Ico & Shadow of the Colossus Collection Review

Back when Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic Roger Ebert started spouting about video games and his idea that they can never be art, Shadow of the Colossus probably received a resurgeance in popularity, or at least buzz, that Sony didn’t expect. When you look to the art in video games debate, it’s the go-to example: minimalist, gripping, beautiful and strangely silent in many ways. It’s a game in which most of the player’s time is spent galloping on horseback across empty landscapes that stretch off into the distance, with just about nothing happening.

I’ll start this review by saying that it’s my personal opinion that both of Team ICO’s games, Shadow of the Colossus and the preceding Ico, are among the short list of what I consider must-play games for everyone seriously interested in the medium. There’s a reason people point at SotC when they start talking about games as art, and both games represent deeply notched bench marks in the progression toward video games as being something more than they are.

With that said, our attention turns toward the Playstation 3 HD remakes of both Team ICO’s games, ICO & Shadow of the Colossus Collection. Sony has repackaged these two Playstation 2 titles — which you could rightly call “classic” by now — with updated graphics and 3-D support for $39.99. At that price, there’s no good reason not to own these two games, although players who have made these journeys before might not find much in the way of replay value.

Platform: PlayStation 3
Developer: Sony Computer Entertainment
Publisher: Sony
Released: September 27, 2011
MSRP: $39.99

I haven’t gotten into SotC since 2005 when it was released, but I was eager to dive back into the game again. Even six years removed, Shadow loses a great deal for players who have been here before. Largely, the game is a one-time play; it’s built greatly on a sense of discovery as players, taking the role of a nameless young warrior commonly referred to as Wander, journeys to a forbidden land and a huge fortress there. Upon arrival, we understand his reason for the trip when he places the body of a dead young woman on an altar. Then he has a conversation with some kind of spirit called Dormin, which may have the power to reunite souls with their bodies.

Dormin’s price is that Wander must head out into the forbidden lands and slay 16 huge colossi. This is done, largely, by figuring out how to exploit the colossi’s behavior in order to find a way to climb up their hairy hides to find weak points on their bodies, then stab them. In the end, SotC is a thinly veiled environmental puzzle game, but its scope and minimal presentation make it feel like much more. It’s an epic journey without forcing either of those concepts on the player. The first time through, SotC is a slow-burn journey of self-destruction that leaves the player to make up his or her mind about the story being told. It forgoes explosive action and excitement for moments of great significance and slow, hard-fought, brainy battles.

On second playthrough, though, with the puzzles fairly easy to remember and solve and the size and excitement at the sight of the colossi gone, SotC feels much less polished and grows much more tedious. The game is probably 70 percent travel to the colossi, 30 percent fighting them. There’s nothing else going on, leaving lots of time to enjoy the landscapes, but getting lost becomes a problem later in the game and this feels like player’s time wasted.

Wander, on the whole, controls in a very sloppy way. He tends to run and fall off things and jump in incorrect directions, which adds annoyance to the colossi fights, which are never really all that difficult and usually not even in question as far as who the victor will be. Mostly, the battles just involve watching Wander try to regain his footing while the colossus in question attempts to shake him loose, and waiting with your finger on R1 until Wander can start stabbing the colossus again. In the end, there’s a great deal of time spent doing nothing.

Ico fares a little better, although it’s similarly a one-playthrough experience. It’s similarly minimalist, with Ico, a horned young boy, being taken to a castle by a priest and two guards at the outset. They lock him in a big sarcophogus and leave him — a sacrifice to the castle. But something happens and the sarcophagus falls free of its place, and Ico escapes. Not long after, he finds a girl in a cage called Yorda, and spends the rest of the game escorting her through the castles, warding off shadow creatures that attempt to carry her off and suck her into shadow pools in the floor.

It sounds a little weird, because it is, but it’s also oddly emotional. Ico and Yorda have an innocence about them that Wander, the driven and perhaps selfish warrior, lacks. The two games share elements thematically and stylistically (SotC is at the least a “spiritual” prequel to Ico), while differing greatly in tone. At its core, Ico is all about environmental puzzles just like SotC, with Ico climbing around, pulling levers, and leading Yorda through the castle and occasionally employing her help.

Ico felt like it handled a little better than SotC, although obviously it doesn’t look nearly as good as its successor. Personally, my feeling was that Ico holds up a little better over the passage of time than does SotC, if for no other reason than the loss of my wonder at the colossi removes a major element from the experience.

That’s not to take away from the beauty of both titles, and if you’ve never played Ico and SotC, I highly recommend them. Taken together, the games add up to about 10 or 12 hours of total playtime, which isn’t a bad haul at all.

But if you’re a returning player, know that nostalgia for great games of the past has a tendency to alter them in the memory, and playing those games again years later can be a bit … disappointing. A decade has passed since Ico and half of one since SotC. And you can feel it in both games.

Still, this is a piece of gaming history and the kind of title you lend out to people whenever they mention that they haven’t played it. Ico and Shadow of the Colossus both belong in your games collection. Just be sure to know what you’re getting into and that games don’t always age gracefully — or maybe just wait for a price drop.

Pros:

  • Two classic games in one package, which everyone should experience at least once
  • Updated graphics do look pretty great, for the most part
  • 3-D support, if you’re into that sort of thing
  • Trophies encourage a little replay value out of both games, although not much
  • Great for really, really big fans of Team ICO’s work

Cons:

  • Very little replay value to either title
  • Not a lot to offer returning players beyond nostalgia. Be warned — they’re not as good as the first playthrough
  • Controls in both games feel a little loose (and kind of irritating)

Final Score: 80/100

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3 Comments on Ico & Shadow of the Colossus Collection Review

Darkraidor

On September 13, 2011 at 9:44 pm

wow $60 is way too much.
maybe $20 and i’d pick up my own copy.

Phil Hornshaw

On September 13, 2011 at 9:47 pm

@Darkraidor

Whoops, that was a typo. The real price is $40. Corrected.

JosephPS3

On September 14, 2011 at 2:18 am

Even at $40 its still too high. There isn’t a lot of replay value and there are so many amazing games coming out most ppl will probably even forget about it was released after Rage, Batman, Darksouls come out. I’ll pick it up used for $20. But that will probably be 2-3 months from now. I don’t think I’ll even be interested in picking it up for $20 then. This should have $30 launch price.