Ask any self-respecting PlayStation 2 owner about must-have titles for the console and just by default, Ico and Shadow of the Colossus will eventually come up. Not only were both brilliantly unique in their gameplay and style, but they were also pivotal steps in changing the way we think about and play games. Developed by the same team, the games aren't necessarily specifically related, but there is an undeniable spiritual connection between the two.
Fortunately for gamers, Sony has bundled the two critically acclaimed titles onto one Blu-ray disc as The Ico and Shadow of the Colossus Collection. It features HD remasters of the original games, trophy support, as well as the option to play the titles in stereoscopic 3D. There are even special video features that dive into the making of the games. It's available now for $40.
For me it's easy to recall my favorite game on PlayStation 2. When Shadow of the Colossus debuted in October 2005, I was blown away at the game's ability to suck me into a larger-than-life tale. While the storyline was a bit ambiguous, I felt an undying need to wander the world in search of the 16 enormous bosses.
With its 2011 refresh, Shadow of the Colossus looks better than ever, beautifully rendered in high definition. It still holds up compared with current-generation efforts, but it's interesting to see where the generational divide has left us. While linear at its core, Shadow feels wide open in its design. The game is a relentless teacher, refusing to give any hints aside from a beam of light that points the way forward. The real genius of Shadow is that it expertly disguises "levels" as each colossus and the environments that surround each beast.
While both Ico and Shadow of the Colossus saw great critical success, only the latter found encouraging sales numbers. Ico flew in under the radar and only became a cult classic many years after its initial release.
Ico's HD face-lift is positively more eye-popping than Shadow's (mostly because Shadow had a 480p mode when it was released). The game tells the story of a young boy who escapes captivity and must lead a princess to freedom all while solving the puzzles and mysteries hidden within a vast and complex castle. Following in the same vein of the game it precedes, Ico drops the player in a room and leaves the rest to you.
Even though it's only been six years since Shadow's release, it seems that a video game eternity has gone by, completely changing the face of electronic entertainment. The intoxicating simplicity of games like Ico and Shadow of the Colossus now come off as mere relics.
Aside from my endless praise for two titles I adore, at the end of the day it's tough to get around the fact that we are being sold backward compatibility. But at the same time, it's satisfying knowing that Sony feels as passionately as we do about two of the PlayStation 2's absolute best games.
The $40 price tag may not seem like much, but for a holiday gaming season that has barely even begun to pick up steam, the budget-conscience gamer may need to think twice about a purchase. I'd easily recommend grabbing Shadow used, but finding a preowned Ico may prove problematic. Also, the last time I fired up my PS2 copy of Ico on my backward-friendly PS3, the game's outdated interlacing made it mostly unplayable.
It'll be interesting to see just how well The Ico and Shadow of the Colossus Collection does with its second chance audience. Will a new generation of gamers embrace the best of the generation that preceded them? It's tough to tell. Albeit from the past, it's a welcomed change of pace from the current trend of shoot this and kill that.
There's no doubt these two titles need to be played by anyone who takes gaming seriously. If anything, it'll prepare those who are eagerly awaiting Team Ico's next adventure, The Last Guardian, which is due out in 2012.
Back when I first bought my PlayStation 2, one of the reasons I was so excited was a cultish game called Ico. Unlike clear-cut adventures with cut-and-dry instructions, Ico hails from the era of Myst: a desolate, mysterious landscape, and quiet mysteries to uncover for yourself. Despite the game focusing so intently on your horn-headed boy hero holding the hand of a lost glowing girl, Ico doesn't hold the player's hand much at all. Figuring out controls and puzzles remains the domain of you, clever player, to discover. That's why I loved the experience: it dared to be alien. In 2001, it stood alone among console games.
Sony's remastered rereleases of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus are love letters to video games the way Criterion editions are to classic, experimental films. The second game included here, 2005's Shadow of the Colossus, was more of a God of War-level success when it debuted on the PS2, but it's big action rendered by a surrealist: a no-name hero again; vast, empty landscapes; and unbelievably large bosses that comprise the entire game's plot. It's The Legend of Zelda directed by David Lynch. Ico and Shadow of the Colossus almost feel like two games in a series, although the lines aren't clearly connected. They're an excellent precursor to The Last Guardian, a long-awaited game by the same director, Fumito Uedo, and his Team Ico, coming out for the PlayStation 3 next year.
Both games paved the way for the type of HUD-free, cinematic gaming experiences we see all the time now, but Shadow and Ico continue to stand alone for their atmosphere: silences, subtle sound design. Recent and upcoming indie games like Thatgamecompany's Flower and Journey feel like inheritors to both games. Remastered for full HD, these titles still feel ahead of their time, although the lack of any onscreen instructions and sometimes-challenging controls might frustrate gamers spoiled on one-button gaming and blinking-light waypoints. For fans of art in their games, the Ico/Shadow compilation is a must-buy.
The new versions of sister-games Ico and Shadow of the Colossus are a rarity in the interactive entertainment industry--a rerelease project that feels like it's being done for the right reasons. While both games were critical favorites, this is not like rereleasing old Halo or God of War games, though Shadow did find some mainstream success. These are a pair of cult favorite games that will likely remain cult hits, but it's pleasing to see them have a chance to find a new, younger audience.
These games share an ethereal atmosphere that hovers between dreamlike and nightmarish, with muted colors, blooming lights, and a repeated juxtaposition of frail characters against imposing architecture. While it's a common enough device in games, these are still a pair of excellent examples of environment-as-character, from the castle ruins of Ico to the stone temples and open plains of Shadow of the Colossus.
Both games are genuinely unsettling in their use of characters and locations that hint at the familiar, yet feel almost completely foreign at the same time. The visual language is completely different (and there's a much stronger narrative element), but these games remind me of the otherworldly, nightmarish quality of experimental films such as Meshes of the Afternoon or Un Chien Andalou. Ico in particular has a silent film quality, and part of the game's iconic appeal is its ability to tell a story with a bare minimum of plotting or dialogue. Shadow, on the other hand, isn't as able to fully commit in that way, and players end up spending too much time listening to long-winded exposition provided by the mysterious force behind your monster-hunting task.
While the rerendered graphics and stereoscopic 3D support help both games look and feel newer than their ages (10 years and 6 years, respectively), these are still clearly a product of a previous generation. In Shadow, for example, we see an excellent example of leaving the player to discover his own way, without extensive hand-holding. The act of following a sometimes hard-to-fathom beacon, and then having to discover the weak points of each colossus from hard-to-spot clues, would be hard to pull off in today's game-making market, where even deep, story-driven RPGs are forced to display giant "Go Here!" arrows and markers for every little task, at the risk of confusing gamers impatient to get to the next set piece.
Of the two, Shadow of the Colossus is more daring in its implementation, whereas Ico is a more successful overall creative package. Both are worth playing for those who have yet to experience them, and their influence continues to be felt in arthouse games such as Limbo.