Video games aren’t art. …whoever says that has never seen ICO and Shadow of the Colossus , and they definitely haven’t seen them in brilliant new high-definition. For years, both titles have been considered to be elite productions, ones that excel in the realm of innovation and artistic production. Now, they’ve been re-released in the latest awesome collection; it’s the ICO & Shadow of the Colossus Collection and there can be no better addition to a veteran gamer’s growing library. Even if you still own both PS2 versions (and I do), this is simply a step up.
Obviously, the biggest upgrade involves the visual presentation, which reminds us once again that Team ICO only employs artistic visionaries. The improved frame rate makes both games move fluidly and without any hint of old-fashioned limitation, and the new 3D support is absolutely mindboggling. If you thought the Colossi looked amazing before, imagine them lumbering towards you in stunning HD; consider the 3D view when hanging precariously off the side of a fantastical, mammoth creature. Honestly, though, 3D isn’t required to enjoy the fruits of the developer’s labor; that shines through in the timeless, unique gameplay and refined graphical palette. No complaints here.
If you’re familiar with these adventures, you know subtlety plays a significant role. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the audio work; very rarely is there any voice acting and in-your-face effects are shelved in favor of atmospheric style and tone. That being said, what we do hear works beautifully because it enhances that singular feeling of loneliness and vulnerability. The world is big and mysterious and we’re just trying to survive and somehow conquer. The soundtrack is there and it swells to accompany particularly harrowing events but for the most part, it’s subtle. And yet, very, very effective.
You may already know the plots and gameplay formats for both games, so let’s keep the gameplay introduction and explanation brief. In ICO , you will guide a girl through a dark, almost surreal castle. Her name is Yorda and while intent on following and making her way, she’s not very athletic. And being just a little boy, you aren’t exactly a superhero, either. Therefore, your adventure consists in finding ways around and through various obstacles, helping Yorda wherever necessary, and battling shadows that often rise up from the ground to attack. It’s a puzzle platformer with a bit of action, and it’s a classic.
In Shadow of the Colossus , you have to seek out 16 Colossi that exist in a large, stark landscape. Taking them down requires a great deal of creativity and timing; again, you’re not some muscle-bound hero with supernatural powers. You’re just a slightly awkward young man with a sword, so it’s going to take all your observation and attention to slay these mammoths. ICO features more of a linear and traditional storyline while SotC is more focused on the gameplay throughout, but both operate in these unbelievably engrossing virtual worlds. It’s impossible to look away.
One fact to note is that ICO is based on the European release, so American gamers might spot a few differences. Some of the puzzles have been altered, for instance, but the biggest change is as follows: upon completing the game once, you can replay and Yorda’s gibberish will be accompanied by subtitles, so you can finally understand what she’s saying. You can even try a new co-op mode that lets a friend play as Yorda, and that changes the entire complexion of the adventure. Not only are these awesome additional features, they also enhance this collection’s longevity.
There isn’t anything so significantly different in SotC, but that’s okay. It makes the best use of the graphical overhaul and remains just as mesmerizing and addictive as ever. Plus, with the addition of Trophies for both titles, fans will almost certainly try for one of those elusive Platinums; it might be easier to attain here and you’ll thoroughly enjoy yourself going for it. You’ll be lost in the compelling characters and worlds, original gameplay that demands your undivided attention, and overall sensation provided by gifted director Fumito Ueda and his staff. You just don’t find environments like these; the subtlety complements every flair and wonderfully orchestrated pacing change.
The ICO & Shadow of the Colossus Collection isn’t just a couple of old games that may or may not benefit from a glossy sheen. It’s not just about wondering if titles from yesteryear can stand up to modern productions. It’s about realizing that unique, singular experiences never really die, and will always retain the roots of creative inspiration. The only downside is that the control still seems a little clunky and even unresponsive, as it did when the games first arrived. That hasn’t changed and can present a potential obstacle for younger/unfamiliar gamers. It’s the only flaw that kept these titles from being almost perfect.
But it’s even more forgivable now. What surrounds these upgrades is an air of amazing accomplishment; it pervades every second of your journey and continually reminds us why we love originality in the world of interactive entertainment. The only other downside is this- after playing, you’ll probably cry at the thought of a long wait for The Last Guardian .
The Good: Artistry and exemplary atmosphere brought out to the fullest. Gameplay additions to ICO greatly enhance longevity. Adventures prove their staying power. Two of the best titles of all time in one package.
The Bad: It’s all over a little too quickly. Control still feels a bit clunky.
The Ugly: Only the realization that if we aren’t careful, such creativity and innovation might start to die out in a blockbuster-driven industry.