Few games of the PS2 era garnered as much critical acclaim as SCE Japan’s Team ICO and their two epic adventure titles: 2001’s ICO and 2005’s Shadow of the Colossus. Both titles revolutionized the art of storytelling and each had atmospheric design that was unique and dreamy, the legacy of which can be found in today’s games ranging from the popular God of War and Uncharted franchises to the artistic puzzle-platformers Limbo and Braid. While the two titles are not directly related to one another in terms of storyline, they do share a mythical resemblance that is unmistakable and they have been recently released as a single disc in Sony’s latest remake-release, The ICO & Shadow of the Colossus Collection.
For those gamers who missed out on these two amazing PS2 titles, there can be no better time than the present to fix that. This HD collection brings us Team ICO’s flagship title ICO, and a most underappreciated title, Shadow of the Colossus. The games are pretty much identical to their older counterparts, but they have gone through an HD re-working. ICO also has new features that were only included in the European and Japanese versions of the title. The game now includes a secret ending, 2-player mode, and several Easter Eggs. The framerate is now rock steady, which really helps in the control factor. ICO is pretty much pick-up and play with its control scheme remaining unchanged, which at that time, was very intuitive for its day. I for one love this new freedom if you will, the game moves so much better (framerate affecting the control). Veterans of the old game will notice the change right away.
ICO is about a young boy who must escape a strange land with a mysterious girl who is held captive by strange, dark, and shadowy creatures. You must work together to solve puzzles, escape enemies and traps, defeat monsters, and ultimately win your freedom. In its time the game was truly one of the most beautiful and atmospheric games out there on any console. After playing the remake though my appreciation of the play has softened somewhat. ICO, in my opinion, is somewhat boring in gameplay, compared to Shadow of the Colossus. You explore a mostly empty castle the entire game, hugging walls and pathways along the way and dragging around the little girl. The game’s combat and platforming aspects have become a bit dated over time. They can feel weak in structure and the puzzles are either too simple or too difficult, there is no in between. I remember having to think outside the box sometimes to figure out certain areas. Upon its initial release this seemed like a fantastic concept, but now the game seems to have failed to teach the player how and what is/is not possible. It is amazing to see how far games have come in the last decade or so. ICO is still worth experiencing though, especially if you have never played it before, and it still holds a spot as one of my all time favourite PS2 games.
While ICO is well worth the price of admission, Shadow of the Colossus is the best reason to pick up this collection. Once again, the game’s framerate has been increased and locked in at 30 frames per second, which helps the games’ playability immensely. I remember not so fondly of the wonky, frustrating, and terrible control issues of the original PS2 version. The game was epic right out of the gate, but far too ahead of the then current hardware specs. Your mode of transport is a horse, and it can be still a bit tough to control, but much better and way more forgiving then in the past.
Shadow of the Colossus is a sequel to ICO. The boy from ICO has grown into a young man and needs to seek the aid of a demon, in hopes of saving the life of his mysterious companion. The core of the gameplay is much different from ICO where you had to solve puzzles and such as you moved on. Shadow of the Colossus has a vast expansive world that you must explore to find the giant creatures you need to destroy. In some ways it could be deemed an early sandbox type game as there are no minions to fight, only the huge intimidating, almost majestic creatures, each of which you must ride, climb, or both, in order to kill. The game makes you do a random series of button presses to advance up, down, or across until you are in a position to kill it. I always thought it was a shame to destroy them, but on the other hand they can be extremely tough. You may fall back, or even off, if you miss a button press in the right order; frustrating indeed, but the reward is substantial so stick with it. The creatures are made of part stone part flesh and quite hairy. Each Colossus has its own individual way of being defeated and the button prompts will guide you as you hold on for dear life. This continues until you need to plunge your sword into its weak spot. If you regard yourself as a serious gamer you owe it to yourself to experience, or re-experience, the adventures of a young boy named ICO in Shadow of Colossus.
It’s amazing how mood and atmosphere, combined with intriguing gameplay, can make a game timeless. Despite being ported over from the PS2, and the fact that the more recent of the two games is 6 years old, one could still get completely immersed in this world. Granted, ICO, the older of the two, has suffered a little more from aging, and even Colossus is starting to show its age. Colossus’ animations aren’t quite as awesome as I had remembered them, and geometry pop is more obvious in HD than ever before. I found it kind of funny though that once I started playing through the games again that most of the technical criticisms seemed to vanish. Both of these games were highlights of the PS2’s game library at the time of their respective releases, and for the most part they still hold up great today. Separate of the games’ age, my only other gripe still lies with the wonky camera. Though you can control the camera manually, to an extent, it often feels as if it has a mind of its own. The controls take some getting used to, are not always intuitive, but they are very customizable so some frustration can be minimized.
Both ICO and Shadow of the Colossus are presented in widescreen HD, which in some areas shows some of the imperfections and limitations of the old platform. I like to think that Team ICO squeezed every little bit of juice out of the PS2 hardware back in the day, and crammed as much detail into the games as they could. This allows for such a good-looking HD translation in this collection. Both games are full of color and details we have never seen, let alone imagined during a time when these games were released. Some gamers may scoff that the games are not up to today’s technical standards, but they should impress even the most critical of gamers. The worst of the graphical errors when the games were on the PS2 was the inconsistent framerate; it was up and down like a yo-yo. Now that it has been fixed, the game looks amazing and consistent throughout, most notably during the heavy action areas.
The ICO and Shadow of Colossus Collection is 3D enabled. I don’t have the set up to take advantage of this feature, so unfortunately I can’t comment on this.
Music in both titles remains true, as Koh Otani’s sweeping score is intact. Like the original games, I found that it was more noticeable in in Shadow of the Colossus. It adds cinematic resonance to the already monumental gameplay and the epic boss battles. Likewise, the theme that plays whenever you make it back to the temple embodies the haunting sound of a world so ancient that time ceases to be relevant. The collection of the game’s musical cues is perfectly juxtaposed with the general lack of music in ICO that makes the silence and desolation of the castle even more pronounced. Spending long periods of time hearing only the pattering of a pair of footsteps on cobblestone adds an almost tactile element to the fantastical setting. The serene sounds of the world transform into a sweeping, epic score when confronting a Colossus. Both titles are encoded in Dolby Digital 5.1 and 7.1 DTS Surround, and both are fantastic. Play with the lights off and you will believe that you are really there; every little nuance is audible with full clarity.
The ICO and Shadow of the Colossus Collection is easily one of the best buys on the PS3. Both titles have aged incredibly well and remain some of the most enjoyable games on the market. They’re unique, interesting, and exciting all at the same time. Sure, they have their faults, but nothing that detracts from the overall experience. Either game alone would be worth the full price, but it’s impossible to turn down both titles in one box for only $40. If you own a PS3, you must purchase The ICO and Shadow of the Colossus Collection.