Ico & Shadow of the Colosssus PlayStation 3
Published by Sony Computer Entertainment Europe
Developed by Team Ico
Remastered by Bluepoint Games
Usually at this time of year the focus is on what great new games there are about to be released. It is unusual then that one of the PlayStation 3's major releases is actually composed of two re-releases of what many would regard as two of the best PlayStation 2 titles: Ico and Shadow of the Colossus both developed by Team Ico. I had already seen what the original version of Shadow of the Colossus had to offer but have never played Ico before. Whilst some aspects of Ico are very dated, it's very easy to see why the game managed to appeal to so many the first time around.
Ico begins with a young boy called Ico, being hauled off to a castle to be held as a prisoner because he happens to have a pair of horns growing out of his head. Whilst trying to escape he encounters a young girl, named Yorda, who has been caged. Ico frees her from her cage and then attempts to get them both out of the castle. The only problem is that Yorda's mother, the Queen, has other plans for her and legions of shadow-like creatures emerge from portals to attempt to recapture her. Essentially then you have the two problems of navigation through the castle and protecting Yorda by fighting off her pursuers (incidentally the combat in the game is very simplistic). Yorda won't follow you willingly and you'll need to hold her hand and lead her out of there. The game is quite unlike anything else you may have experienced before and has elements of action, adventure and platform games and yet feels like neither of them.
Whilst Ico is a marvellous game, there are some problems for deaf gamers. There are times when you'll be off exploring and the girl will come under attack by the shadow enemies. The problem here is that the only notification that is given to alert you to these attacks is a change in the music. There are no visual notifications at all and the first a deaf or hard of hearing person will know about it is when you're shown the final moments of the girl being dragged into the inky black portal and of course at that point there is no way to rescue her and prevent a continue screen from appearing. There are no visual representations of Ico's shouts when he's calling Yorda which is a little disappointing if not entirely problematic.
There's no denying that Ico is a superb game, and it's a game that is very difficult to describe in a simple review such as this, but it's plainly obvious that this is a game that was designed practically a decade ago. There is no tutorial information in the game and there are no icons to hint at what controls you should use to perform specific actions. I hadn't played Ico before and wasn't aware that you had to sit on one of the stone sofas with the girl in order to save the game (I don't have access to the game manual and this is something that is probably mentioned in there). It's also possible to accidentally run off the edge of a platform and lose your progress. None of these 'niggles' were probably considered as problems a decade ago but by today's standards it all seems rather crude.
Shadow of the Colossus may also have been developed by Team Ico but it feels very different from Ico. In Shadow of the Colossus you'll control a young traveller on horseback who at the beginning of the game is making his way to a temple with the body of his recently deceased young love. A heavenly voice inspired him to travel to the temple and after placing her body on an alter there, he is told what he must do in order to restore her spirit to her body. In essence, there are sixteen Colossi that roam the land and he must seek out each one and destroy them.
You may think that simply having to engage in what is effectively sixteen boss battles would make Shadow of the Colossus a rather tedious affair but in fact it's anything but that. The Colossi are absolutely huge and all are difficult to defeat. In fact as boss fights go, these are sixteen of the best you will ever encounter. You'll really have to put some thought into each of the battles as there are no easy tactics you can employ here. The main character doesn't level-up or gain magical items that will give him an upper hand. In fact he comes equipped with a sword and a bow and nothing more. Each of the battles are dependent on your skill alone and the game is all the memorable for it.
You'll traverse a multitude of landscapes in search of the Colossi and once found you'll have to figure out a way to kill them. You can't simply hack away at them and hope for the best. They each have weak spots known as vitals and the Colossi can only be hurt by attacking them there. You'll also find that their vitals are in the most awkward of places causing you to scale their giant physiques to attack the back of a leg, head, the sole of a foot, or even their rear end. You can't even hold on to them for a long time as a grip meter will show you how much longer you can retain your hold on the Colossi. The Colossi are all of a different nature too. Some walk on two feet, others on four and there are even winged Colossi to deal with. Of course it doesn't help that the Colossi will attack you and do a huge amount of damage if they hit you. There are no health potions although your health will refill if you keep out of harm's way. Should you be killed, you are simply taken back to the beginning of the battle.
The speech in Shadow of the Colossus is in Japanese so the game comes complete with English subtitles for the main dialogue meaning deaf gamers will have no problem in following the storyline. Not all of the speech in the game is subtitled however. For example, when the traveller calls for his horse there are no visual representations of this. Also when the grip gauge is almost depleted it will emit a beeping noise and there are no captions for this but this isn't a problem as the gauge is visible at all times. There are tutorial messages in Shadow of the Colossus and they are all shown in text.
There aren't many similarities between the two games but one thing they do have in common is for the action to be the main focus and not the storyline. There is not a lot of dialogue in either game. Whether this is a good thing or not will really come down to your preference. I personally enjoy a good amount of dialogue but I appreciated the minimal amount of dialogue in both games and the increased focus on the gameplay rather than the storyline certainly serves both games really well. In Ico in particular the relationship between Ico and Yorda is one of simple gestures rather than lengthy dialogue and it works surprisingly well.
Given the fondness gamers have for both games it would have sufficed if both had simply been slapped on a PlayStation 3 disk with the minimum of fuss. However, extra care has been taken by Bluepoint Games and the move to the PlayStation 3 has been an impressive one. Instead the visuals for both games have been upgraded somewhat and both look good, particularly Shadow of the Colossus. Both games support 1080p visuals, 3D (for those with access to 3D TV sets) and trophies. What really impressed me however is how the performance issues that plagued Shadow of the Colossus (a game that really bought the PS2 hardware to its knees) have been removed and the game runs on the PlayStation 3 very nicely indeed.
It's something of a recent trend to re-release games for the PlayStation 3 that have previously only been on other platforms and I daresay some of the games that are re-released will not be true 'classics' and the care given to putting them on the PlayStation 3 will not always be as good as it should be. This Ico & Shadow of the Colossus re-release is everything a re-release should be. It contains two of the best games to have appeared on the PlayStation 2 that are quite unlike anything else you've ever played. Both games have been remastered superbly and take advantage of the extra graphical horsepower of the PlayStation 3. The quality of the individual games is very impressive but as a re-release collection, Ico & Shadow of the Colossus is a shining example of what can be done when the correct care and attention are given to the classics of yesteryear.