Ico/Shadow of the Colossus Collection
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Game Reviewed: Ico/Shadow of the Colossus Collection
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Team Ico
Platform: Playstation 3
ESRB Rating: T
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Ico and Shadow of the Colossus are two games developed by Team Ico for the Playstation 2. Since their releases, they have both become timeless classics. They are often cited as the definitive proof that games are an art form, and with good reason. Unfortunately, they also went by relatively unnoticed, overlooked in favor of more traditionally exciting games. Now, however, these unforgettable masterpieces are brought back onto the market in the form of beautiful 1080p high definition, in hopes that those who missed them the first time around will now be able to experience them in an even more beautiful format.
Ico is the story of Ico, a young boy who is a tragic victim of circumstance. Once in every generation, there is one young boy born with horns. This is seen as a sign of great evil, and on his 12th birthday the horned boy is brought to an isolated castle on an island and locked up. However, he escapes his small prison and wanders the castle, where he comes across a young girl named Yorda, who is also caged. Once he frees her, the rest of the game is about his attempt to help lead her out of the castle so they can both escape the evil that resides in it.
Shadow of the Colossus is the story of a young man named Wander who, stricken with grief over the death of his beloved, a girl named Mono, takes her body to a shrine and takes on an assignment from a mysterious spirit to slay sixteen gigantic beasts in exchange for the resurrection of his loved one. But how much can one man give of himself before losing his soul in exchange for his goal?
Both of these are vaguely connected; Team Ico has confirmed that Shadow of the Colossus is essentially a prequel to Ico by a few hundred years, and when you finish Shadow of the Colossus that statement will make sense. At any rate, however, these two games are legendary for their aesthetic design, atmosphere, and unmitigated beauty. So let’s figure out the passing age for these experiences. Keep in mind I am reviewing two separate games that are part of one collection, so many statements of content will only be applicable to one of the two.
What Parents Need to Know
Ico has very little violence. The game is played from a third-person perspective and centers around protecting and helping Yorda through various areas of the castle. Most of the gameplay is a matter of solving puzzles; Ico is a bit more physically capable than the frail girl, so most of the game consists of finding ways to help her through areas she would not be able to get through without help.
Ico’s only violence (outside of dying from large falls if the player fails to make a jump) is in the combat, which is simple and, really, not even all that violent. Shadow creatures will sometimes appear and try to take Yorda, and combat centers entirely around protecting her from them. The shadow creatures simply fall to the ground and disappear when the player defeats them, and there is no way to actually die in these battles; the only criteria for failure is that the shadows get away with the girl. The player can be knocked down, but this is not about damage, it is about delaying the protection of Yorda. There is also a little blood in a cutscene; it’s not graphic.
Shadow of the Colossus is more violent, but in a unique way. All the combat in the game is centered around climbing gigantic colossi in order to find their weak points and stab them with a sword to eventually bring the gargantuan beasts down. Yes, you read that right; you literally climb them. That’s how big these things are. Much of the game consists of riding your horse through the peaceful countryside until you get to the next colossus (there are no small enemies in-between), at which point you climb them (simultaneously a test of skill and of puzzle-solving) and stab the vulnerable points at various places on their bodies. When the player stabs a colossus, a fountain of strange black blood sprays from the wound: understandable, considering the size of the creatures. A similar effect happens to a human character at one point in the game. If the player dies, Wander simply falls over.
There’s barely even any dialogue in these games, let alone any offensive dialogue.
Both of these games take place in a fantasy world, and both deal with an evil spirit that is very possibly the same one in both games. Both also involve what look like shadow people; their role in Ico is bigger than Shadow of the Colossus, as explained in the Violence section. Shadow of the Colossus has a bit of a “deal with the devil” theme to it, and it is handled appropriately (in fact, I’d say better than any story I can think of). This is all fantasy, and has no connection to the occult or anything else that exists in the real world.
I feel it’s worth noting that both games have strong themes of dedication and love; one displays the lengths to which two people can go to help each other, and the other shows what can happen when someone goes a little too far and gives a little too much. Both are positive messages, powerfully communicated through the games’ interactive nature.
A Child’s Perspective
I could not get a specific child to play this game, but I have heard plenty of people complain about both of these games being too slow-paced, which may be an issue for younger players. Both take a minimalistic approach to their gameplay, and this results in Ico focusing little on combat and heavily on platforming and puzzling, and Shadow of the Colossus is essentially sixteen boss fights with nothing but peaceful riding in-between. This pacing is actually part of what makes the games so beautiful, so if you can appreciate it, great, but if your child needs constant stimulation and action, these games may not be for them.
These are two of those rare video games that can truly be said to contain pure, undiluted beauty in every facet of their design. Two video games that are understandably loved in the gaming community as definitive, undeniable proof that video games are a worthwhile art form. And having played them both through again with enhanced visuals, I can say this collection displays that artistry more vibrantly than ever before.
Ico is a contemplative and relentlessly beautiful story told though gameplay that evokes a very similar feel. Fumito Ueda, the director and lead designer of the game, has said many times that his goal was to evoke emotion not only with the story, visuals, and music, but with the gameplay itself as well, and he certainly has achieved that. From the tender way Ico takes Yorda’s hand to the sweet dependence they develop on each other as Ico helps her through the castle, the entire experience is one of tender care and child-like love. It is very slow-paced and some of the puzzles require a lot of thought, so I found myself unable to play for more than an hour or two at a time before my mind needed a rest. That might drive some players away, but those who can handle that style of gameplay will find Ico an incredibly rewarding and unforgettable experience.
Shadow of the Colossus benefits most from the HD upgrade, and I only wish I could get the chance to play it in the 3D it’s capable of in this re-release. Very rarely, if ever, has any other game matched the epic scale of excitement that is achieved by hanging on for dear life on the back of a giant creature hundreds of feet in the air; it is a thrilling experience that absolutely must be had. The soundtrack is incredible and suitably exciting and beautiful for each track’s given situation. The landscape is breathtaking, and only more so in high definition, and makes the uneventful time between colossus battles enjoyable. And, as in Ico, Ueda has succeeded in creating bonds with the player even through the gameplay, leading to one of the most emotional endings in gaming.
If there is a weakness to either of these games, it’s pacing. A player who is only interested in action-packed games with constant action and fast-paced multiplayer will find little to appreciate here. But allow me to give a little advice here; if your child is like that, I recommend these games above all others. Video games are a powerful artistic medium, but most children I know tend to choose one game (usually Call of Duty) and play it exclusively with friends online. That’s like telling our children reading is good for them and handing them copies of Twilight and a few harlequin romance novels; there’s so much they can gain from the medium, but that won’t happen if they don’t play games truly worth appreciating. Games like this can turn what you may view as a waste of time into a beneficial artistic pursuit, exactly like learning lessons through film or literature. So I say check this one out; both games are beautiful and compelling, and might just change the way you or your child looks at video games.