Review: ICO & Shadow Of The Colossus Collection (PS3)
Title: ICO and Shadow of the Colossus Collection
Format: Blu-ray Disc
Release Date: September 27, 2011
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: SCE Studios Japan / Bluepoint Games
Original MSRP: $39.99
ESRB Rating: T
When I first heard about the Sly Cooper Collection for PS3, my thoughts immediately went to Shadow of the Colossus. That’s not a dismissal to the great news that my favorite raccoon was coming to PS3 with updated visuals and 3D support, as the Sly Cooper series has been one of my favorite platforming experience of all time. Simply put, my mind wandered to the possibilities of one day seeing ICO and/or Shadow of the Colossus running in HD, because unlike the Cooper games, Shadow of the Colossus (while achieving amazing visuals on the PlayStation 2), still managed to push the little system to its knees, thus the game suffered from serious framerate hits. And while these shortcomings did not diminish the enjoyment of exploring the lonely forbidden land, or bringing down the mighty giants that roamed this peaceful world, it certainly wasn’t a foreign notion for our minds to wonder “what it could look like with a bit more umph.” So while having all of the Sly titles on one disc, (and running in beautiful HD) was exciting news, the benefits of such and upgrade seemed to compliment the ICO/Shadow titles even more, so the day-dreaming began.
It was interesting to see that I was not the only one wondering about the possibilities, as folks began asking about the notion of upgrading these titles. The PlayStation Blog, in particular, was bombarded with questions regarding the potential upgrade, and eventually, Sony even polled visitors of the blog about what they would like to see as a free pack-in for The Last Guardian. I’m actually glad that this did not end up becoming an incentive for Guardian, as that game is still in development, and who knows when we’d end up getting this HD update, if it wasn’t released as a stand-alone disc.
So that said, this collection became one of the my most-anticipated games this year (right up there with Skyrim and Uncharted 3). In fact, I passed up Gears of War 3 for it. Decisions, decisions. But in this case, not a difficult one.
Did the collection make the transition to HD with grace and dignity?
I’m going to describe the gameplay to both ICO and Shadow of the Colossus as a courtesy to our readers who may have skipped the games during their original release. But if you are part of this group… shame on you. Understandably, these two games came at a time when every other week introduced a new title (much like now), and it was easy to miss the release of ICO in the wake of games like Silent Hill 2. Not to mention that, while the names of ICO and Shadow of the Colossus are familiar to gamers now, they became cult-classics, because…well… they were cult classics, thus relatively unknown during their time, yet popular-as-hell today.
ICO places you in the role of a small boy who has been banished to the largest castle known to man. His crimes: being a little different, what with horns protruding from his bandaged head. Superstitious folks don’t take kindly to horned kids in these parts, and despite offering an apologetic mumble in their language, the armed villagers place Ico into a small container, with only small holes to breath, and nothing else. These containers line a vast chamber, indicating that perhaps there are other prisoners within, but fortunately for Ico, a small rumble through the castle walls sends his small prison tumbling to the ground, shattering the container like glass, and freeing the young boy. At this point you take control of the character and explore the castle, but not before meeting Yorda. Yorda is a pale, almost ghost-like prisoner, much like Ico, except that she is kept in a large cage, suspended high within a large spiraling tower. After freeing her, Ico and Yorda travel together throughout the castle in an effort to escape into the outside world.
Gameplay in ICO revolves around solving puzzles and moving from room to room, while making sure that Yorda remains safe. This is achieved by keeping her close to you by holding the R1 button (which grabs her hand and pulls her along), as well as fighting off shadowed creatures that attempt to capture her and return her to her prison. You will have access to a wooden stick (and later other weapons), so you are not defenseless by any means. Yorda is not completely useless either, not to mention that she also possesses the ability to open certain magically-bound doorways.
The mechanics of ICO have made it through with a seamless translation to PlayStation 3. While the game still has a sometimes-problematic camera scheme, it never gets in the way of solving a puzzle. It’s simply not always where you would like it to be. For those of you who are newcomers to the series, don’t let the “protect missions” scare you off. Keeping Yorda safe never becomes annoying, and she can take care of herself. She’s not stupid, so she doesn’t fall from cliffs, and keeps herself busy while you’re solving puzzles. The shadow folks aren’t too difficult to get rid of; you simply have to make sure that you don’t put too much distance between Yorda and yourself. Overall, ICO stands the test of time in the gameplay department.
And then there’s Shadow of the Colossus. Let’s just call it the ultimate love story. Not because Jennifer Lopez needs help designing the ultimate wedding cake, and the guy who delivers the cakes is an unsung designer. So, together they make the best wedding cake in the world, and through that, they find themselves. No, not that kind of “ultimate love story.” Honestly, for all we know, the female lead in Shadows (Mono) is Wander’s sister. But I’m pretty sure that’s not the case. The beauty of both of these games is that you are not spoon-fed a story, but the implications are enough to let you know what’s going on.
Shadow of the Colossus is a grand love story, because anyone who would be willing to tangle with 13 building-sized monsters has to be stupid-in-love. But Wander, our protagonist, is that person: willing to bring his deceased love to a forbidden land and place her at the mercy of its guardians (who are rumored to have the ability to reunite a body with its lost soul). But bringing someone back from the dead comes with a price, one that is not an issue for Wander. So he embarks on a quest through the lonely landscape in search of these (otherwise peaceful) colossi, in an attempt to bring them down and restore life to his love (or sister, cousin, co-worker).
I have played Shadow of the Colossus in front of folks who asked (while I was fighting a Colossi) if what I was doing was conducted in quick-time-events (ala God of War). The battles are so epic and are orchestrated in such a grand scale, that one could mistakenly assume that the game’s engine was just guiding Wander around the giant as you pressed keys at the right time. But nothing could be furthest from reality. Everything you do in Shadow of the Colossus is player-controlled. This is all thanks to the R1 button. It’s the key to the entire game, and it’s what keeps you alive during these battles. The R1 is your grip button. It’s what you use to hold on to these creatures as they try to shake you from their stone bodies. It’s what keeps the game from becoming frustrating, since keeping your balance on a moving target is difficult enough without this fail-safe device. The R1 is your friend, and it works very well in Shadows. But you can’t simply hold R1 forever and wait for the boss to calm from his thrashing. You have a grip meter that winds down as you hold on to just about anything, and if you dangle too long, you will lose your grip and fall to the ground. Fortunately, you can build-up this meter with power-ups (secretly-disguised as white-tailed lizards roaming the countryside).
Having this convenient means of getting around the massive bosses allows you to focus on more important things, such as how to bring them to your level, so that you can climb upon them. And with only cryptic clues provided by the Guardians, you are left to your own imagination to figure this out, and because of the epic visual nature of the game, this makes for some amazing eye-candy (this game seriously needed an instant replay mode, no joke).
It is in this avenue that the HD-enhanced version of Shadow of the Colossus truly shines. This goes back to my initial statement about Sly Cooper’s upgrade. Shadow of the Colossus is now 100% playable. It was playable before, but admittedly, sometimes it was difficult to tell what you were doing because of the framerate hits the game would take. The original had a blurring effect that helped smooth the motion, but now you can see the difference that a little extra power can bring. Aiming your bow with the accelerated framerate is a breeze, and keeping up with the action is also much easier with the sharper resolution and motion. So, while the gameplay worked before, now it works more so, simply because the game runs smoother.
Where to begin… ICO continues to impress with its vast environments and amazing virtual architecture. While the tiled textures stand out a bit more in HD, the use of stark color and purposeful mist compliment the overall visual style of the game. Seeing it run so smoothly and with a higher-resolution is a treat that I am glad we are able to finally experience.
Shadow of the Colossus could easily pass as a current game. Yes, yes, the poly count and lack of normal-shading etc etc. still dates it, but if this game were released as-is into the PlayStation Store, no one would be the wiser, because it’s not just about how the game looks, but how amazingly the colossi move and behave. Again, one could be pardoned for thinking that some of these battles were quick-time events.
I do want to mention one other thing. The 3D in Shadow of the Colossus, in particular, is nothing short of amazing. I’m beginning to think that 3D benefits older games better than current titles, since duplicating the image doesn’t task the game’s engine as severely. The same was the case for the God of War PSP collection and Sly Cooper. What you get here is a silky smooth 3D, that moves fluidly and wraps you into the 3D world. I have never felt the effects of heights in a virtual setting until I played Shadows in 3D. Hell, there’s one boss that charges you at full speed, and I winced twice when he came close to hitting me. The depth is incredible, and is complimented by the fact that you are exploring a beautiful landscape. If you have the ability to do so, try Shadow in 3D. While ICO looks amazing in 3D as well, the camera motion does tend to distract when 3D is turned on. It’s not broken, however, and should be at least experienced once. But the 3D champion here is Shadow of the Colossus.
When I initially experienced both of the games in this collection, I did so using an old Sony Wega TV: no sound system, just the TV speakers. I played these HD updates with both a sound system, as well as Sony’s new PS3 headset. To say that this was like playing these games for the first time, is an understatement, because I never heard how powerful the wind sounded in both games, or how you could hear crumbling stone when the Colossus are walking. It’s a testament to the sound designers when you can almost literally feel the wind blasting on your face. Also of note is how distinctly the sound varies when Ico and Yorda are within a chamber, vs walking outside. Their haunting voices echo in the high ceilings and vast chambers, while outside they are drowned out by the sounds of the wind. It’s not something that we haven’t heard before, but it’s nice to finally hear it with such clarity.
And I can’t talk about the audio without mentioning the amazing musical score. While ICO’s score is only heard in certain parts of the game (like when you’re saving), Shadow of the Colossus encourages your mission with a score that changes from despair (when you first encounter the boss), to celebration and encouragement (when you finally manage to climb upon its massive body). Both titles avoid cramming music down your ear-holes just for the sake of it. The music is selective and comes into play, only when it feels like it should. Otherwise, you are only greeted with the wonderful environmental sound effects.
They’ve been called art, and they’ve been called “the greatest games ever made,” but I’m not here to call them either. Both titles fall into my “Never Trade-in pile,” and I will always consider them one of the greatest gaming experience I have ever had. But debating art and “greatest game” is relative. What I will say is that these titles should be experienced at least once. Ico, if you’re more of a puzzle fan, and Shadow of the Colossus, if you like the Zelda-style adventure. And both, if you simply want to experience something a little different. They are part of gaming history, and they represent what happens when a developer takes a chance.