Sometimes older games deserve to be left alone, allowed to enjoy their cult status without being dragged up only for people to realise it wasn’t that great. But there’s no such concerns with Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. These are two games that even several years after their original inception, remain beautiful, thoughtful and heart wrenchingly well created.
A lot has been said about this HD collection, especially in the current build-up to the Last Guardian. Tarting up Team Ico’s 10 year old masterpiece could be seen as a blatant marketing ploy, a way of getting people interested in the story before next year’s release. And yet if that were the case there wouldn’t be such an obvious amount of devotion put into this remake – make no mistake about it, this is something to savour.
The story of Ico is brief – a young boy has been cast out of his village because of the horns growing from his head and gets tucked away in a castle. At the start of his escape he stumbles upon Yorda, a strange girl trapped in a cage. After saving said girl (who just to be awkward, speaks a different language) he sets about getting them both out of the castle. Aaaand… that’s about it. There’s a few twists and turns along the way, and there are a multitude of black smoky spirits who crop up at the most inappropriate of times and try to steal Yorda away from you, but generally the joy of Ico comes in the escape and the relationship between the two characters.
Somehow it’s this relationship that makes the game so amazing. Not only as a result of the unspoken bond that seems to inexplicably grow as the escape presses on, but also in the care that you’ll find yourself feeling towards them. Leaving Yorda alone for anything more than a few seconds gets the heart racing as you panic that some spirits will crop up and take her out of reach before you can return to save her. Offering her your hand to catch her as she leaps across an almost-impossible gap leaves you holding your breath until you’ve dragged her up on to the platform. All of this while enjoying the re-rendered HD landscape, ranging from the enclosed but huge castle to the occasional outside section with gorgeous gardens, and animals (well, birds and the odd rabbit) minding their own business. And if you think you’ve seen it all, wait until the end credits have rolled…
It’s hard to explain in words just what makes Ico such a compelling experience, it’s just one of those games that grabs you by the heart and doesn’t let go, much like Limbo. It can be infuriating at times though, with some frustratingly bad camera angles and cruelly harsh amounts of progress lost if you die in a stupid place, and it’s a shame that these issues sometimes made me turn off in frustration. But between these bugbears is a game that is worth every minute you put into it, and with the 6 or 7 hour campaign you’ll have plenty of minutes to enjoy.
As for Shadow of the Colossus, you’re up for a change of pace. Instead of carrying on from Ico in the same fashion, this time you’re trying to bring a girl back to life by destroying a batch of Colussi (that’s the plural of Colossus apparently) and activating a magic spell to awaken her. Your progress this time is split between exploring the landscape on your horse and doing battle with this series of huge bosses who sometimes don’t look like they want to fight you and will happily ignore you given the chance. Not in a half-arsed “yeah, whatever” way, but enough to make you think you’ve picked a fight on someone who didn’t really want to fight you. It gives you an impressively strong split emotion between knowing that you’re right to be fighting, but feeling like you’re doing the wrong thing and being a bit of a bitch. It’s akin to swatting a fly – you get the feeling it won’t do you any harm, but you don’t really want it getting in the way.
Unlike Ico the combat here is focussed solely on the Colussi, and you’ll enjoy a peaceful, serene experience between each battle. The fights themselves will have you finding one or several weak points on the big guys, reaching the sweet spots by climbing, leaping or running around the place until you’ve managed to punch, stab or ping an arrow into the area that’s asking for attention. It’s a tough task from the very start, especially if you’re used to Ico’s controls as when you jump you won’t hold onto stuff unless you tell him to, but each boss is beatable once you figure out what to do. Again, there are frustrating moments when you get killed after a long battle and have to begin the fight from the beginning, and the graphical step up isn’t quite as impressive as Ico, but this is still a stirring and moving experience which will keep you gripped until the very last moments.
Repackaging Ico and Shadow of the Colossus into an HD set was a brave move considering the obsessive following the originals had, but this won’t let anybody down. It’s a wonderfully made pair of games, and one that most gamers will enjoy and fall in love with. Ignore the flaws, forget about the occasional frustrations, and you’ll end up experiencing something remarkable.
Reviewed on PS3