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Review

Review: Ico and Shadow Of The Colossus: HD Classics

Standing on the shoulders of giants.

Ico, from beginning to end, is a wonderfully concise, deliberate adventure. Stripped of fluff and padding, it was refreshingly brisk back in 2001 and now, ten years later, feels especially so – this is a game that was so well received by critics at the time because it dispensed with everything that got in the way. In the age of side quests, extra pointless game modes and endless dialogue, Ico’s lean, focused plot stands tall and strong, still deftly telling a story that unfolds continously and unidirectionally with a powerful adroitness. Ico might only last eight hours or so, but it’s eight hours of pure, concentrated gameplay.

It’s also brilliant gameplay – simplistic and singular, perhaps, but undeniably brilliant, a subtle mix of platforming and exploration with Ico’s only combat ability an almost playful swing of a wooden stick – at least at first. The eponymous hero is hardly your usual headstrong, armour plated warrior – indeed, his humble range of abilities is part of the game’s charm – and his story is a tragic, moving one rather than the standard ‘save the world’ epic. Born with horns, Ico is cast out by his village and locked away in a castle (the game’s only location), the inhabitants are a ghostly queen and a collection of hauntingly dark wraith-like creatures that emerge from portals in the ground.


Your princess is most definitely not in another castle.
Their goal? To kidnap Yorda, a girl you find early on in the game and your companion for most of its length. Although she can assist with the odd clue and puzzle, it’s really down to Ico to protect, guide and carry through the majority of the exposition. It’s this partnership of the two children that forges a most sincere connection with the player, though, Ico’s boyish call and Yorda’s gentle response as she comes running over a delightful pairing. When trouble hits, and Yorda is carried away by the shadowy figures the pull, the desire to save her, is intense, and instantly becomes your only concern.

Not that the duo always work perfectly together. Ico’s move range might be simple but he can jump large gaps, climb chains and pull levers, all of which Yorda cannot; and although her pathfinding is generally superb you’ll sometimes need to backtrack a little for her to find her way to you when called. Of course, players familiar with the game will know that you can hold hands – a very intentional, physical bonding that only strengthens the friendship – an option made redundant by the ability to play through a second time with a human controlling Yorda.

It’s difficult to really explain what makes Ico such a mesmerising, enchanting game. Perhaps it’s the clinical design methodology that appeals, or the quiet sense of allegory and purposefully vague conclusion. Most likely, it’s the setting, with the castle’s walls and inhabitants (the truth about the shadow monsters is a scary one) as much main characters as those of Ico and Yordo. Regardless, Ico is a game that – whilst not perfect – should be experienced by everyone, and if this is your first time with it, you’re in for a treat.

Likewise, the game’s other half, Shadow of the Colossus, is a truly beautiful game. Not especially in terms of graphics (it’s true that time hasn’t been particularly generous to either of the games here, animation aside) but in the way that the story unfolds, the fact that this is a third person adventure with nothing but a huge overworld and sixteen enemies, and that you start the game with everything you need to get through to the end without leveling up, seeking out items or even talking to any other character apart from the central mysterious voice. It’s simple, yet cunningly deep.


It's an other-worldly experience.
Venturing into the game’s forbidden world, you must defeat the titular colossi with nothing but your sword and bow, your trusty horse at your side and a powerful, emotional tie in a motionless Mono who, the game explains, might find life again if Wander, the player character can emerge victorious. The trick, and it’s something that you won’t appreciate fully without playing, is that the great giants aren’t always hostile, effectively making the player murder them for his own requirements – a considerably alternate approach to the genre, and one that you’ll never take lightly.

And whilst Ico was constrained to a castle, the maze of rooms effortlessly leading you back over familiar ground, Shadow presents a huge land to explore, a horse for transport and the guiding light of your sword’s reflection for the rough direction of the next colossus. Clues are sparse, the resulting battles are won not purely by skill but also quick thinking and a certain amount of initiative, each roaming beast effectively a series of platforms and climbing surfaces meaning players must keep an eye on Wander’s grip meter as much as the two life bars.

It’s this sense of discovery that really defines Shadow. Each encounter is markedly different, weak spots left mostly up to the player to discover, and whilst some attack patterns are easily learned and exploited, it’s in finding how to get to a colossus and then how to take it down that provides the biggest challenge, rather than any complex dexterity. Of course, the game gets progressively harder but still manages to offer up a fair, balanced experience even when the odds seem stacked against you.

As the story progresses, and the colossi fall, the plot starts to take hold and another character moves into the forefront. Wander’s destiny appears to be pre-determined, but the path is already laid out and there’s no diversion. As he pales, and Mono looks to be recovering, it’s impossible not to form a similar bond with the protagonists as one does with those in Ico. The two are similar in many ways, and yet on the face of it entirely different games – but Shadow is perhaps the more rounded title in the collection. Not that it’s a choice you have to make, of course.

Both are presented in crystal clear 1080p, and run at thirty frames a second. Compared to the original Ico, the difference is immense, although very few of the assets have been touched which gives the games an almost ‘emulator’ look to them. Of course, the art style used in the two is still fantastic, the washed out visuals (the only blacks are reserved for blood and shadow) giving a slightly odd, ethereal look that works better than expected in the middle distance. More impressive is the sound, finally given the chance to excel in surround sound with the haunting ambience a treat.

Other features in the HD remakes are – as you’d expect – Trophies and 3D support. The latter is especially welcome, both games benefit greatly from the technology with Ico’s vertigious drops and Shadow’s great expanses of land never looking better. It’s a shame the UI wasn’t updated, Shadow’s menu system is horrible and Ico’s save pop-ups detract hugely from the atmosphere (as do the Trophy pings, to be fair) but it’s hard to know how much flexibility Bluepoint had with the games in terms of what they could and couldn’t touch.

Pros:

  • Two of last generation’s best games on one disk.
  • 3D support is lovely.
  • The framerate lock is most welcome.

Cons:

  • The graphics look a little dated.
  • These are the raw originals, with no obvious new features.

Info:
  • Scheduled for release on the 22nd September in Europe.
  • Two of the most revered PlayStation2 games for a budget price of £29.99.
  • Stellar soundtrack in full surround sound for the first time.
It’s worth re-iterating for those that aren’t familiar with Team Ico’s games that both Ico and Shadow of the Colossus were two of the most refined games on the PlayStation 2. Despite a slightly niche, cult following they make for a solid investment and still play just as well today as they did all those years ago – the mechanics, unlike the visuals, haven’t aged a bit. Of course, if you’ve already played through them then rest assured that your second time will be graced with a much smoother framerate and higher resolution – just remember to get your mates to buy it too.

Score: 9/10

45 Comments
  1. bunimomike
    Member
    Since: Jul 2009

    Lovely review. The games themselves truly haven’t aged simply because there’s nothing like it/them on this generation. I cannot wait to play them and it’s the first game I’ve ever pre-ordered.

    Some of the finest video gaming to be ever had (in my humble opinion).

    Comment posted on 08/09/2011 at 17:05.
    • bunimomike
      Member
      Since: Jul 2009

      For anyone who’s not played the games, play Ico first.

      Comment posted on 08/09/2011 at 17:09.
      • KeRaSh
        Member
        Since: Nov 2009

        I was planning to. :)

        Comment posted on 08/09/2011 at 17:51.
  2. BIGAL-1992
    Member
    Since: Jan 2009

    Must find money.

    Comment posted on 08/09/2011 at 17:06.
  3. StevenHibs
    Member
    Since: Oct 2009

    Cannot wait to play these!!!

    Comment posted on 08/09/2011 at 17:09.
  4. Dan Lee
    Common like the rest of us.
    Since: Jun 2010

    Had the pleasure of reading the review earlier. This collection is higher up my “must have” pile than games such as U3 and Skyrim. Let’s hope people buy it this time!

    Comment posted on 08/09/2011 at 17:09.
    • Youles
      Member
      Since: Feb 2011

      I bought collector editions of both Ico and SotC first time around on PS2, I know a good thing when I see it! :p

      Comment posted on 08/09/2011 at 19:28.
  5. nemesisND1derboy
    Member
    Since: Apr 2010

    Lovely review Alex, and I have to say, having missed them the first time around, this collection is definitely near the top of my wishlist for this year.

    I have to say though, those screens look really washed out, especially the ICO ones. Might need to lower the gamma and contrast :/

    Comment posted on 08/09/2011 at 17:10.
    • bunimomike
      Member
      Since: Jul 2009

      I know it’s hard to see it but the world (and the colour choice) is superb, fella. It really does look a little strange in the thumbs but on-screen you start to realise the bleached-beauty of their colour direction is utterly sublime.

      Comment posted on 08/09/2011 at 17:17.
      • bacon_nuts
        Member
        Since: Mar 2011

        Totally agree, they look much better on screen when actually playing. Fantastic games..

        Comment posted on 08/09/2011 at 18:09.
  6. nofi
    One for all.
    Since: Forever

    @nemesisND1derboy – that’s how the game looks mate. As I said, the only blacks are the ghosts and blood.

    Comment posted on 08/09/2011 at 17:11.
    • bunimomike
      Member
      Since: Jul 2009
      Comment posted on 08/09/2011 at 17:14.
    • nemesisND1derboy
      Member
      Since: Apr 2010

      Yeah, I know what you mean. Some of the whites look like they’re losing sharpness though. I’ll see how it looks when get them on my screen and judge it then :)

      Comment posted on 08/09/2011 at 17:17.
  7. posem
    Member
    Since: Nov 2009

    I’m glad to be In that cult niche of fans! These games are a classic of the PS2 generation and deserve every single ounce of recognition and respect they get!

    Comment posted on 08/09/2011 at 17:26.
  8. Jakster123x
    Member
    Since: Aug 2011

    Ho

    Comment posted on 08/09/2011 at 17:28.
    • Mike
      Member
      Since: Oct 2008

      Ho ho – green giant!

      Comment posted on 08/09/2011 at 17:37.
    • AG2297
      Community Manager
      Since: Feb 2009

      ho ho it’s magic.

      Comment posted on 08/09/2011 at 18:12.
      • nemesisND1derboy
        Member
        Since: Apr 2010

        ho right yes. ho no. ho ho.

        Comment posted on 08/09/2011 at 18:18.
  9. Jakster123x
    Member
    Since: Aug 2011

    Hopefully I’ll be able to get this.

    Comment posted on 08/09/2011 at 17:29.
  10. aerobes
    Member
    Since: Aug 2009

    For someone with such a bad memory, I remember these as clear as day from the first time round. I’ll still be buying them to re-live the pure joy once again.

    I doubt these games will ever get old for the people who hold them them in high regard and those who are yet to discover the genius of Team Ico.

    Comment posted on 08/09/2011 at 17:37.

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