Ico and Shadow of the Colossus Collection Review
Developer: Team Ico/Bluepoint Games / Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment / Played on: PlayStation 3 / Price: $39.99 / ESRB: Teen (Blood, Violence, Fantasy Violence)
Among the many PlayStation 2 games considered for Top 25 lists for that console, both Ico and Shadow of the Colossus are often mentioned in the same breath, and deservingly so. Both games’ exploration into unorthodox gameplay style made them cult hits and has gained developer Team Ico a healthy following. Ico and SotC also delved into bold level designs aided greatly by their naturalistic color schemes. While the Greatest Hits reprint of SotC ensured that its price remained low, the out-of-print rarity has made experiencing Ico hard for some consumers. Now both games are combined into an enhanced port combo for the PlayStation 3, complete with 3D compatibility, HD resolution, and trophy support.
The main character motivations in both games are as old as classic fairytales where damsels require saving. Both the hero and the maiden in Ico are captives escaping together. They spend most of the journey navigating through a fortress while dealing with a series of puzzles and obstacles. Shadow of the Colossus is a vastly darker tale, one where the damsel has already died and the hero must defeat 16 colossi. These immense creatures make up the game’s ‘levels’ as each one has to be climbed on, traversed through, and stabbed on one or many sigils.
Looking back on the ten years since Ico’s 2001 release, its legacy in bold and imaginative artistic expression has influenced numerous other games. Its deft application of earth tones and deliberate use of washed out whites fit the game’s often minimalist level designs. Moreover, Ico originally came out in a precarious period when it seemed like every developer felt the compulsion to add escort missions to their adventure games. Sadly, it was also a dark time when only a few select games got this style of play right. Escorting Eva near the end of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater was well executed, while escorting freighters in Star Wars: Starfighter was darn frustrating. Ico even had the balls to be an escort mission almost from beginning to end. The platforming and combat elements weren’t too bad, either.
In the six years since its release, very few studios have dared to replicate the boss-as-the-level-itself design depth of Shadow of the Colossus, especially when compared to the less-intensive quick time event boss fights of God of War and Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. Perhaps the greater achievement was that Team Ico also managed to craft an engrossing tale on top of all the technical wizardry. It’s a deceptively dark story that excels on the trusty less-is-more narrative technique. It is because of these traits that Shadow of the Colossus takes even less time to impress itself upon newcomers compared to Ico.
Both games have an enchanting way of bringing out the beauty of solitude. The shortage of friendly NPCs will likely make you feel alone but not lonely. The world of Shadow of the Colossus in particular exudes a kind of tranquility that makes one wish they could visit that land at least once, save for the parts near sleeping colossi. Many of the large gymnasium-sized locations in Ico are unnecessarily large, especially when your hero tends to only have one or two tasks to perform in each room like pulling a switch or lowering a ladder. This is matched by the seemingly limitless expansiveness of the fields to roam in SotC.
This kind of dual-game repackage conjures the kind of collector’s giddiness not all that different from adding movies to one’s Criterion Collection DVD library. And much like the remastering work performed on those cinema classics, the widescreen expansion of both games unsurprisingly makes these two titles appear more epic than ever. In terms of the 3D, both take advantage of the added technology, but it’s Shadow of the Colossus that looks especially screen-popping. It’s easy to understand why the best 3D moments come during the colossus battles themselves.
It’s a tad on the nit-picking side, but it’s also a relief that both the cover art and the game selection screen use the original artwork from the Japanese version of Ico. The way that the screen pans in a landscape style between the two games in the game selection screen is a fine touch and further emphasizes the connection between the two games.
The film snob in me can justify that the games’ framerate preserves the cinematic feel, but deep down many of us suspect that both games could have been optimized further to 60 frames per second, much like God of War: Origins Collection. It also doesn’t excuse the fact that objects both near and far in Shadow of the Colossus continually load detailed art assets as Agro (the horse in the game) gallops swiftly across the landscape. Advancements in videogame camera work could have improved the less than perfect camera in SotC but it appears that was something neither Team Ico nor HD developer Bluepoint Games chose to explore.
Reissues, remakes, and remasters inevitably face the test of how well the respective game ages, especially in the eyes of newer generations of gamers. To its credit, Ico transcends its potential novelty as an artistically compelling release with an escort-driven gameplay approach. The superlative bosses that serve as the lynchpin for Shadow of the Colossus are worth the price of admission alone. At $39.99, it’s difficult to feel entitled to a full blown remake, but it’s still tough to believe that the draw-distance performance in SotC could not be improved. Again, it’s hard to complain when copies of Ico would sell for over $100 before these HD remasters were announced.
8.5 / 10