Review: Ico & Shadow of the Colossus Collection

Both Ico and Shadow of the Colossus are PS2 classics that have been hailed for their depth despite possessing very little dialogue. While both games lack a lot of dialogue, the environments and character expressions portray the most meaning and create a deep experience that fully absorbs the player into the plot. The games are as much fun as they are an unforgettable experience, and the high definition sound and visuals pushes that to even further limits than before.

Unfortunately, I never had the pleasure of playing the originals. I only briefly heard mention of Ico at the time, and I did not own a PS2 then. Once I finally did own the system, I somehow missed the Shadow of the Colossus release as well, only ever hearing the name of the game and nothing about the game itself. Years later, I heard of the two again, finding that the games have a rather large fanbase and that people had very good things to say about both. Once I heard the games would be remastered in HD and put together in a collection for the PS3, I knew that I needed to play them.

Having played both, I can say I was rather pleased with them; they truly put forth something that is not quite present in the overwhelming majority of video games.

The Ico & Shadow of the Colossus Collection
System: PlayStation 3
Developer: Team Ico, Bluepoint Games
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release Date: September 27, 2011
MSRP: $39.99

Part 1: Ico

Ico begins with a several-minutes-long cinematic that shows off the environment and leaves the player pondering what exactly the story is about. As I mentioned before, there is very little dialogue. This means that the player must infer the majority of the plot based on the actions of the characters in the cinematics. This concept is supported by the fact that Yorda, the princess you tug along everywhere, does not speak in a language you can comprehend. Furthermore, it is never outright explained who or what the creatures you fight are; instead, this is only revealed through the events of the game.

One of the first things I noticed after gaining control of Ico was the distinct lack of UI or HUD. There is none; there’s just Ico and the surrounding environment. I also noticed that the environments were large and expressive. Oftentimes the areas you travel in could easily double as a scenic painting, and this is likely the inspiration for the game’s original cover art. They also proved to be very interactive: much of the game requires Ico to jump and climb all throughout the areas. One of the most refreshing things about the game is how simplistic yet fun it is. Overall, the game employs simple platformer controls, assigning each button basic actions like jump, attack, pick up, or put down. These functions are rarely modified and are wholly static throughout the game. These controls highlight the fact that your character is just a young boy with no special powers of any kind, and this is further emphasized by the way he wields weapons.

In the beginning of the game, Ico uses a stick as a weapon. This is awkward looking and rather ineffective at warding off enemies. In fact, vanquishing one of the shadow creatures takes a large number of hits, so when there are more than three enemies, clearing the room requires a lot of time. When Ico finally finds a sword, the number of hits required to dispatch enemies is reduced, but Ico appears to have trouble wielding the sword properly given the size and weight of it. This further cements the idea, and for me, it added a certain type of realism to the experience that I truly appreciated.

The main objective of the game is ultimately to escape the castle. This is presented by a large number of puzzles, a number of which span several rooms. I was particularly pleased with this because many games that rely on puzzles to progress tend to be a little too closed-minded in their design by confining each puzzle to a single room. This frustrates me as a player because, when a large and expansive environment exists, it should be fully utilized. The puzzles essentially revolve around getting Yorda to the idol doors. In order to progress through these doors, you require a power that only she has. Getting to the doors yourself usually does not pose much of a problem, but Yorda is a frail girl and is not as able as Ico when moving around the environments. Much of the game requires you to modify the environment to allow you to guide her through it.

This brings up a small issue with the gameplay: Yorda sometimes has the intelligence of a wet cardboard box. Granted, the game was originally released ten years ago and AI wasn’t quite as advanced back then. Given that, it’s forgivable. Additionally, although I have yet to test this feature, playthroughs after the first allow a second player to control Yorda. This completely nullifies the problem with the AI given that you play with a competent friend. Despite this, you’re still required to play through the first time unaided, but that is part of the over all experience of Ico. The problem with Yorda is occasionally compounded by one other flaw: bad camera controls. The camera isn’t quite free-moving because, although you can move it, the camera returns to its original position the moment you take your finger off the analog stick. This means that to get a good views of your surroundings, you have to hold the stick in position. This is more difficult than it sounds and oftentimes results in a shaky camera.

Despite the camera angles, the surroundings are beautiful. They truly add to the experience and the high definition highlights this. They are further accentuated by the soundtrack and ambience provided through 7.1 surround sound. This may not sound important, but I assure you there is nothing more satisfying than solving a puzzle that results in shifting stone walls that reverberate throughout your living room. Unfortunately, I do not own a 3D television, so I was unable to review the 3D feature of the port. I’m not sure how much this contributes to the experience, but not being able to use it certainly did not subtract from the experience.

Over all, the game is a classic and worth playing for any gamer. It’s not just a game but also a work of art, and it exemplifies what games can achieve if they try. It hasn’t quite aged perfectly, but flaws due to age can be pretty easily overlooked. The puzzles are fun, the game is involving, and the experience is unforgettable. The game is rather short, but a second playthrough allows for a 2-player game, translates Yorda’s language, and presents opportunities for achievements. There is decent replay value because of this.

PROS
* Great puzzles
* Beautiful environments
*Awesome soundtrack in 7.1
* Quite intense draw
* Decent replay value
* 3D Support

CONS
* Annoying camera control
* AI can be dumb
* Experienced gamers may find it short

FINAL SCORE: B+

Part 2: Shadow of the Colossus

Wander looking up to the massive colossus he must face, while riding on Agro's back.

Shadow of the Colossus, known in Japan as Wander and the Colossus, follows the main character Wander as he attempts to resurrect a dead girl by the name of Mono. The game begins with a legend or prophecy of sorts that proves to be very important to the plot. This surprised me because Ico barely had any text whatsoever. Given that, Shadow of the Colossus has markedly more text, but it is still sparse when compared to other games. Another difference from Ico is the presence of a very simple HUD. There is a red bar that signifies your life and a red circle that signifies your stamina. They’re both very simple and don’t detract much at all from whatever else is on the screen.

Like Ico, the controls are rather simple, but they’re different and more complex enough to warrant a little more time to learn them. Much of the game revolves around climbing and hanging on for dear life. Unlike Ico, enemies are not the same size as you. The only foes you will find in this game are the sixteen colossi and they are of massive proportions. Finding these beasts consists of scaling their hides and attacking weak points. Finding the weak points can be done using your sword from a short distance or by just climbing around on them. The colossi obviously do not enjoy being stabbed by a little man, so they furiously attempt to shake you off of them. This means you must hold your grip on the colossi, but your ability to do this is limited by your stamina.

One of the elements of gameplay that I found simply magnificent was the difficulty of the boss fights. It’s a true challenge to avoid falling off, and you must be very careful with your timing or else you risk missing your chance at a good stab. Scaling the colossi the first time is difficult if you aren’t using a guide, but once you’ve learned, consecutive playthroughs become much easier. Additionally, the game adds fantastic replay value by introducing timed trials for each colossus fight. There are also unlockable weapons on later playthroughs and achievements for finding all the fruit trees and lizards.

Something else that I found interesting was that the white-tailed lizard tails help boost your stamina and fruit boosts your health. Despite the inclusion of these in the game, it is entirely possible to play through the entire game without finding any of either. In fact, I never noticed the fruit until after my first playthrough, and I only realized what the lizard tails did very late in the game. This didn’t really affect my ability to successfully defeat the colossi, although I imagine it would have been somewhat easier and more forgiving had I found them.

Similar to Ico, the environment is gorgeous. The world is also much more open and expansive than in Ico, because while Ico was confined to a castle, Wander must travel across large plains and mountain ranges to accomplish his goals. Similarly, the surround sound also contributes well to the experience because the very nature of the colossi is large and booming, and the sound effects manage to be just that. Additionally, the music that plays once you’ve scaled a colossus is amazing and really emphasizes the heroic feat you’re trying to do.

One of my only complaints was with the horse controls. Your horse is named Agro, and riding him is rather difficult to control. Often, you’ll run into a tiny ledge in the ground that Agro will refuse to jump, which is odd considering he can jump over decently large gaps at certain points in the game. This is a particularly consistent problem in the forest areas, in which you can’t quite see the ground well. Every time you run into one of these ledges, Agro will stop and turn around which quickly becomes a nuisance when it forces you to keep turning around. This is compounded by the fact that it’s actually slow and difficult to turn the horse around. Shifting camera angles also makes riding in a straight line somewhat of a challenge as well. I imagine it’s somewhat realistic, but at times it can be quite the bother. Thankfully, this doesn’t pose too much of an issue during the boss fights that essentially require usage of the horse. Another issue I had consistently was just getting on the horse. You have to press the triangle button to grab onto the horse and climb up, but you also have to be positioned perfectly next to it. This requires enough precision that I often ended up jumping several times (because triangle is also the jump button) before finally getting on the horse.

Despite these issues, the trusty horse Agro manages to build an emotional attachment with the player that is clearly apparent by the end of the game. It’s also quite fun to fight some of the colossi while on horseback.

Over all, the game is fantastic. Achievements, hard mode, and timed trials create excellent replay value, while the enhanced visuals and sound in conjunction with the artistic style and plot create an unforgettable experience that is worth revisiting again in the future. Shadow of the Colossus holds great improvements on over all gameplay in comparison to Ico, but maintains the artistic hallmark of Team Ico. Furthermore, the game has aged rather well; although it’s already six years old, it could easily pass as a new release. The story is enthralling and the gameplay presents something that I haven’t quite found in games released even today. I heartily recommend this game to anyone with a PS3 and a love for games as a whole.

PROS
* Amazing gameplay
* Beautiful environments
*Awesome soundtrack in 7.1
* Enthralling story
* Very good replay value
* 3D Support
* Simple to learn; requires skill to excel

CONS
* Horse riding controls are a bit rough
* Experienced gamers may find it short

FINAL SCORE: A-

Over all, the collection is $40 and worth every penny. Both games are classics and well worth $30 each. To get them both in a collection as nice as this is a steal. Both games are relatively short but present the opportunity for worthwhile consecutive playthroughs. If you’ve played them before, the nostalgia factor will likely be high, and the remastered visuals and sound will most likely be worth the purchase. Additionally, the collection comes with a large amount of behind-the-scenes information on the games and some information about the upcoming game, The Last Guardian.

COLLECTION SCORE: A-

Disclaimer: This game was purchased by the reviewer and not provided by Sony Computer Entertainment. At the time of writing, the reviewer had finished the first playthrough of both games and had begun a second playthrough of Shadow of the Colossus.

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Joshua Moore

About Joshua Moore

Joshua has been a gamer for a long time, starting back with the NES as a child. Since then his interests branched from game systems to general electronics; an avid fan of technology and computers, Joshua graduated with honors from the University of South Florida and now holds a degree in Electrical Engineering. His favorite games include Valkyrie Profile, BlazBlue, Left 4 Dead 2, and Ocarina of Time. Additionally, he attends various BlazBlue tournaments and tries to pick up other anime or air-dasher fighters whenever possible.