I consider myself a hardcore gamer, but I am ashamed to say that during my PS2 days I never played ICO or Shadow of the Colossus even though these were possibly two of the most critically acclaimed games on the system. With this review I make up for this blemish in my gaming career.
ICO sees us play as a little boy called ICO (of course) who was cursed from birth by being born with horns on his head. ICO then gets locked in a castle by the villagers who feared him. He frees himself then stumbles on a little girl called Yorda, and this is where we get playing. The main challenge here is to guide Yorda around the many traps and pitfalls of the castle, while at the same time ICO fights the shadows that rise up to take her. This is a classic Puzzle platformer with action as well. In Shadow of the Colossus we play as Wander, a young man who has to slay 16 colossal beasts to give life back to a lady (Mono).
In ICO we have a story that has been done before (an certain Italian plumber comes to mind) and save the girl from the castle. ICO however comes at this from a different angle in that ICO has no super powers and is just a simple boy, and in this respect it’s very easy for the player to relate. I have to admit once you play this game and get into the story there are a few surprises that make it very cool and you want to play more. Shadow of the Colossus gives us something of a David and Goliath story, never has this been more apparent as when you locate your first beast. The size of this monstrous colossus makes you feel so small and traversing it to find weak points is not an easy task. The stories for both games are very well done, and the way they are told just draws you deeper and deeper into the games.
What set these games apart from the rest in the PS2 days still does the same today. The artistry and graphical style these games proceed is genius. Fumito Ueda and his team worked their magic then and that magic is still very much present today. It has to be said that Shadow of the Colossus stands up slightly better than ICO. Both the games have been remastered to allow them to support 1080p, which is something that will please Shadow of the Colossus fans especially, as the game previously suffered from frame rate issues, which there are now none of here. We now can also benefit from 7.1 stereo sound and the joys of 3D as well as trophy achievements. Having never played these games, I can confirm that they play beautifully smoothly on the PS3 and suffer from no lag problems. The environments and landscapes you come across, be they castles or deserts, are fantastic; they are truly achievements in themselves.
On to the gameplay now, and focusing to begin with on ICO you sadly immediately find a problem. We are, after all, playing a game in which you are a guiding an AI partner around the castle. This is the biggest problem as Yorda really does not want to escape the castle. She makes it very hard to move her around and guide. Her AI programming suffers greatly and hurts the gameplay. The fighting that ICO does in the game is simplistic at best as you only have a few melee weapons and the combos are easy to do, which makes it somewhat repetitive. Shadow of the Colossus fares better in the gameplay department. There are no lasers here, no smart bombs or fancy equipment. Wander gets a horse to explore the vast landscapes and for weapons he has a simple bow and arrow as well as a sword. This sounds so very simple, but bringing down each Colossus is really difficult to do. There is something so fulfilling in tacking even one that you get a true sense of achievement from the kill. The combat in this game is very well done as you slingshot to weak points and take them out one by one, and each of the 16 giant creatures is so unique you can’t wait to meet the next one. One of the best aspects about Shadow of the Colossus, besides the raw, massive landscapes was the mystery surrounding every location I visited. What had happened there? Team ICO and Bluepoint Games have, in my opinion, given us two gems of gaming legend in these respects.
It’s very rare that a videogame can convey a sense of originality, even rarer that two games do this. The music and sound effects in both these games do just that. The music has been used in such a delicate and classy way. In ICO the way the mood is set is helped in no small part by the music and secret un-translated language spoken by Yorda. ICO gives us a strange sense of calm? How the developers have done this I don’t know. The music in Shadow of the Colossus completes the wide world in my view. ICO gives us a few special bonuses that we didn’t have before; since it based on the European version we get the fun of unlocking the special language of Yorda and read the conversations that we couldn’t before. There is also the ability to undergo a two player co-op mode where you and a friend can control ICO and Yorda, thus eliminating the annoying AI issue aforementioned. Sadly there is no multi-player in Shadows of the Colossus, but I know gamers will play this again and again, for the simple fact that it’s so engrossing and there is so much to explore and find out.
Overall, having never played these games before, I can say I am very happy I was able to this time round. These are classic gems of the videogame industry and any self-respecting gamer needs to play and complete both of these. The graphics in ICO show a little time rust and the controls along with the AI make the gameplay harder than it should be. There is more replay value than the original, however. Shadow of the Colossus is a great game, the boss fights are immense and very satisfying (you may feel slightly sad though in killing these majestic souls). I can truly recommend this collection to anyone young and old. Go get some classic, great gaming action.
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