Ico & Shadow of the Colossus Collection
Close your eyes. Imagine…the sound of the wind rasping around a timeless castle and somewhere… in the distance…the rumble of ancient giants striding across the world. Picture two youths – one, a boy with horns, imprisoned in a sarcophagi and left to die by a village fearful of the bad luck he may bear; the other, a young man striking out into a forbidden realm with one purpose: to resurrect the one he loves. Imagine two videogames separate yet entirely inseparable; games destined to carve an indelible mark on the souls of men and to forever resonate in their hearts. Contemplate two such games, polished by enchanted craftsmen until gleaming and etched onto a single, radiant disk of polycarbonate. Now… open your eyes and gaze in wonder at the Ico & Shadow of the Colossus Collection…
We hope you’ll forgive our slightly pretentious introduction, but Team Ico’s PlayStation 2 titles Ico and Shadow of the Colossus are the sort of games that instil a rare kind of bleary-eyed wonder. That Sony has seen fit to produce a high-definition and (if you’re lucky enough to own the required tech) 3D re-release seems a shrewd one, but will replaying them on the PlayStation 3 do little more than leave an ugly great smudge on your rose-tinted specs?
As a package, the presentation of the Ico & Shadow of Colossus Collection is quite minimal; when booting the game up, you are presented with the Ico logo and suitably intriguing artwork all backed by some enchanting music. Hit right on your analogue stick, and the screen pans speedily across to the Shadow of the Colossus splash screen with the atmosphere taking on a much more sinister tone. While it is slightly slavish of us to give so much attention to a game select screen, it is worth noting that this introduction does a fine job of setting the tone, while also emphasising the interlinked relationship that the two games have with one another. Both games are obviously accessible from the outset and once you have chosen, you are then taken to that title’s original introduction and menus. Aside from the odd button symbol looking curiously squashed, everything is as it was, albeit with added 3D options and an expectedly crisper appearance.
Playing a re-release such as this always comes with a slight degree of trepidation; have the added bells and whistles been applied with care and attention, or have the developers opted for a slapdash ‘stick a spoiler on the back, paint some stripes down the side’ approach? Fortunately, developer Bluepoint Games has taken the former route, having elegantly ported the two games to the PlayStation 3 with a lovingly applied hi-def sheen present throughout. While, in some regards, both games belie their previous-generation origins (a blurry texture here, some simple geometry there), the aesthetic styling that made them so special in the first place makes it easy to overlook such digital crow’s feet.
Though the high-definition upgrade is more than welcome, the biggest improvement is in the frame rate – something that was much maligned in both titles upon their original releases. Their new form is silky smooth, with even the largest colossi or sweeping vista failing to make a dent. There is still the occasional bit of texture pop-in which is a tad disappointing, but we really are nitpicking here; make no mistake, these re-masters are the definitive versions of both titles.
But enough with the technicalities, what of the games themselves? Ico – which tells the tale of a young boy of the same name, born with horns and left as a sacrifice in a mysterious and hauntingly barren castle – is a master-class in subtlety and restraint. Taking control at the moment Ico breaks free of his sarcophagi, you are left to explore your surroundings, and it’s not long before you stumble upon the mysterious Yorda; a pale and delicate princess who is imprisoned in a cage hanging from the ceiling of the castle. From this point onwards, Yorda is your constant companion and charge whose frailty makes her incapable of traversing the castle’s many locales unaided.
Throughout the game there is very little in terms of exposition and it is in this simplicity – and the stunning production values – in which the magic lies. Of the two games, Ico is showing its age the most, with some textures looking quite simple and repetitive, but the castle’s beguiling sense of atmosphere has remained untarnished by the years. For the most part, the challenges presented are spatial puzzles, as you orientate yourself with the castle’s various rooms and seek out a means with which to exit. There are also occasional bouts of combat as mysterious black demons emerge, intent on dragging Yorda away with Ico’s only means of defence/offence being clumsy, desperate swings of a plank of wood. While fighting these demons and rescuing Yorda can become a little frustrating at times, the sense of vulnerability and of facing increasingly desperate odds is wonderfully realised. This is further cemented by your connection with Yorda; as you are unable to understand her language (for your first play-through at least), it is a relationship built on empathy, trust and kindness, and one that lingers long after the credits have rolled.
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