Years ago, if Sony ever polled PlayStation fans about which two games they felt deserved the HD facelift, surely the offerings from Team Ico would top that list. For some, Ico and Shadow of the Colossus were the poster children for the PlayStation brand, while others held tight to the titles as cult classics, proud of their experience with these elite games. Both offer equally lonely journeys, with atmosphere that is unmatched even by today’s standards. These titles remind us how far the industry has come; they represent how gaming is so much more than moving around an old plumber to rescue some princess—yet, the core of both entries retain that youthful, exciting feeling.
Now, in a move that is sure to delight anyone with a penchant for all things gaming, Team Ico has seen fit to unveil the Ico & Shadow of the Colossus Collection for PlayStation 3, bringing both PlayStation 2 titles to Sony’s latest home console on a single Blu-ray disc, with HD graphics, Trophy support, and 3D. Needless to say, if you already played these games, you likely have this collection on pre-order already. However, if you haven’t played either game yet, now is your chance to see what all your friends have been bragging about.
Ico, released in 2001, is a game that breaches the lines between entertainment and art, as well as friendship and solitude. You play as Ico, a young boy with the horn-curse stuck inside a castle. His goal is to escape and guide the mysterious Yorda out of the temple. The “buddy” relationship is heavily attuned to Ico, as Yorda is fairly useless when it comes to melee combat or platforming. The game blends many core components, including combat, puzzle-solving, and platforming, through the pair’s relationship. Yorda is not completely worthless, though you will spend nearly the entire game literally holding her hand and dragging her through each level. She has a magical ability to open doors in the temple, but while this is quite useful (and essential), there are still plenty of enemies that will pursue her.
The boy isn’t completely unequipped. He uses a stick for combat—yup, don’t expect riveting action—and when you aren’t platforming and solving puzzles, you are swinging your weapon in an attempt to fend off attacking shadow creatures. If you aren’t used to this game, you may find yourself extremely frustrated with the controls, combat, and the lack of intelligence in the A.I. This is really a trial-by-error opinion. I haven’t played this game in a long time, and I was initially irritated with the sluggish controls, but once I got the hang of it, I was back in the saddle. Perhaps it’s a wishy-washy statement, but the controls may not be for everyone, and others may not care either way.
The game is saved, however, by molasses rich atmosphere, a heart-ripping soundtrack, and terrific level pacing. If you can’t get over the previously mentioned issues, you are missing out on one of the most interesting games of the past decade. While the visual upgrades look nice, everything is still muted with dull grays, and the backgrounds, while still heavy in that atmosphere we loved, aren’t quite up to the PS3’s power. And, while Ico is a terrific game, Shadow of the Colossus is a better offering for its sharper graphics, slightly improved controls, and ridiculously heavy story. But, by and large the best part of Shadow is the boss battles and free-roam setting. You are tasked with defeating 16 enormous beasts – known collectively as the Colossi – in order to revive your girlfriend. Together with your trusted steed Agro and your magical sword, you’ll hunt each gigantic baddie one by one.
Shadow takes boss fighting to a whole new level. While a large portion of the game is focused on tracking the colossi down through the large open-world, the actual encounters are jaw-dropping. The enemies are so large that you may struggle to get them to fit on your TV. They are so vast you’ll literally scale the beasts, bit by bit. As the enemy attempts to thrash you off its body, you’ll grip tight and slowly ascend its towering exterior, looking for a weak point. These encounters are frustrating, too, because the controls are still not as precise as we are used to from recent games. It’s a fair game, though, and despite the enormous obstacle, you’ll find a way to defeat each boss—slowly, but surely.
The visual overhaul on Shadow of the Colossus is more noticeable than that of Ico. The colors are again moody and washed-out, but the graphics themselves are sharp and powerful. The audio meanwhile is absolutely outstanding, with a soundtrack so deep it truly draws you into the heat of the action.
Both games don’t necessarily stand the test of time in a traditional sense. On one hand, each game runs extremely smoothly, which is a huge benefit for Shadow of the Colossus in particular (its PS2 release suffered from some graphical issues). But the core gameplay is dated, and reminds us of the power of the current generation of titles. In many ways, that doesn’t matter, for both entries are important titles in gaming history.
With a two-for-the-price-of-one package, HD graphics, 7.1 surround sound, Trophy support, and 3D capabilities, Ico & Shadow of the Colossus Collection is the perfect investment for long-time fans, and indeed for those who have yet to experience any of these classic titles. Yes, there are shortcomings, but they are easy to overlook when the overall experience is so powerful, deep, and yet fresh at the same time. Needless to say, you simply must add these last-gen gems to your collection, if only to relieve the PS2 era and to get you excited for Team Ico’s hugely anticipated PS3-exclusive, The Last Guardian.