Preview: ICO & Shadow of the Colossus HD

Let’s get them out of the way, then: haunting, beautiful, serene, moving – any others? It’s been a while since these two games originally released (especially Ico, which came out in 2002) and yet they’re still regarded by some as the most compelling, original and evocative videogames in existance. And despite the cruel ravages of time (which have not been terribly kind to the graphics) such adjectives and superlatives are absolutely valid nearly ten years later – these games are considered masterpieces and amongst the very best games you can play, and they’re a powerful combo.

[drop]They are, of course, entirely different games, although linked by developer and a handful of somewhat delicate connections (none of which we’ll spoil here). Shadow of the Colossus might be interpreted as a spiritual successor to Ico but either game can be played before the other and they’re distinctly unique in gameplay, even if they share similarly melancholic tones in their exposition and pacing. Ico, which I still maintain is the better game, is a tightly wound puzzle platformer with a wonderful escort dynamic whilst Shadow is a much more open, evolving game but yet it manages to really only ask one thing from the player.

Ico worked then (and remains powerful now) because of the raw sense of innocence that oozes from the two main characters. In a castle filled with danger (vertiginous drops and deadly ghost-like creatures) and yet devoid of obvious communication, it’s down to the player to rescue them with just a plank of wood for weaponry and a suprisingly believeable chunk of courage and bravery from the lead. It’s impossible not to connect with them, either, and by the end of the game – after everything they go through – you’ll find it hard to tear yourself away.


Shadow works differently. It still plays on similar notes – isolation, desperation and the overwhelming desire to help someone – but challenges you with taking down a series of increasingly tough colossi which are scattered across a vast expanse of land, your only companion a horse. These massive, lumbering beasts aren’t always outwardly agressive, and their sometimes pitiful demises at the hands of the player and his singular quest are deeply moving. It’s up to you to find their weakspots and up to you alone to take them down, making each death a personal, affecting one.

When they released on PlayStation 2, Team Ico’s games pushed the console hard and Fumito Ueda’s team – famously perfectionists – ensured that both titles looked the best they could. Ico’s limited resolution and Shadow’s poor frame rate are both rescued here on PS3, though, which locks both games in at 1080p and thirty frames per second. What it doesn’t do, though, is touch the textures, animation and character models beyond a few minor tweaks (improved particle effects and a sprinkling of shaders here and there) and the lighting still remains somewhat flat, especially in Shadow.

[drop2]That’s not to say they look bad – they don’t – but don’t expect much in the way of an upgrade from the originals beyond the obvious. With a few adjustments to your TV’s black levels and the PS2 versions side by side to compare the difference is clear, but these are games that are to be enjoyed beyond the vanity of fancy graphics, and the art style and sense of scale still impress regardless. I’ve tried both in 3D for a while too, and it’s definitely the way to play them – Ico in particular benefits from the added depth offered by the technology, especially once you start to traverse the castle’s exterior sections.

Team Ico’s two PlayStation 2 games are widely considered as art pieces as much as they are videogames, and it’s easy to see why. They’re remarkably insular and introvert, seemingly unaware of trends and fashion, and are every bit as brilliant to play today as they ever were. The ‘games as art’ argument will continue to rumble on forever more, but both Ico and Shadow of the Colossus are as close to the concept of art – however you interpret that – as anything out there, regardless of their age, and will continue to be so for some time to come. Haunting? Beautiful? Serene? Moving? Pretty much.



  1. “…and the lighting still remains somewhat flat, especially in Shadow.” Tee-hee, don’t know if that was on purpose :D
    Not played ICO yet, seen it a while back pre-owned and was tempted but I held off for the prettier version :)

    • ICO was worth money, at least until this re-release announcement. I think it was selling for around £40, pre-owned.

      • I’ve recently sold both for £20, a year ago I could of got £40-£50!

      • I recently(ish) sold SOTC Ltd Ed for £17 and a sealed copy of ICO Ltd Ed for £94 ( yes, £94!! ).

      • @Peter, £40 in a shop pre-owned is insane in the membrane ! Can’t remember what I seen it for, wasn’t that much, I’d have been slightly less indecisive…. :D

        @retro_, That’s nuts, even more nuts than £40……£57 more nuts to be precise !

  2. I still don’t know if i should be excited about these games or not. :S

    I unfortunately missed them in their PS2 days (which has actually been the case with most of the remakes bizarrely enough), so i actually have no idea whether i am missing out on something that i simply should experience, or if they are just another couple of games that i’ll start & never get around to finishing.

    I know that they are referred to as ‘art’ & ‘cult classics’, but (& i take the risk of offending a few people here) i am not sure if they are perhaps a bit on the boring side? They actually don’t strike me as ‘action packed’ games, but i would love someone to tell me that they are.

    I know they are generally considered experiences like no other, but do these games have any similarities or qualities to any others, just to give me an idea what to expect?

    • Ico’s castle is some of the finest architecture to exist in games. You puzzle, twist and turn around the place as you drag Yorda with you. Hours in, you can come out of somewhere and go “holy crap, I was there… um, hours ago!” and it really does give you the most believable structural environment to wander around. Your single goal is to get Yorda out of there so the black, cloud-like creatures are a genuine annoyance and you can feel your pulse quicken when they try to take her. However, it’s the world that Ueda has built that impresses again and again. The way the two children connect with very few words. There’s such simple touches in there like when you save a game – on what appear to be a concrete sofa. Ico gently falls asleep to rest from his travels. Yorda looks around some more but succumbs to tiredness and gently lays her hand in his. Comfortable and safe just for a moment.

      SOTC is a different bag of tricks. It’s very, very peaceful 80% of the time but that’s just wandering around the incredible landscape. Over-saturated hues at one point, dusky colours elsewhere. For such a baron landscape the world is captivating at every turn.

      However, the colossi themselves are just superb. I’m not sure we’d seen scale like this on the old consoles before and the Colossus cam (holding R1, I think) is pure genius. The sense of disproportionate scale is phenomenal. Then there’s the ending to the game. Absolutely wonderful and the finest I’ve enjoyed.

      I’m hoping that if the game doesn’t strike a chord that you’d be able to sell it on the likes of eBay for very little loss.

      Hope this helps.

      • Also, I couldn’t help but feel for Ico. See that viking-style helmet? Those horns are Ico’s. He’s born with them and wears a helmet with two holes cut out to hide his deformity. The villagers take him away, as they see this as a bad omen, and lock him in the castle.

      • I already have this game preordered but after reading your reply I only want those games even more… Damn you! :D

      • This is a really good appraisal of the two games. I personally prefer SOTC, but I own both for the PS2 and will be buying them again on PS3. I urge anyone to at least try them, even if you borrow from a friend or rent it.

    • Oh be excited trust me, they are an experience like no other and the atmosphere is second to none.

      As for excitment, just wait until you meet your first Colossus, I teach Games Design to your standard COD generation and everytime I show the opening of this game and the first fight they always sit there in total awe ;)

      Hope this helps

    • Question for all those who have played these games: how violent are they? I don’t play “violent” games – I’m one of these weird people who doesn’t like wandering around randomly killing everything in sight. So how violent are Ico and Shadow? Thanks in advance!

      • I think you’d like them. The violence in them feels… *more* then computer-game violence, especially SotC: you actually feel like you’re doing something wrong in it. Ico’s bad guys are thing of shadow, and you are always fighting to defend…
        Basically, you should try it. I think you’d like it.

      • There’s no blood or guts and in SOTC, the kills are filled with moments of “oh… I don’t feel so good about this” but in an incredible way. You realise you have to do this to get through the game. There’s nothing mindless about either games. Also, ICO has very few battles to be fair – especially when you think how far he travels around the castle. It really is about everything else. I’d even go as far to say that the tiny battles/fights are a token gesture.

        However, with SOTC the battles are everything but are beautiful in their own right.

    • Thanks to all of you for your input – Most inciteful & has actually made me consider picking these up somewhere down the line.

      Although special credit to Mike who’s love of the game allowed him to write an essay on the subject & get a passing grade!

      Mike wins! :)

    • “They actually don’t strike me as ‘action packed’ games.”

      Ok. You’ve said enough about yourself. Just forget them.

  3. I had a break from gaming for 4 years during the “PS2-era” so I missed out on both of these games. Looking forward to checking out their HD counterparts but I doubt I will get them straight away given they come out in the same month as Gears3 and Resi4 HD. Still, will be nice to finally play them around xmas time :)

  4. I can’t wait for these, especially Ico. As far as the HD upgrade goes, I have the originals but i don’t like playing them upscaled on my bc ps3 and i’m sure the new versions will look much nicer on my HDtv.

  5. Pre-ordered. Utterly utterly brilliant games, can’t wait for the remakes.

  6. ICO was one of the best emotional game I have ever played back then and I cannot wait to re-play them all over again. Just to get Kleenex and I’m all set to play.

  7. I’ve already got them pre-ordered, missed out on them last gen as I didn’t have a PS2, but an Xbox (no regrets though). Was planning on buying the PS2-copies and playing them on my PS3 until I discovered it wasn’t backwards compatible. So this collection is much appriciated. Now I only Okami could get the HD-treatment…

  8. So excited. Deliberately not been back to these games after I heard about the re-release. Didn’t finish Ico as I was too impatient in puzzles when younger. Cannot wait for SOTC though. I am actually quite pleased they didn’t update the graphics too much, I love how they look.

  9. I never got a chance to play either of these two titles when they released. I cannot wait for this bundle to come out.

  10. I’ve never played either of these two games but have them preordered.

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