ICO and Shadow of the Colossus Collection Review

By Matt Keil - Posted Sep 09, 2011

If you have ever felt and savored that certain transcendent escapism unique to a brilliant videogame, you owe it to yourself to experience this collection.

The Pros
  • Beautiful upgrade for two of the best games in Sony's library
  • Ico is still a charming and touching experience
  • Shadow of the Colossus is still a masterpiece
The Cons
  • Don't expect true PS3-level visuals
  • Shadow still has some nasty geometry pop-in at times

Ico and Shadow of the Colossus Review:

Say what you like about Sony and their PSN security woes, their new online pass system, their crazy PS3 launch price point, but the one thing Sony can never be faulted for is their incredible publishing track record. From the violent God of War to the family-friendly Ratchet & Clank series to more esoteric fare like Flower, Sony has maintained a high level of quality in their releases for over a decade. Perhaps no two games better exemplify Sony’s fearlessness in this regard than Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, now finally part of an HD collection on the PlayStation 3.

They are both relatively high concept games that are a bit of a tough sell in the Western market. No doubt many who have not played them wonder why some of us rave about a game in which you spend much of your time pulling a nearly mute girl around a castle, or riding a horse through a lonely wasteland in search of fruit and lizards. Once you let yourself get absorbed into the worlds they present, you’ll get it. These games are about the experience, the wonder of a world simultaneously familiar and alien, and the novelty of a game that uses the medium of videogames to its fullest potential.


Sacrifices and Shadows

Ico (pronounced "EE-ko") is the name of a boy born with horns on his head who is sent to an ancient castle as a sacrifice to ward off curses from his village. Within this castle is a dark queen who drains the spirits of her victims to rejuvenate herself. While he is encased within one of dozens of prison cells, a fortunate accident topples Ico's cell and frees him. After some exploration, Ico rescues Yorda, an unearthly young girl also imprisoned as a sacrifice. She has strange powers that allow her to manipulate the doors in the labyrinthine fortress. Ico is strong enough to fight off the shadow monsters that attempt to recapture her. Together, they attempt to escape the castle and its queen.

It is a platformer and a puzzler, and most of the action hinges on finding a way to get the much less acrobatic Yorda through the tricky areas of the castle. Ico can help her up to high ledges, catch her if she fails to make a long jump, and drag her by the hand to escape foes or just keep her where he can see her. Dark, shadowy beings will rise from portals in the ground periodically to snatch Yorda away, and Ico must beat them into submission with a handful of melee weapons to protect her. These creatures appear at scripted locations, but will also pop up if Yorda is left alone too long while Ico explores.

Ico and Shadow of the Colossus Collection

Yes, the game is a giant escort mission of sorts, but a feeling of guardianship does develop between the player and Yorda. This is carefully cultivated by the game’s design, and is one of Ico’s greatest achievements. The moment Ico first takes Yorda's hand in his is as organic and human as anything seen in interactive entertainment.

The HD update has done Ico tremendous good. It won’t fool anyone into thinking it’s a native PS3 game, but it looks clean, runs smoothly, and the incredible vistas on display have never looked better. It is interesting to note that the game in Ico & Shadow of the Colossus Collection is actually the PAL version of Ico. Several differences exist between the North American PS2 release and the PAL release, mainly due to content inexplicably cut from the North American version. The collection’s Ico contains the secret ending, second secret weapon, and the option to have Yorda’s dialogue subtitled in English in the second playthrough. On the negative side, a couple minor level design differences exist, often adding in frustrating timed jump moments that were not present in the U.S. release.

Ico is fairly short, and most players should breeze through it in six hours or so. In fact, there are trophies for completing the game in under four hours and under two hours. Considering the world record for speed running Ico sits at 1 hour and 45 minutes, trophy hunters will have their work cut out for them.

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Loss and Leviathans

Shadow of the Colossus is the main course of the two-game collection. A much more ambitious game in terms of scope, it tells the story of a young warrior named Wander, who travels to a forbidden land with the corpse of a maiden he wishes restored to life. He strikes a deal with the dark entity Dormin, who agrees to resurrect her if Wander will kill the sixteen colossi scattered across the surrounding area. Together with his steadfastly loyal horse, Agro, Wander takes the gargantuan things down one at a time with a magic sword that can damage their few weak spots.

The battles with the colossi are the meat of the game, and are all substantially different while adhering to the same basic formula. The colossi have weak spots that your sword will reveal, but as most of those spots are high up on the colossi themselves, the main challenge becomes scaling the monstrous things. In this manner, Shadow of the Colossus becomes a dizzying blend of platformer and puzzler, except the levels themselves are also boss battles, and they actively try to throw you off. Wander has a grip meter that shows how long he can hang on. Run out of grip and you fall and have to work your way back up, assuming you survive the fall and the colossus’ wrath.

Whereas Ico is a semi-claustrophobic experience at times, Shadow of the Colossus has tremendous scope, both in terms of its colossus battles and the setting itself. There are very few things in the forbidden land aside from Wander, his horse, and the colossi. Scattered animals dot the landscape. Gnarled fruit trees bear goodies that can extend your lifebar. Killing shining lizards and harvesting their tails boosts your grip meter.

Ico and Shadow of the Colossus Collection

There is a strange sense of isolation to the game, and it intentionally makes it tough to fully grasp the ramifications of slaughtering the colossi. In the beginning you’re likely to feel sorry for the great beasts as they fall, mournful music playing in the background. As you encounter more aggressive ones, you’ll probably be willing to fling yourself into the fray to slay the uppity monsters. Eventually, as more is revealed, what’s really happening plays heavily upon the emotions the game has manipulated you into feeling. It’s a fascinating arc that can only really be done in a videogame. You are Wander. Your only friend in this land is Agro. And when other humans enter the forbidden land in pursuit of you, it truly does feel like an intrusion on your world.

Shadow of the Colossus does not benefit from the HD upgrade as much as Ico. The textures are still somewhat unconvincing in places, and there is a disappointing amount of geometry and detail pop-in, especially in the open areas alongside hills or cliffs. However, the game runs smoothly and without framerate hitches, even in the most intense colossus fights, and that alone is probably worth the price of admission. It’s a joy to see this game running on hardware that can do it justice.

Ico and Shadow of the Colossus Collection

Depth and Dimension

Both games do support 3D viewing modes, and pull it off relatively well. There’s still a sort of “layered” look to them, as many games and movies have when they’re converted to 3D after the fact. Still, the view from the battlements in Ico are fairly breathtaking and being tossed around at the top of a struggling colossus fifty feet above the ground can be dizzying in 3D. You probably won’t play the whole game in 3D, but it’s worth checking out.

If you have ever felt and savored that certain transcendent escapism unique to a brilliant videogame, you owe it to yourself to experience this collection. There is an honesty and care in them that is all too rare today. Fans of Team Ico already know that they’re getting two exceptional games in this collection. Added bonus video content makes the deal all the sweeter. For those who have yet to play one or both of them, here’s your chance to right a great wrong. More people should experience these titles, and as someone who generally ranks Shadow of the Colossus as his favorite game of all time, I am grateful Sony has made that possible for PS3 owners.