8th October 2011 - In 2001, a development team now known as Team ICO released a game on the Playstation 2 of the same name. It was a global success and hailed as one of gaming's first true contributions to high art and interactive storytelling. In 2005, the same team released Shadow of the Colossus, and lightning struck twice. It was universally acclaimed and managed to bring this particular writer to tears by the time the credits rolled. Both of these titles have been cited time and again as examples of gaming as an artform, and now they are available in and HD compilation. Do these masterpieces still withstand the test of time or have the wrinkles and crow's feet become a little too noticeable after ten and six years?
In ICO, you play as a small boy who has been taken to a large castle because he has horns growing out of his head. Left to die, the boy attempts to escape and comes across a taller girl who gets perpetually attacked by shadow monsters. If he wants to leave the castle, the boy must protect and take the girl with him. If you're expecting more story, you'll have to experience it for yourself. It's that kind of game.
Gameplay wise, ICO feels needlessly inaccessible at first. There is no movement tutorial save for looking at the Button Configuration in the Options menu, gaming veterans will easily notice the entire game sounds like one long escort quest, and said combat against the shadow creatures is static and basic. Thankfully, the controls are simple enough to be familiarized very quickly, the girl doesn't feel like a hindrance, and the combat is secondary to the game's puzzles. In terms of puzzle type, they can best be described as old school dungeon puzzles: sliding tiles, pressure plates, mild platforming, etc.. They aren't as complex or deep as more current puzzle games but the liberal application of save points and story relevant cutscenes keep ICO at a slow, but engaging pace.
Shadow of the Colossus, compared to ICO, is a more action heavy affair. You play as a young warrior who wants to resurrect his girlfriend and beseeches an ancient spirit to do the deed. In order for it to happen, the warrior must hunt down and slay sixteen colossi armed only with a sword, a bow and arrows, and his horse.
Gameplay of Shadow of the Colossus can callously be summarized as having sixteen boss fights and nothing else, but does a lot more with this basic structure than most games do with all of the sophistication of the world. As previously stated, half of the game is spent riding your horse through Bergman-esque landscapes finding the next colossus to fight, then fighting it. Whereas the rides are atmospheric and breathtaking in their own right, the battles against the colossi are grand and thrilling. Each one is engaged differently, but the main formula for doing damage is to grab onto their bodies, climb to their weak points and stab with the sword until dead. Sounds simple but when you have a gauge limiting how long your grip holds out and a guaranteed lack of copy/paste monster design, the battle against the last colossus is as fun as the first. There is nothing else to do in the overworld besides hunt lizards and collect fruit for grip and health upgrades but as with ICO, less is more with this game.
ICO and Shadow of the Colossus in terms of graphics remarkably still hold up really well. The framerate is consistent, character models, as dated as they appear in comparison to other titles, are still reliable and spot on, and there is no texture tearing to be seen. In terms of aesthetic and atmosphere, ICO and Shadow of the Colossus are still perfect. The chemistry between the two characters in ICO, the immense scale, preportions of the monsters and tightly comprised design of Colossus, the trademark ICO building architecture and language, all are still present and help escalate both games from being not just really well executed projects to something absolutely timeless.
Sound effect wise there is very little to hate or state. Since both games are minmalist in terms of story and contain basic but involving gameplay, the only thing the sound effects have to offer is more contributions to atmosphere. Most notably in ICO, there's little to no music, save for background sounds of wind blowing and moving water, Shadow of the Colossus meanwhile has a very bittersweet yet exciting variety of music to accompany the battles against the colossi that wouldn't feel too out of place in a darker project by Studio Ghibli. Voice acting wise, Team ICO's design decision to have the characters speak in a coded language leads to a certain exemption from criticism since the only thing that can be said is it sounds authentic and organic.
Both of these games have managed to remain as powerful and as engaging as they were since they were released on the PS2. As much as gaming as evolved in terms of graphical fidelity, interactive narrative, or gameplay, there is still nothing out there that immerses or engages players like these two titles. There's a reason why fans of Team ICO hold their work in the same light as Portal, Super Mario Bros or Call of Duty 4, because they are worthy of that praise. As if that wasn't enough to warrant a purchase, it must also be said that the disc also includes Behind-The-Scenes documentaries and interviews with the heads of the two games and a sneak peek at their next project, The Last Guardian. Oh, and there are also background Themes based off of both games respectively.
Unless you still have a working PS2 and the originals in working order, or don't have a PS3, I highly recommend ICO and Shadow of the Colossus. If you know someone who doesn't believe games can invoke deep emotion in people, recommend it to them. These aren't gaming's 12 Angry Men or The Godfather, but they come really close.
+ Great atmosphere
+ Minimal but amazing stories and gameplay
+ The Originals in full HD
+ Fascinating Behind-The-Scenes Videos
- Unconventional Control Set-Up
Reviewed and Written By Tyler Chancey