It’s human nature to want to revisit past experiences, triumphs and celebrations. Call it what you want, but it’s a notion which has carried over to both film and gaming in recent years, spawning quite a few re-releases and revamped editions. Some like it, while others don’t, referring to this phase as a lack of inspiration while using the rehashed content term. Being a fan of good video games, I’m always for the re-release of a quality title. Not only does it allow veteran fans to experience a classic game in stunning high-definition, but it also can be used as a way to get newcomers to enter a beloved digital world.
With Sony‘s recent re-release of two of its most beloved cult classic titles in one set, ICO and Shadow of the Colossus: The Collection, I must admit to being in the latter camp. Having only played a brief demo of ICO once before, I entered this combo disc and its two remastered and digitally enhanced titles knowing only others’ thoughts. With general consensus and detailed reviews giving both titles overwhelming thumps up awards over the last several years, my hopes were high that I would feel the same way. Closing out the opinions of others, I popped the Blu-ray disc into my PS3 and settled in for a couple of brand new experiences.
Shadow of the Colossus:
Shadow of the Colossus was the first game I sat down with, as its subject matter admittedly interested me the most. It tells a tale of an unnamed warrior who travels to the far edge of the world in order to hopefully resurrect his fallen princess. As legends speak, there’s an otherworldly force living inside of an archaic temple sitting in the middle of a gigantic plot of land. Our hero has set off with the hope that this passed down tale is the real deal, realizing that it’s the only option available. Otherwise, he’ll unfortunately have to part with his young love.
The game picks up in cinematic fashion, showing a large horse galloping across a uniquely artistic landscape. From a distance, it’s easy to see one rider at the reigns. Though, as they make their ascension towards the hulking architectural wonder of years past, what looks like blankets and supplies becomes visible on the beast’s back end. This is our deceased princess, who is placed upon a stone alter upon entry into the large stone corridor which makes up the cathedral portion of the game’s hub.
Calling out to forces unseen, our hero makes his plea for revival, accepting that it may all be phooey. Fortunately, that isn’t the case, as a loud and booming voice replies in a strange dialect. It tells the young man and ultimately us gamers that there is a chance for revival. However, the magical process will not come for free. It is at this time that we’re enlisted into an epic and dangerous journey, with the goal of eliminating sixteen different colossi from the land.
Riding on metallic shoes over a varied landscape, players must systematically take out each of the gigantic beasts before help will be issued. This means a lot of travel, wall scaling and platform action, alongside large-scale battles against seemingly invincible foes. Shadow of the Colossus is a game which is comprised of boss fights, with little filler in-between, but that is certainly okay. Each battle is like a new level, with players having to figure out a way to mount, climb and kill each one before their heroic avatar’s health runs out. Staying away from danger is as important as finding weak spots, with an energy bar giving indication of when to move and when to stop for a rest.
Finding your next target and his weak spot is done using sun rays, which gleam off of your sword and point your direction forward by gauged intensity. This same blade is your most important weapon, coming in handy when your avatar makes it to the enemy’s weak spot. It is then that you can inflict real damage, by stabbing, hanging on (while it attempts to shake you off) and repeating. Arrows are also helpful, though they’re mostly used while on the ground, to hit an area which will cause the beast to stumble to its feet, opening up a way on.
From the get-go, Shadow of Colossus completely blew me away. Its use of beautiful art, unique camera angles (which use the rule of thirds well,) and epic conflict was amazing and jaw-dropping. It’s a game unlike any other one on the market, delivering an interesting and creative experience which needs to be played. Each boss is a brand new challenge, taking varied forms such as winged vessels, water serpents and twenty storey tall behemoths. All sixteen are crafted with great detail, utilizing spectacular character design. What’s great is that their differences promote thought, strategy and intelligent maneuvering when it comes to figuring out how to take each one down.
Having received a much talked-about high-definition makeover, Shadow of the Colossus is a beautiful game to watch and play. While it’s not up to par with some of this generation’s best visual outings when it comes to shiny graphics, it competes in another way, using stunning art. It looked quite a bit better than I expected it to, though some of the texture work still looks dated. That is to be expected. Its general art design and artistic camera angles are incredible and really speak for themselves, taking the game’s look to a high plateau.
Immersion into this extravagant world and its uniquely large population is aided by an amazing score, which fits the experience like a glove. From the opening menu, gamers are treated to phenomenal music which carries into the game itself. The quality of this original score and its accompanying music is a real standout here, with impressive fidelity that carries over into pretty good dialogue and sound effects. Those with great home theatre systems need certainly apply as it’s evident that a lot of love and care was put into revitalizing this digital treat. The folks at Bluepoint Games should be commended.
It’s my duty to note that the experience isn’t all roses, as there is one form of frustration which rears its ugly head quite often during gameplay. That would be control problems, as the development team decided to go with a strange and somewhat cumbersome set of mechanics. I had a lot of issues with climbing at the beginning of the game, but eventually got used to having to let go of the left joystick completely in order to climb upward with the use of triangle, which became cumbersome. These button-based issues may deter you a bit at first, but don’t let them prohibit a full play through of the gem that is Shadow of the Colossus. You’ll get used to the intricacies.
Overall, Shadow of the Colossus is one of the most interesting video games I’ve ever played. It’s a great form of evidence in proving that video games truly are art, though I don’t get why anyone would ever dispute that fact. If you haven’t, do yourself a favour and play through this one. Those who appreciate good games and what it takes to make them will surely be amazed, though I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the slower-paced gameplay may not interest everyone. Those on the fence should watch gameplay videos or go the rental route first, though I’m sure Shadow of the Colossus will eventually win over your heart and bank account.
Released as the first entry in Team ICO‘s created trilogy, which also includes Shadow of the Colossus and will conclude with The Last Guardian, ICO is the tale of a twelve year-old boy’s adventure. Growing up with horns protruding from his head, the boy was an outcast amongst his peers and family. Considered to be bad luck, he’s banished to an old castle and entombed in what looks like a gigantic mask in the form of an oval. This isn’t done based on the requirements of a becoming of man ritual; it’s the act of sacrifice instead. Left alone, the young child is expected to die in pitch darkness, all to prevent bad karma which would apparently be levied upon his village.
Luckily, things do not go as planned. An earthquake of sorts shakes the building’s foundation, resulting in the oval-shaped tomb crashing to the floor with destructive force. A bit shaken up but fine, the young boy becomes free to explore the castle in which he is trapped, which is when he finds a girl in a cage. Helplessly locked up many stories above the ground floor, she’s bleeding from an open wound, though seemingly okay. After finding a way to drop the cage from its aerial roost, players must make their way through the castle with their strange new friend.
Most of the gameplay involves slow-paced puzzle solving, requiring the young boy to lead the girl through perilous locations inside and outside of the crumbling castle. The trick is finding a way to make it through each area together, as your ally is very afraid and lacks confidence. She basically needs to be babysat at all times, having to be led and called upon throughout the entire game. This is where most of the difficulty comes into play considering that attempting to get both characters from point A to point B is quite involved and occasionally challenging. You’ll have to catch, save and grab onto her on many occasions.
A lot of the puzzles are quite simple, though the mind tends to want to make them more complex than need be. What this means is that you’ll spend a bit of time trying one method just to find that there’s an easier and more obvious way to do things. Such is the way with most puzzle games, though. ICO is full of thought-provoking obstacles, switch puzzles and traversal. A lot of climbing is required in order to solve a lot of them, and the mechanics for that are alright. Though, the controls do tend to take a while to get used to here as well, being quite similar to the button layout found in Shadow of the Colossus.
Throughout ICO, players learn about the discovered girl, as they try to protect her from harm and discover safety. Making things more difficult is the fact that shadow beasts are quite often on your tail, attacking in groups as they try to capture our young hero’s new friend. Using a stick, the young boy can fend them off and eventually kill these beasts, though they re-appear a lot over the course of the game. Most of the time, one will attempt to swoop in and fly (yes, fly) the girl to a shadow portal, where she’s dropped off and continually sucked into oblivion. This means that players must be vigilant in rushing to her rescue before she’s gone for good.
What’s lacking within ICO is complex, fluid and interesting combat. It suffers from repetition through the use of a very basic attack mechanic. All you do is press a button to swipe, and that’s it. A few whacks here and there and the enemies perish. Since the puzzle mechanics are the focus here, it’s understandable that the development team didn’t create a God of War-worthy combat system. However, I wish they would have added a bit of variety into its mechanics. A less formulaic and repetitive attack system would have provided a nice addition, shaking things up a bit.
Other than its mediocre controls and lack of a fluid combat system, ICO is quite a good game. It’s not for everyone, being that what’s there is a very slow-paced and methodical puzzle game which lacks checkpoints. Saving can be completed at various points when the two characters are together at a couch. However, this option only presents itself at certain times; usually at the start of a puzzle section. If you fall to your demise, then that means the puzzle area will need to be restarted. Keep that in mind. ICO is not an easy or overly forgiving game, but it’s also fair.
I went into ICO not knowing if I would enjoy it as much as most others. This is because I’ve never been a big puzzle game guru. However, I’m happy to admit that I quite enjoyed this game and completely understand why it’s a cult classic. There aren’t many games like it on the market, as its personality, structure and presentation are all unique. This is another game which stands as a piece of gaming art, providing an entertaining form of interactivity for those who would like to play something different.
Remastered in high-definition, ICO looks pretty good, but not as good as its companion. From what I’ve seen of the PlayStation 2 version, there’s a noticeable improvement to be found. The characters look sharper and the artistic elements found within the game world’s design are pretty impressive. Once again however, some of its texture work does tend to look dated. Muddiness tends to creep in during a lot of the darker segments, as they lack a bit of definition. All in all though, the move to high-definition has benefitted this title quite a bit. I wouldn’t say it’s as impressive-looking as Shadow of the Colossus, but that game’s art design is something to marvel at.
As with Shadow of the Colossus, this 2011 version of ICO also provides some high-quality audio. Its sound design is quite well-crafted, with limited use of music and some pretty good sound effects. The voice acting is surreal, using some interesting effects to make the girl’s lines feel distant, haunting and almost alien. All of this adds to the cerebral and somewhat odd feeling that comes with playing this game, which is furthered by its relatively strange content.
Overall, ICO is an interesting and quality game which is certainly worth looking into. It’s polished and interesting, while being challenging. The look, feel and auditory elements found within help create an experience which is unlike pretty much every other game on the market. Several years since its original release, the game still holds up quite well, providing a thought-provoking challenge within a unique world. Gamers who don’t mind slower-paced and methodical games will love its relatively difficult puzzles, while they become enveloped into the overall experience through interesting presentation elements.
It’s evident that a lot of love, care and effort was put into remastering these two cult classics. Both ICO and Shadow of the Colossus are high-quality games, which have benefitted from the move to high definition. Their overall experiences are somewhat timeless in nature. Coming to these games for the first time, I was surprised by how much they felt like something which could have been released recently. It’s all to do with good game design and the fact that Team ICO set its experiences apart from the pack; in a good way, of course.
Don’t go into this one thinking you’re going to be playing games with archaic design which don’t rival current experiences. That truly is not the case. Though some of their mechanics are a bit dated and there are some control issues, both games still compete with a lot of the stuff out now. What is brought to the table in ICO and Shadow of the Colossus: The Collection is a compilation of two complete retail games which seasoned gamers need to play. Their visual design, content and audio are unique yet so well-crafted that the games take on a life of their own like few others. Neither one is perfect, but they’re both quality classics reborn on a new console. For forty dollars, you’re getting one heck of a steal with this purchase.
This review is based on a copy of the game which we received for review purposes.
ICO and Shadow of the Colossus: The Collection is outstanding value at an affordable price. It brings together two stellar PlayStation 2 titles which offer full retail experiences in and of themselves and is a must-have for fans of the series.