This collection was one of the first of the HD re-releases to be announced and since then we’ve had many more come and go. With the long development time, you’d expect perfect conversions, with little need for rose-tinted glasses to help you get through it. So let’s take a look.
For many gamers, this will be their first taste of these games, and after going back to check the PS2 versions you can see there are clear improvements thanks to the high-definition remodelling. There are also a few downsides, but more on those later.
Ico is the first title you’ll want to play through. Far from a game-long escort mission as you might have heard, this is still one of the most original titles out there. You play as a small boy, abandoned in a castle by his village for being born with horns. After escaping your would-be coffin, you find a fellow prisoner to free, the ethereal girl, Yorda. By holding R1, you take her hand, forming one of gaming’s greatest bonds.
From here, you must both try to escape the castle and its sinister Queen. You can climb ledges, shimmy, rope climb and pull levers to navigate the environment. Yorda’s movement is limited to jumps and climbing low walls with you often having to reach out a helping hand.
Shadowy creatures are always trying to steal Yorda away from you, so you’ll have to attack them with simple melee combat, while making sure they don’t pull her into one of the dark portals. It’s tense stuff, as she will also be attacked if you leave her alone for too long, making for some desperate last-gasp lunges before she’s taken for good.
The game has a mix of platforming and puzzle solving that is generally quite relaxing, although there is one section that returning players will be loathe to repeat. Jumping onto the moving water wheel is still one of gaming’s darkest moments, as you constantly hit an invisible barrier time after time before the game finally accepts your jump.
There’s a mix of old and new annoyances that threaten to derail the experience. Yorda still has a few AI issues when you’re shouting to her. She’ll refuse to jump onto a crate or across to you for no apparent reason, before eventually doing it despite nothing changing. When you’re running while holding her hand, the animation seems to have picked up a few jerky frames, as her elbow snaps around horribly. I went back to have a look at the PS2 version, and while that animation is also a little jerky, the PS3 version looks worse.
Trophies have been included now and most of them are very attainable. Although the two-hour completion one is going to be a stretch as the world record is apparently about 1:45. I managed 3:25 after making an effort to find the hidden weapon, and mainly remembering the puzzles easily enough. That water wheel probably cost me at least 15 minutes though.
To be honest I’d recommend not going on a crazy speedrun the first time you play it. Ico was always a game to be enjoyed at your own pace. If you take your time, you can really soak up the amazing atmosphere the game provides. With little music to be heard, you can enjoy the ambient effects of the wind and bird song. Your character’s footsteps and call to Yorda perfectly reflect the emptiness of the castle too. It’s a serene atmosphere, which in many ways has yet to be bettered.
Ico isn’t the longest of games, but seeing as Yorda’s hieroglyphic subtitles are not translated until your second playthrough, it’s well worth playing again.
Shadow of the Colossus is the spiritual sequel to Ico. Keen-eyed players will be able to spot references that hint at the possibilities of the games taking place in the same universe, but generally, this is a very different game.
You play as Wander, a young man desperate to resurrect his love, Mono. To do this he is told by a voice in an abandoned temple to kill all 16 of the Colossi. These huge creatures are scattered around the map to be found by following a light that emits from your sword. Wander also has a faithful horse, named Argo who will make this task much less arduous.
Time hasn’t been kind to Argo though. The controls for him are horribly unresponsive and combined with the camera problems that arise, can really test your patience. He also likes to pretend some slight dips in the landscape are brick walls, which is all sorts of fun.
Try to forget that though as the Colossi are of course the main attraction and there’s no denying their awesome dominance over the rest of the game. Your task in bringing them down is to climb up them by grabbing onto fur or any of the handholds of their stone armour and then reach a weak spot to repeatedly stab with your sword. Unlike Ico, you must manually grip surfaces with R1 when climbing, you also have a grip metre that falls over time, so you need to make it to a safe platform before it depletes to let it recharge. Your stab attacks on the glowing weak spots can be charged for more powerful blows, although the Colossi will try to shake you off whenever they can, so you have to try to attack before they dislodge you. Curiously, none of them simply flick you off their shoulder, hell if some of these docile giants learned to clap you’d be finished.
The Colossi take various forms, such as walking giants, bulls, flying dragons, hawks, eels and more. For the most part, they’re all absolutely huge. Often, just getting aboard is a challenge. It may involve luring them to a certain part of the arena, using your bow to shoot a weak spot, temporarily tumbling them, or dodging an attack and climbing up their hand. None of them feels as cool as doing a jump from Argo when racing alongside them though.
There’s always a vague sense of you doing a bad thing as you slay each of these creatures. Most of them don’t attack you on sight and the noise they make while you’re stabbing them in the head is clearly not one of an evil creature. This is where many of the game’s emotional elements come from, but you might find that past reports have over-exaggerated their impact on the game and on you, the player. Or I might just be a bastard.
The way you’re constantly encouraged to really think about how to get on each of these wandering creatures is the game’s strength as is their visual design, which is never short of inspiring. Exploring the world between these epic fights would appear to be pointless as there are no other characters or ‘filler’ enemies to defeat. However, if you shoot the silver-tailed lizards that you’ll occasionally see, your grip metre will increase. Eating fruit shot down from trees will do the same for your health. You won’t need to get many of these items to help you finish the game, but more grip is always handy.
Like Ico, unfortunately we have a few problems. Some of the platforming and climbing is very hit and miss while climbing the Colossi as you hit invisible barriers as you fail to grab on to blatantly reachable surfaces, before falling back to the floor. This was a problem in the original release too, which many critics overlooked it in favour of praising the rest of the game, well SOTC welcome to 2011. It’s even more annoying today and begs the question why the developers didn’t make an effort to iron out these gameplay anomalies. They’re not quirks that we fondly remember after all.
You’d be forgiven for arguing that this is purely supposed to be a visual upgrade, which would be a fair comment were it not for some terrible graphical issues that plague this version of Shadow of the Colossus. When riding around the game world, landscape pop-up (think mountains and shrines) is an ugly throwback and the texture pop-in, where finer details load late onto a surface, is rampant throughout. This game can hardly be pushing the PS3, so why does it seem to be struggling so much to run? Like Ico, I fired up the PS2 version and found that it didn’t have anywhere near the same amount of technical issues. Some minor pop-in was apparent, but in the form of a light shadow that would lift as you approached, which could even be taken as an attempt at sunlight breaking through clouds.
The PS3 version certainly looks better when you put motionless screenshots together, but in motion, this is a real letdown as it ruins the immersion when you’re off exploring this otherwise beautiful world that is made up of plains, deserts, forests and mysteriously empty temples and ruins. Fortunately, the Colossi fights don’t suffer from these graphical issues as much. Replayability is added by Time Attack challenges, an unlockable hard mode and by colleting any remaining fruits or silver-tailed lizards. Otherwise, the game will last about eight hours, which could have been improved if some of the Colossi opponents that were cut from the original were reintroduced.
Ico makes the HD transition much better than SOTC thanks to the latter’s lazy conversion. Some of the controls haven’t aged too well over time and are less forgivable today. The collection is still worth checking out though as Ico is still a wonderful experience with terrific bonding between the characters and SOTC is packed with some of gaming’s most memorable boss fights, if little else.
- Ico still holds up really well
- Colossi battles can still astound you
- A chance to get beyond the hype and see for yourself
- Embarrassing amounts of pop-up and texture pop-in for SOTC
- A lot of unresponsive control issues in SOTC
- “Get on the box, Yorda!”