Ico and Shadow of the Colossus Collection Playtest: Simply Stunning

By Jenni . September 8, 2011 . 5:30pm

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Just in time for Ico‘s 10th anniversary, Team Ico prepared a fantastic bundle that introduces Ico and Shadow of the Colossus to a wider audience as the Ico and Shadow of the Colossus: Collection. These extraordinary games are beautiful and now PlayStation 3 owners have a chance to play enhanced versions.

 

Ico is the story of a young boy with horns. All boys with horns from his village are taken to a deserted castle and locked in stone coffins. After Ico is abandoned there, he attempts to fight back. Rather than accept his fate, he shakes his coffin from its pedestal and escapes. As he explores his new surroundings, he comes across a mysterious girl dressed in white and locked in a cage. He frees her, and the moment she gets out of her cage she’s assaulted by shadowy figures. Ico fights them off, and then learns she has the ability to open strange gates in the castle. Players control Ico who guides and protects Yorda. The two must work together to find a way out of the castle.

 

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Shadow of the Colossus follows a young man named Wander. He finds his way to a deserted temple in the Forbidden Lands, accompanied only by his horse Argo and the dead body of a young woman named Mono. He places her on an altar in the temple and calls upon the Dormin, an entity that inhabits the temple. Wander had heard the Dormin may have the ability to resurrect her. The Dormin sees Wander has a magic sword that can kill the colossi and says that if he kills the sixteen colossi roaming the land, Dormin might be able to revive Mono. Wander then goes with Argo to hunt down the massive, otherworldly creatures. Players must then use Wander’s sword, bow and wits to find a way to topple each being.

 

Each game gives you the basics then sets the player free. Instead of holding your hand, Team Ico gives players opportunities to imagine and infer details on their own, based on what they see while playing and experiencing both Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. This means that, while it may be repetitive, it may actually be beneficial for the player to replay each game at least once to pick up on anything that may have been missed during the initial playthrough.

 

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Ico is essentially one long escort mission, since you have to keep both Ico and Yorda’s safety in mind. It made me realize how I preferred looking after Trip in Enslaved to babysitting Yorda. While part of the sense of purpose and adventure in Ico stems from having Ico being solely responsible for Yorda’s safety and well being, having to occasionally resort to constant hand-holding can get a bit tedious. It’s really noticeable how basic Yorda’s AI is. Ico is one of the few instances where where I don’t mind an escort mission lasting more than a few minutes, but could she at least climb a ladder without constant encouragement or trust Ico when I have him positioned perfectly to catch her when she needs to jump a gap. Or, maybe she could actually stay near Ico when those shadow creatures come calling. That would help.

 

Despite that qualm, Ico is probably one of the most memorable escort mission games. Team Ico did a wonderful job of creating a minimalist story that challenges the player while also giving enough opportunity to build bonds without words. The way Ico and Yorda react to each other, from holding hands, to leaning against each other on stone couches, to the blind trust needed to jump across gaps to a horned boy she’s only just met sets a tone for the game. The more cynical may consider Yorda little more than a human-shaped key that has to be dragged through each area, especially if they’ve had the misfortune of being ambushed by shadow creatures one too many times, but those willing to open up to the game will find a pure relationship developing under strenuous circumstances. Maybe they’ll even wonder if they would be willing to do what Ico is accomplishing, if they were in a similar situation.

 

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Shadow of the Colossus is comparatively more active. The goal in the game is to hunt down colossi in an open land. The colossi are so gigantic that Wander has to find a way to scale up them, which can involve outwitting or outrunning them so you can find some footholds. You may have to use arrows or whistling to draw its attention to lead it into the right position for you. Once Wander is on a colossus, he then must climb and hold on, gripping onto fur and rock ledges while trying to find glowing marks that represent each one’s few weak points. Assaulting these spots with the sword takes chunks out of the colossi’s health and eventually kills them. Wander is then returned to the shrine instantly (pretend a wizard did it) and must head off in search of the next colossus, using the sword’s beam of light as a tracking device.

 

For the most part, Shadow of the Colossus works perfectly with accurate controls, great AI for Argo and fantastic challenges in the form of the 16 colossi. The camera is the only failing. It’s fine when Wander is just roaming the Forbidden Lands. It’s during battles that it starts fighting you. You can be holding L1 down to keep a colossus in your sights, but the second you let it go, Wander will be facing a different way and you’ll have to re-aim the camera to attack. So you have to constantly hold down L1 constantly while attacking from a distance to ensure you don’t lose track of your prey. Also, you better pray you don’t get cornered while attacking, as the camera can get Wander hurt as colossi’s limps/weapons or ruins can block your view.

 

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If Team Ico and Sony had just taken Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, as is, and put them on a Blu-ray, that alone may not have been enough for fans. Remastering them in HD with an option for 3D displays and two sets of trophies just seems like something extra. The HD remastering does make a difference. Environments in both games are even more stunning now than they were originally. The castle and the Forbidden Lands are beautiful and I found myself sometimes stopping in areas, just so I could move the camera around to take in the scenery. I think Shadow of the Colossus benefits from the HD remastered more though, as everything in the game – environments, ruins, colossi, Argo and the Wanderer, are more fluid. In Ico, it seems the castle benefits most, as Ico, Yorda and the Queen almost look out of place.

 

There’s some happy Ico news that will make up for its cast not looking as spectacular in HD. The Japanese and PAL version of that game were always considered the best ones, since you could get a glowing sword, an extra ending scene and on a second playthrough decipher Yorda and the Queen’s language. The North American release of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus: The Collection contains the version with the extras and not the stripped down original PS2 release. That’s a pretty nice bonus, and a good way to encourage people to replay the game once they beat it so they can see some of those extras in play.

 

The games in Ico and Shadow of the Colossus Collection perfectly compliment one another. Though Ico does have occasional battles, it’s more about exploration. Going through the castle to find a way to freedom is the game’s core. In contrast, Shadow of the Colossus focuses on monumental battles, but also offers extensive opportunities to explore the Forbidden Land. In both games, the protagonists have a bond with another character throughout their journey, as Ico has Yorda and the Wanderer has Agro. Not to mention they’re tied together, as Shadow of the Colossus is the prequel to Ico. Alone, each is a masterpiece. Bundled together as HD remastered games makes this a collection no PS3 owner should miss.

 

Food for Thought

  • While nothing was said about the sound being adjusted, it seems like both Ico and Shadow of the Colossus sound better in Ico and Shadow of the Colossus: The Collection.
  • Sony sent us a pre-release build. The final release will have some The Last Guardian footage as well, which means this will leave people desperate for Team Ico’s next game when they’re done with it.
  • Have a guide ready before playing Shadow of the Colossus. You’ll never find stamina/grip increasing fruit/lizard tails without them. You also probably won’t stumble on horseback riding tricks on your own.

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