show up and make a beeline for Yorda. They’ll attempt to capture her and drag her through a shadowy portal in the floor, and so it’s up to Ico to ward them off with a stick or, later on, a sword. It’s easy for Ico to become overwhelmed by multiple foes in these sections; should one of the apparitions capture Yorda and begin to pull her through the floor, Ico must race over to the portal and pull her back up. They’re intense and slightly terrifying sections that are at odds with the peaceful tranquillity of the puzzle sections, but it works well to always keep you on your toes.

So Ico boasts some extremely solid, clever and unique gameplay. But what really propels it into the ranks of all-time classic are its immaculate production values. There’s a real sense of enormous scale to the castle environment, with every camera angle carefully accentuating each and every room and courtyard. As with most remakes from previous platforms, there are certain models, textures and design decisions that perhaps give away the fact that it’s an older title. But this is one game that translates exceptionally well to a more powerful platform and, incredibly, even appears to outpace its contemporaries in the design department in many respects. And with a minimum of dialogue, Ico is impressively able to communicate a beautiful and touching story. 

The second game on the disc, Shadow of the Colossus, is a title that made its initial launch very late in the lifetime of the PlayStation 2. Developed by the same team behind Ico, (named, funnily enough, Team Ico), Shadow of the Colossus shares the exceptional standard of production of Ico while constituting a completely different style of gameplay altogether.

Much like Ico, the story is simple, and the player is thrust right into the middle of it with no background information. It begins with a young man (your character) who arrives on horseback at a mystical temple where it’s believed he might be able to revive a young woman. He’s advised by a spirit in the temple that this is possible, but only if he defeats the 16 colossi that roam the surrounding environment.

Shadow of the Colossus offers a unique and intriguing take on the third-person action adventure. Presented with a large, open-world fantasy environment, you’ll not engage in combat with smaller minions on your way to the ‘boss’ battles. On horseback, the player must explore the barren yet beautiful environments to seek out the lumbering colossi. You’d be forgiven for thinking that, given their sheer size, the colossi would be easy to uncover, but many of them require some serious investigation, and some of the areas are difficult to reach. By holding your blade to the sunlight and adjusting the reflection, you’re given the general direction of your next target, but as anyone who’s played any open-world games knows, the most direct route is often not possible. As you make your way towards your goal, you’ll notice that you encounter no enemies or any other hazards throughout the captivating, barren landscape; Shadow of the Colossus is, essentially, 16 colossus ‘boss’ battles punctuated by the required exploration to find each one.

And the colossus battles are, simply put, jaw dropping. I’ve not seen another game, even on current hardware, that has managed to replicate the sheer scale, the thrill and the feeling of accomplishment from defeating these gargantuan yet somewhat majestic creatures. Each colossus is different and requires a different strategy, but essentially you must scale each colossus and attack weak spots located on various parts of its body. Climbing a colossus is no cake walk: you must grip onto its fur with a dedicated button and climb up as far as you can while it’s not thrashing around. Your grip is limited (and indicated by a meter), so you’ll have make the most of the intervals that present themselves after a colossus attempts to shake you off. You’ll need to observe the patterns of the colossi in order to find a way to scale it, and sometimes you’ll even need to make use of the environment in order to latch on to patches of its fur. And each confrontation is different and memorable in its own way, with colossi ranging from bi-pedal ogres to horse-like quadrupeds to an aerial-based bird colossus, a serpentine water battle and much more. Each and every one is truly epic.

If there’s any one thing that holds Shadow of the Colossus back, it’s that player controls for games of this nature have been vastly refined in the years following its release. The horse controls, in particular, feel decidedly dated and clunky after the likes of, say, Red Dead Redemption. It’s to be expected in a remake, and perhaps it’s not an entirely fair criticism. Those new to the game may experience a degree of frustration, however, so be warned. Oh, and the X-axis camera defaults to an inverted style, so most of you will likely want to change that straight away.

Often, the prospect of revisiting older games is not particularly exciting. But with the Ico and Shadow of the Colossus collection, I feel absolutely privileged and grateful that I’ve been given a second shot at two incredible classics that I missed the first time round. With not one but two incredible, touching and engaging adventures, each of which offers a vastly different experience, this package constitutes exceptional value. But it’s also no exaggeration that each of the titles on offer in the Ico and Shadow of the Colossus Collection continues to put the vast bulk of current third-person, action-adventure games to shame.

Graphics: 8.0

Sound: 9.0

Gameplay: 9.0

Lasting appeal: 8.0

Overall: 9.0