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ICO & Shadow of the Colossus: Fairytale worlds built of careful attention

Cat | 954d ago
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Ten years, two games: Team Ico knows how to leave you wanting more. While it has been fun to replay God of War and Sly Cooper, few series are more deserving of a re-release in HD than ICO and Shadow of the Colossus. Maybe you were never able to snag one of the relatively rare copies of ICO, maybe your PS2 struggled with framerate during SotC, whether this is your first experience with ICO and SotC or you're returning to well for more awesome you won't be disappointed. It's hard to believe the games were made a generation ago, they're just so stinking good - and good-looking.

The fairy-tale worlds of ICO and SotC suspend disbelief and are the two finest examples of gameplay centered storytelling. With relatively few cutscenes and even less dialog/voiceover, this is a story you play through, and the experience is richer for it. If you've already played Ico and SotC, this next time with Ico is that much more poignant. Ico is young boy with a pair of horns, and a sacrifice. Locked in a chamber by a group of men and left in the strange castle, he escapes his stone prison and in trying to leave finds and frees a young girl, Yorda, from a cage. They may not speak the same language, but they're the only living thing they've seen (aside from some wily pigeons) and that makes for a strong bond.

As you direct Ico and Yorda through the puzzle-riddled castle, you will notice something strange: Team Ico has made an entire game around everyone's least favorite mission type. Yes, a game - an exceptional game - that boils down to an escort mission stretched over a framework of really cool puzzles and platforming. Yorda needs help up ledges, across chasms, and most of all protection from shadow creatures. As Ico, you don't have much in your arsenal: jumping, pulling, pushing and whacking the shadows with a big stick (later, a sword) are your staple moves. The puzzles are very integrated, with ledges, ladders, doorways, and relatively few traditional Zelda-like moments of pressure plates and switches. Occasionally Yorda pulls her own weight by opening Idol Doors, and when you rest on a couch together you get to save your game. The rest of the time she tries to be as helpful as possible, sticking by your side and eschewing the traditional damsel role of wandering off with the words "kidnap me, shadow monsters" stamped on her forehead.

There isn't a lot of direct confrontation in ICO, it all comes down to those persistent shadows as they spill up out of swirling smoke-monster blackness at the most inopportune times. Some can walk, some can fly, and some can only scuttle across the ground, and they all want to drag Yorda into an inky black pit. Only able to knock Ico back, if they successfully pull Yorda down with them it's Game Over. There are no combos, special moves or advanced weaponry, you are a little boy with a stick and you wield it accordingly: in desperate, flailing motions. At some point you realize you're rescuing Yorda not as a mission-objective or game chore, but because your heart is beating in your throat while the shadow monsters try to take her away, your Yorda. At some point you realize that you care.

Similarly themed, in Shadow of the Colossus you play as a young man named Wander who must slay sixteen colossi to rescue a girl. A barren, open world, this is not a game for agoraphobes. Wander is alone with his horse (and some lizards and birds), as he seeks out the colossi which are, tautological as it may be, enormous. These are the bosses of all other bosses, and the experience of SotC is searching the world for epic boss battles - truly "epic": each colossi is so massive, so powerful, and each battle so challenging that they're the stuff poems are sung about, Homer style.

Wander must find ways to scale each colossus and seek out weaknesses in their hard skin (marked by sigils) that his sword can pierce. Oftentimes you will have to find a spot low on the body to stun the colossus, giving you time to scramble to a better spot - and scramble you will. Like Ico, Wander isn't really anything other than determined. He doesn't free-run up a colossus, he doesn't leap nimbly from point to point, he climbs slowly - sometimes painfully so - as the colossus shakes him loose. His grip depletes, he can't hang on forever, so latching on and scaling the monster forthwith is not an option. No, this is a measured attack of finding places to balance, regain stamina, and progress. The colossus isn't going to just let you climb up and start stabbing him, either, and it will try to dislodge you throughout your attempt; you are little more than a tiny buzzing bee with little jabs of your eensy sword. As frantic as a colossus battle can be, it's equal parts patience and puzzle solving as you navigate their unique architecture and the world below you gets further and further away.

Fortunately, Wander has his trusty steed that always comes when you whistle and is helpful in catching speedy colossi - and getting away from others. Then there's that pointy sword that's good for, well, swording and reflecting the sun's light to point you toward the next colossus, and their vulnerable point. Also, there's a bow, which is best for shooting lizards. OK, it has infinite ammo and can stun a colossus if you hit them on a raw patch, but otherwise it's like throwing feathers at a wall. When going up against things called "colossi" it's not much, and you will feel very, very, very small - and even more alone. With each majestic colossus you slay you'll wonder, "Why?".

But that's all pretty much the same, so what's new? Both games are re-mastered at HD resolution, with anti-aliased graphics, 30 frames per second, and the option of stereoscopic 3D. Updated visuals and 30 fps really mean just that, and the games are lovely. Textures are re-worked, particle effects are added, ICO runs in 16:9 - this is love in 7.1 surround sound. There will still be moments when the games show their age: save slots, or when scrambling through a window the game "loads". "Loads", because yes, there is a very 2001 load, but it loads so quickly you barely have time to think the words, "How quaint", and it's over. In both ICO and SotC the art design is brought into focus, the worlds become more impressively beautiful. Yes, these are PS2 games, with PS2 graphics, but their design is magnificent.

The Trophies are not of the shoe-horned in, easy to achieve variety, either, and add real value for the serious ICO & SotC fan looking to prolong their game experience (finish ICO in under two hours? Four, okay but TWO?). There are other little extras in the games best left unspoken - though like the first time around you will want to wait until after the credits roll, and if you finish ICO before firing up SotC Agro will have a blaze! Additionally, after completion there are English translations for Yorda and unlockable two-player mode.

Controls are as unique as ever - Triangle is jump, X is drop down, O is interact and R1 grabs. It's easier to see in practice, but this means that when running with Yorda or clutching a fistful of colossus your hand is effectively clawed into a hand-holding position. Just try telling me that isn't thoughtful game design. Then there are those small moments, like when having Ico turn a giant crank you notice he has an easier time pushing from the outer edge than the inner, or that when he swims he holds the sword up above the water. Games of scale, ICO and Shadow of the Colossus are fairytale worlds built of careful attention.

ICO & Shadow of the Colossus collection is available Tuesday, September 27, 2011 for $40. Get it.

coolbeans  +   954d ago
One of the september blog winners right here! :P

In-depth review on what I should expect from the game (haven't played ICO). I'll be sure to pick this up soon.
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miyamoto  +   954d ago
my most anticipated ps3 geym!

this games alone set the ps3 apart from the 360 n wii. id rather play these types of games than CoD or Marios.
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TBM  +   954d ago
Cat

you didn't need to convince me to get these gems they were already bought the minute the words HD remake were said. I still have my ps2 copies but id be a fool to pass this up. Great review, its so great to see one without personal agendas being brought into one.
Nevers  +   954d ago
Same here.

I didn't own a PS2 and was on a hiatus from gaming during college but I wanted to play these games so bad... all anyone that owned a PS2 had was Tony Hawk it seemed to me back then anyway. I'm really looking forward to my first playthru of 2 of the most loved games out of any generation. PreOrder in and can't wait.
TBM  +   954d ago
Trust me you will not be disappointed for anyone who says they weren't great games doesn't know what gaming is about.
Rage_S90  +   954d ago
Shadow of The colossus has what i rate as the best ending to a video game ever. Amazing game, one that i think everyone should experience. Can't wait!!!! XD
Legion  +   954d ago
One of the best reasons to having owned a PS2 was being able to play these games. People constantly search for a backwards compatible PS3 online just so they can still play these games on it.

A must have collection for anyone that owns a PS3. Might even be enough reason to go out and get another used PS3 slim.
Criminal  +   954d ago
Good job Cat, great review!

I haven't played those two masterpieces yet. I think now I no longer have an excuse. (I don't have my PS2, I left it in my country when I moved to Canada.)

Thanks for limiting the technical improvements to one paragraph so that newcomers, like myself, can learn more about the game, not just the graphical leaps.

Cheers,

FJ
AKS  +   954d ago
Wow, finish ICO in 2 hours? I guess if I can finish MGS4 with a perfect Big Boss Emblem playthrough in 3h, 30 min I can figure out how to make it happen. But I wasn't expecting that. I'm not sure I'd like speed runs through Team ICO games, though. I like to take my time and explore most of the time.
Cat  +   954d ago | Funny
Yeah, it's pretty daunting. My play through for the review was just over 5 hours, so I could see paring it down to 4, but I don't think I'd enjoy trying to get to 2!! Be yelling at Yorda the whole time, "SHOW SOME HUSTLE, WOMAN!!"
Aclay  +   954d ago
I think the 2 Hour Speed Run Trophy for Ico might just be the only thing that'll keep me from getting a platinum trophy in the game. The 4 hour Trophy is definitely do-able, but 2 hours is a stretch!

If you got the Big Boss emblem in MGS4, you probably could get the 2 hour trophy in Ico, but I can just imagine it'll be a pain in the rear trying to complete because there's several times where you have to leave Yorda behind and if you're away for too long, those black spirits will show up.

Finding the hidden weapon in Ico should speed up your progress though, as it's one of the most powerful weapon in the game and you'll be able to mow through those spirits even faster than the standard Sword.
Adamalicious  +   954d ago
Shhh...don't mention the [you know what]!
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Aclay  +   954d ago
Nice write up. I've owned both of these gems for many years now, but I have to get this HD Collection. As long as it doesn't cost too much (hopefully not too much over $100), I'm planning on importing the Limited Edition HD Collection from Play-Asia....I just gotta have it.

The one and only thing about SoTC that I would change if I could, would've been to integrate the bonus items you get in the Time Attack Mode into the Main Story from the start, or at least be able to acquire the items slowly overtime while playing the Main Story... I would've really loved to have some of the items you recieve in Time Attack Mode throughout the main story, especially the: http://upload.wikimedia.org...

Even though SoTC isn't a 'direct' sequel, If you haven't played either ICO or SoTC, I recommend playing Ico first then SoTC...I think most people will probably want to gravitate towards SoTC since it's more action oriented, but I think you might be able to appreciate the ending of SoTC a little more if you've played Ico first!
videoxgamexfanboy  +   954d ago
Im not really into the whole hd remake thing but if there are games that will make me get into them its ico and sotc. Cant wait!
NeloAnjelo  +   954d ago
Nice review. I own both of these on the PS2, and have multiple play throughs. This collection is a must buy for me.
DigitalRaptor  +   954d ago
2 games of legend with added value. Brilliant review!

Can't wait for this and the MGS collection.
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Hozi89  +   954d ago
I wanna get this.
rezzah  +   954d ago
I played SOTC so much that my pink stamina circle bar was 1 quarter off the screen. Also my health (like many others i presume) was at it's longest, that being right across the screen.

Also I don't know why I like about this but I killed every animal in the game that could die. Also found all of them too.

I got most of the special weapons though, not all, which is a great shame for me since its my favorite game of all time. I even got all of Agro's different colours, and learnt all the different ways to ride him (standing on back is easy, but learning the side body grab is tough).
TalkingTrees  +   954d ago
I didn't even know about the different colors or the different ways to ride him. I never really integrated my gameplay too much on that game aside from getting health and killing lizards, and of course playing the main game. Should be a blast trying to get the extra stuff on the HD release!
rmedtx888  +   954d ago
Great review!
akuma_01  +   954d ago
great review...day 1 for this collection
JL  +   954d ago
I will definitely have to pick this one up. I missed out back in the PS2 day, so I'll have to check out these after all the praise they get all the time.

I do remember seeing SotC in the movie Reign Over Me and thinking how awesome that looked.

This is part of what I like about the HD remake things. Gives a chance to experience some great games that I may have missed in generations before (much like the GOW collection did as I missed those too). Furthermore, you're getting at least a couple great games for cheaper than a new game. When technically these are new to me as well since I haven't played them before.

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