The lights are on
Saint has issued a challenge I'm taking him up on it. It's time the asses that spam this review section to hate on games they don't understand or like, have not played, or to protest the reviewer got pushed the hell out. If you're one of those people I'm not afraid to say you make me sick.
Spoiler Free Summary - A horned child named Ico is banished by his village who consider him a bad omen. As he wanders the castle he finds himself in, Ico happens upon a young Princess named Yorda and takes up the task of helping her to escape the clutches of an evil Queen. In the process he must solve puzzles while preventing the Queen's shadow like minions from dragging the mostly helpless Yorda into the darkness from which they crawl.
Review - ICO is just as much a beautifully artistic take on subdued storytelling as it ever was. The game looks great for its age, helped along nicely by its radiant visual style, and is just about the perfect length for what it sets out to accomplish. I finished my playthrough in a dismally slow 6+ hours of gameplay, or at least that's slow for a game with Trophies awarded for completing it in less than 4 hours and making a devilishly fleet footed sub 2 hour run. If you know what to look for it's clear this game was designed to, at it's longest reasonable length, not interrupt the subtle storytelling going on in the background. Starting you off with an epic beginning, stringing just enough story to back up the gameplay, and finally ending with a crescendo that throws you for a loop; all with hardly a word being spoken. The game never lingers long enough on one thing for its simple, and somewhat flawed, mechanics to become an issue.
The only place I could say for certain that the game doesn't retain its value is the controls and mechanics, and even then only in some areas. Several of the puzzles have been changed, and not all in a good way. One in particular involved a large wooden block meant to launch the player up so that they could grab on to a ledge. In thought it seems like it might be an interesting change, however in practice the window for timing your jump so that the block launches you high enough is terribly small. This section is followed immediately by a water wheel which also stresses the mechanics of the game, forcing players to react perfectly to get past. Surprisingly enough, I never experienced much of a problem with the game's camera, which is an area in which many old games suffer, despite it being mostly out of your control. I also experienced little trouble with Yorda, which was a pleasant discovery after many horror stories regarding how much of a pain in the ass she was to take care of.
All in all, ICO is a game that everyone should play through. I can guarantee it will not take up a large portion of your time and it's a pristine example of how storytelling in games can be approached in unique ways; more developers these days should take note what this gem does correctly and add some subtlety to their stories. Not everything needs to be spoken if you know how to convey a thought properly through your medium, an art that both titles in this collection have mastered.
Shadow of the Colossus HD
Spoiler Free Summary - You are the Wanderer, a young man seeking to reclaim the soul of a girl, Momo, who was sacrificed for a ritual in her village. Desperate to regain this life Wanderer ventures into forbidden lands, finally arriving at a temple in which resides a mysterious deity. This apparent god offers to grant the young man's wish of reclaiming Momo's soul if he can destroy the Colossi tied to all the idols that stand within the temple. Together Wanderer and his horse Agro set out into the open world surrounding the main temple in search of these massive beasts, armed with only a sword and a bow.
Review - I first played Shadow of the Colossus in 2006, if my memory serves me correctly. I didn't appreciate it at the time, stopping after the tenth Colossus because that particular boss' focus on riding Agro infuriated me. I may not have ever beat that particular Colossi at the time to tell the truth, I don't remember doing what I had to do to defeat it when I face it again a few days ago. Though what I do remember is a testament to how much of an impact the game had on me, in spite of the fact that I failed to realize it.
Four years later, four years without more than a passing thought, and I still remembered how to beat all ten of those Colossi I had fought before. I still remembered all the places they live and how to get there. I even remembered where most of the shrines I'd found were. And I could tell you where and how to defeat all of them, from memory, now that I've completed the journey. If that isn't testament enough to how great the game is, then perhaps me telling you that it possess the same affinity for storytelling that ICO does will. The game starts you off with a noble quest. Who would argue with trying to save someone you love? However, as time passes, you get the feeling that there is something else going on in the background; with certain portions, which I will not place in the timeline in order to avoid spoilers, becoming terribly dark. All in all the story hints at the origins of ICO and provides an ending worthy of the work done to get there.
As with ICO one of the main arguments against this game is going to be the mechanics. In this case though it is centered around your horse companion Agro and the camera system. The concept of riding your horse around in a large open world killing massive bosses was nigh on revolutionary at the time Shadow of the Colossus released. It portrayed a sense of accomplishment and scale in your successes that was unmatched and is still unmatched by many titles today. Unfortunately Agro controls like a tank. Turning, speeding up, and dealing with obstacles about as gracefully as a dumptruck. Many times the black beast will refuse to leap off a small drop, forcing you to fight as he automatically pulls a one hundred eighty degree turn. At other times Wanderer's brother in arms throws caution to the wind, soaring off cliffs that are easily thirty feet high only to toss you to the ground and arise from this fall with a temporary limp. Couple that with Agro's refusal to move in tight spaces, issues getting Wanderer to mount him consistently, or a bad habit of getting spooked at his owner's own bow and, of all things, running in front of your carefully placed arrows and you've got one of the worst controlling horses in video game history. I doesn't help the game any that several Colossi are impossible to deal with on foot.
The camera is another story entirely and it isn't a problem because it gives you a poor perspective on the action or hides things outside of your view like many older games do. Rather because of how the cinematic perspectives it gives effect the gameplay. Shadow of the Colossus existed in the days when analog movement was still often relative to the camera and not the character. This means that when the camera decided to swing to some strange angle at the left or right of Wanderer it would create serious hassles. Suddenly to get Wanderer to launch himself upwards you have to press in a completely counter intuitive direction. On more than one occasion my brave warrior leaped into thin air or refused to ascend the side of one of his monstrous targets. Turning off the auto camera correction while climbing didn't seem to help much as the camera still did not keep its same perspective on our hero as the variety of giant beings violently attempted to fling him about like a rag doll. The camera is something that I believe really should have been dealt with; I felt that both of these issues could have been addressed more than they were, it didn't feel like they touched Agro at all, and that the failure to do so detracts slightly from what this could have been.
Problems aside, climbing and killing Colossi is still just as fun now as it was when this game first came out. The story still gripped me, and I found my mouth slightly agape as the last moments played out. It's beyond entertaining to look at what this game did and draw parallels to titles like Assassin's Creed. Heck, it's still the only game I've ever seen that approached boss fights like it did and it's still the only non-fighting game I've seen that is comprised entirely of bosses and nothing else while maintaining an iron grip on my attention. Even more so than ICO, Shadow of the Colossus is a game that should not be missed because of the ground it laid in the path to where the industry is today.
Not setting aside the small amount of time needed to experience these games is doing a disservice to yourself as a gamer. The mechanics of these games may not have aged perfectly, but that doesn't detract from the experiences they craft and what they have contributed to today's games. They stand the test of time because they are unique and because of how differently they approach a medium that is full of copycat games more focused on exploiting familiarity than progressing the pastime we love. As with all of the HD Collections, Team ICO's games represent one of the best offers in the industry.
Good stuff. Thanks for helping out and leading the way. This is definitely "herdable" material.