Back in 2001, a little known division within Sony’s Product Development Department spent four years developing an action-adventure game for the Playstation 2. This game was called “Ico,” and it broke new ground in many compelling ways with it’s uniquely designed puzzle gameplay, art style, and minimalist story. Sadly, this initial release did not sell very well in the US despite critical acclaim. Team Ico followed up this game in 2005 with “Shadow of the Colossus,” also a highly praised game with massive bosses and a similarly minimalistic aesthetic to Ico. Now, both games have been rereleased in this collection for the Playstation 3, upgraded to a smooth 30fps and 1080p resolution. (For those interested, Ico wins in the resolution bump, having full 1080p resolution, while Shadow has 720p upscaling.) Shadow’s level of detail system is still in play, which is depressing due to the porting staff not choosing to use high detail in all areas to get the most out of the platform. However, this column is focused on game reviews rather than technical minutiae, so on to the games proper.
Ico turns ten this year, and the game definitely shows this age. The art style, atmospheric ambience, and excellent soundtrack are all things that Ico has going for it. But then there’s the game mechanics. Ico is based around the eponymously named character’s attempt to escape a castle after being exiled there by his village. During his escape attempt, he encounters the daughter of the Queen, Yorda, and must break her out as well. The game mechanics surrounding the interaction of these characters is what makes Ico the unique experience that garnered so much critical acclaim back in the day. However, this gameplay focus is a double edged sword.
The game’s levels center on getting Ico and Yorda through the game’s environments, solving environmental puzzles and fighting off shadowy enemies to progress. In puzzle solving, Yorda is of little use. Most of the puzzles are based on making paths for her to navigate, as she is much less physically capable than Ico at navigating the game’s environments. In particular, Yorda often needs assistance making long jumps, so Ico must stretch out his hand and catch her to ensure she makes it across the gap. However, the controls for triggering this co-operative action can often be confused by the game for the generic “call” command, which simply has Ico beckon to Yorda to come to his position. As a result, the game is over-specific on when and where this move can be used, leading to much wasted effort on part of the player.
In combat, Yorda is frustratingly helpless, continually being kidnapped by the game’s sole opposition- shadowy demons hell-bent on kidnapping Yorda and sucking her through a dark portal. She barely even attempts to move away from the demons chasing her and is completely reliant on the player’s protection to survive. Ostensibly this is to attempt to build an emotional attachment between the player and Yorda but this often merely results in hair-pullingly frustrating restarts from save couches miles away due to the lack of adequate distribution of checkpoints. Complicating combat further is Ico’s lack of attacking prowess, as he is limited to a three hit combo with no multi-directional attack moves.
Simply put, Ico is an innovative title for it’s time that simply has not held up well over time. Everything it did was done better by later titles inspired by it, most famously by “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.” “Sands” had a player ally in Farah, who was quite nimble and handy with a bow, the Prince was peerless in his mobility and far more flexible in combat, and the game’s setting of a massive Persian castle complex had an even more colorful and varied art style. Ico is also quite short, clocking in at a four to six hour runtime.
By contrast, Shadow of the Colossus plays better than ever, owing much to its newly stabilized framerate on the PS3. This game centers on Wander, a young man on his way to the Forbidden Lands to resurrect the woman that he loves. Maybe. (Being a Team ICO game, little if anything is clear about who the characters are or how they relate to one another.) To do this, the spirit in the temple he enters commands him to slay sixteen Colossi. This herculean task makes up the bulk of the game’s 10 hours, and each fight is quite unique from the others. The design of these boss encounters is fantastic, and many of them require environmental exploitation on part of the player. However, nothing but subtle environmental hints are given, so unless the player is using a guide the boss fights can become rather difficult quickly. However, the game is best experienced without a guide, allowing players to bask in the loneliness of the Forbidden Lands, riding along on Wander’s horse Agro to the tune of a windy, quiet day. Once a Colossi is found, the music swells and the game’s epic soundtrack sets the mood. Colossi designs vary wildly, involving fights on the ground, in the air, and in the water. Despite the impressive variety, the final boss is rather disappointing compared to earlier fights. Once all sixteen Colossi are beaten, a hard difficulty and time attack modes become available. Other than this, little replay value is here.
In sum, the collection is worth a playthrough due to importance of both games in the development of the medium as a whole. Ico+SotC HD is a wonderful tribute to two games that reinforced the notion of games as an artistic medium. A rent or a purchase is most certainly in order.
catagories: high definition, port, ps2, ps3, ico, shadow of the colossus, outdated, yorda, fucking, annoying, colossi, boss, fights, amazing
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