Some games just have a deeper feeling to them. They penetrate the mind and dig deep, stimulating thoughts of curiosity, awe and wonder. Team Ico is one of the few that can pull off such feats in the creation of their games. They seem to know what they’re doing, even if it’s just re-releasing old titles in high definition. With the Ico/Shadow of the Colossus Collection re-release, the company has successfully inspired and re-inspired an old adventure that’s worth re-visiting.
Considering there are two games bundled into one, it’s only fair to give two separate mini reviews with an overall judgment at the end. First up to bat is Team Ico’s first release, conveniently titled Ico.
ICO – Ico is a double edged sword for me. It’s a moving and revolutionary game that has definitely altered how people will look at puzzle/adventure games. On the other hand, it’s frustrating and border line obnoxious at times. The story begins with soldiers taking a boy with horns to a large prison fortress. Apparently deemed “a bad omen” because of the horns protruding from his skull, the boy is locked away and sealed into the fortress by magic. The soldiers leave, thinking the boy is sealed away for good, and his prison pod comes crashing to the ground after a tremor shakes the castle, releasing him.
The boy, named Ico, wanders the castle and eventually stumbles upon a caged girl named Yorda. After some navigation and platforming, you free Yorda from her prison and together you search for an escape.
After freeing Yorda, shadowy figures come from the floor and attempt to kidnap Yorda from you. Your task is to keep her safe from the creatures and lead her through the puzzles and rooms of the fortress.
The game has a healthy mix of puzzles and combat, although the combat is incredibly simple. As Ico, you’ll continually beat down the shadow creatures as they attempt to grab Yorda and pull her into the black abyss.
A lot of love is sent Ico’s way due to the pure simplicity of it all. It’s straight forward and lacks a lot of explanation, but that’s absolutely okay. It’s minimalistic on purpose, and it hits home. It’s a boy-and-a-girl story through the perils of a seemingly abandoned castle. And that’s all you need to know.
The game is designed beautifully, and with the HD makeover, it’s even more so. The textures of the tiles and bricks, the smudgy look of the shadow creatures, the light vs. dark complexion, it’s all stunning. The design, despite the emptiness of it all, is full of beauty and things to simply admire while navigating bridges and passageways.
It’s a unique game which Team Ico set the bar with for adventure games. Yes, it’s an escort mission through and through, but between its minimalistic approach and gorgeous layout, Ico has truly put a new spin on adventure games.
On the other hand, Team Ico could not have made Yorda more annoying. At times, she’ll follow you at a normal pace, but at other times, she’ll stop dead in her tracks. Yorda needs to be tugged around on occasion by grabbing her hand, she can’t climb things, and seems pretty inept in the ways of basic survival. It gets to a breaking point when all you want her to do is just stay away from the hordes of shadow creatures. But no, she’ll just stand there. Sometimes she’ll move around a bit, but she doesn’t put up a fight.
It’s hard to move past Yorda’s obvious lack of survival television shows in her life, but if you can, the game is fantastic. It’s beautiful and open, a type of game I had never played before.
But moving onto Ico’s sibling title…
SHADOW OF THE COLOSSUS – I’ll be completely honest with you right now, and let you know from the get-go that this has been and continues to be in my Top 3 favorite games of all time. The re-release just continues to inspire all my love for it.
Shadow of the Colossus (or SOTC for short) holds true to be the epitome of adventure. It’s a game that demands bravery and intelligence, and defines ambition and imagination.
The game begins with the protagonist, Wander, riding his horse, Agro, with a seemingly lifeless girl riding on the back. He travels to a forbidden land with a stolen enchanted sword, hoping a higher power will breathe life back into his loved one. The story is sparse, but moving, told mostly through visuals and the straight forward quest handed down to you by the deity Dormin. You are told to defeat the 16 colossi roaming the forbidden land, and then the girl, Mono, will be resurrected.
Equipped with only your sword and a bow with arrows, you travel with Agro, your only companion throughout the game.
Like its predecessor Ico, SOTC centers itself with a minimalistic concept. Defeat the 16 colossi. The world you travel in is vast, visually stunning, and for the most part vacant. Occasionally, there is a hawk in the sky or a lizard scurrying on the ground, but, in the end, it’s just you, Agro and the colossi.
Although empty, the game’s setting has truly been mastered by Team Ico. The designers take into consideration the importance of light. In the sunlight, Wander has the ability to raise his sword to create a compass in order to locate each colossus. In the shadows, however, the sword struggles to gleam and will fail, leaving players to use their own intuition to find their way. When fighting colossi, players can also use the light to locate the “sweet” spots on each boss. Some are much harder to locate than others. But in the sunlight, a ray of light can uncover a symbol where Wander should plunge his sword into on each colossus.
Beyond the light, the sounds are extremely immersive. When galloping through the sand, crunches will be heard, the wind can be heard howling over thing bridges and rocks can be heard crumbling under Agro’s hooves.
And the soundtrack deserves its own paragraph. An orchestral soundtrack further promotes the intensity and epic feeling of each boss battle. Sprinkled throughout gameplay, each movement of the orchestra is just as beautiful as the visuals. Shadow can absolutely claim to be fully immersive to the senses (when it comes to gaming, so obviously disregard taste and smell), which only adds to its already high regards.
But the best part of SOTC would be the most obvious: The battles with each colossus.
The first time I happened upon a colossus, I was left staring at the television screen with a stupid look of amazement on my face. All I could do was gaze upon the marvel of the massive being in front of me and ask myself, “How the hell am I supposed to beat that?”
After 10 play-throughs of SOTC, gamers will still look forward to the challenge.
But nothing amounts to the first play through. Fighting each colossus for the first time is an incredible journey that forces a player to drastic measures requiring brave moves and out-of-the-box thinking.
Approaching each colossus triggers a cut scene, where Team Ico proudly boasts their earth and rock creations as they slowly begin to move and approach Wander. Hulking in size, the colossi are mostly unique from one another (I saw mostly because two are strikingly similar to each other, the environment is just different), each built differently with different weak spots. The task will seem impossible at first as the massive beings attempt to crush you with their feet, clubs, wings, etc.
The battles are beyond exhilarating and require a puzzle-like way of thinking to come out victorious. Each colossus will have their own environment, their own build and their own attacks The ground shakes as you approach, dirt is kicked up and the screen blurs as players move the camera quickly. In the bottom right hand corner, a pink circle represents Wander’s grip gauge. This gauge is dire to the game and notifies players how long they have before Wander will completely lose his strength and let go of the colossus he is trying to scale (or hold onto for dear life).
You’ll struggle and explore the environment you’re in to find the best route of attack against your goliath of an opponent. Sometimes you’ll have to scale walls, jump from bridges, swim through lakes, all in efforts to just reach the colossi. Each setting usually adds to the experience, whether it’s a sand worm jumping at you from the ground, or a lizard-like colossi scaling the walls and spitting lightning breath.
The trait of bravery is needed to succeed in these battles. You’ll be standing underneath a downward moving hoof four times your size, aiming at a glowing weak spot with your tiny bow. Completing such feats gives players a rush that is experienced over and over again. It’s absolutely invigorating.
Upon defeat of a colossus, however, there is a twinge of sadness and regret. Since there is a lack of explanation, I ended up wondering why I was killing these creatures. They made no moves to hurt me. The story itself is an emotional ride that definitely forces a player to look at the acts they are committing.
No game is perfect, however, and SOTC is no exception. Getting lost on the large map is annoying if it happens, and considering there’s nothing except colossi, a journey can quickly turn from gorgeous to miserable.
In the end, when it comes to SOTC, the combination of story, visuals, soundtrack and colossus battles make the game one of the best I’ve played ever. SOTC is another unique game that the videogame world has yet to see again. Such a game stands alone, unchallenged and has stood the test of time. The re-release is an even better excuse to live or re-live the journey. The magnificence and awe are almost impossible to do justice to in a review and I strongly encourage you to experience it for yourself.
The Collection disk also offers a few things that the original PS2 games did not that deserve recognition. Obviously there were no trophies on the PS2 versions, but they are added and a nice touch to the PS3 collection. Extra features are also included on the disk which allows players to take a closer look at the development of both Ico and SOTC. There is even a concept video they had for SOTC before it existed that involved online cooperative play to take down a colossus. To be honest, Team Ico should continue to pursue such a project, it would probably do well considering how much thought and time goes into the creation of these games (aka I’m still waiting on The Last Guardian…). There is a small fault with the disk, being you cannot change games after picking a title to play. You’ll have to restart your PS3 to switch between games.
BLAST FACTOR: In the first season of Mad Men, Don Draper pitches a product called The Carousel. He said, “…in Greek, nostalgia literally means ‘the pain from an old wound.’ It’s a twinge in your heart, far more powerful than memory alone.” It’s safe to say that the Ico/SOTC Collection is a powerful blast of nostalgia. I smile at the travels of Wander and Agro, although with a small sense of sadness as I cut down each majestic colossi all in the name of love. I fondly remember the massive spiraling staircases and the brief interactions of Ico and Yorda. These are definitely games of the past, but they’ve been etched into gaming history. I used to keep my PS2 plugged in, so when I felt the yearning for Team Ico’s masterpieces, I could pop them in whenever. The re-release of both titles was beautifully amped with high definition graphics, making already visually stunning games look even better. Although Ico can be a bit much at times with Yorda’s constant lack of commitment to survival, SOTC reigns tall as the perfect re-release. It’s a great excuse to replay these games (not that you really need that), and a huge reason for Team Ico newbies to dive in. Buy this collection. It’s worth every second. And on top of that? Three words: The Last Guardian.