Ico and Shadow of the Colossus are two games that are always mentioned when discussions about whether gaming is an art arise.  They were both well received when they first released on the PS2 and continue to be praised by the gaming community for their originality.  Team Ico has done us all a favor and combined both games in an exclusive PS3 title known simply as Ico and Shadow of the Colossus Collection.  The games now support 3-D and have also been updated with HD visuals and framerate improvements. I was one of the gamers that missed BOTH games when they were first released so my review will be one that won’t be swayed with nostalgia.  Let’s see if the games actually stood the test of time, shall we?  



I get it, I really do.  Gamers always make a fuss about Ico and I finally understand why.  This game is truly one of a kind and playing through it will broaden your horizons in terms of what you expect from a game.  It has a very minimalist approach to pretty much every aspect of gaming: storytelling, gameplay, audio, character interaction, etc.  You would think that this would provide for a boring experience but in turn it actually makes you appreciate other aspects that are easily overlooked in other games.  You won’t find millions of collectibles or side quests that constantly drag you away from the main quest.  Far too many games are loaded down with with these nowadays and are even praised for it because it extends playtime and adds more bulk content to the game, but not Ico.  The game is focused on the mission at hand with no distractions, and this ends up adding to the charm and originality of the game.   


The story focuses on young boy who has been banished from his village and locked away in a castle.  Apparently that’s what they do with young boys who are born with horns on their head, who knew?  After discovering a young girl trapped in there with him, he makes it his mission to get the both of them out of there.  And thus, the game begins. 


The gameplay revolves around completing puzzles and guiding the young girl, Yorda, around the castle.  Puzzles range from the basic box moving and switch pulling to other more intricate puzzles that require you to put your thinking cap on and contemplate for a minute or two.  Yorda’s inability to swim or climb rope really plays an important role in the puzzles: you’ve got to find other ways to get her to where she needs to be.  There’s also shadow beasts that come after Yorda and try to pull her into shadow vortexes and it’s up to Ico to protect her with whatever fancy weapon he’s currently wielding. 


Even considering that Ico’s ten-year anniversary was this year, it’s still not without its faults.  The lack of an autosave feature could possibly have you pulling your hair out:  there are times when the camera can cause an error in judgment and Ico will fall to his death, forcing you to go back and re-do a puzzle you already figured out simply because you forgot to save.  This can be especially cumbersome as some puzzles can take some time to figure out and complete.  It can also be very frustrating whenever Yorda decides to climb half way to the bottom of a ladder before turning around and going all the way to the top, and pulling herself up before deciding to come back down again.   


Even after it’s faults, Ico still delivers an experience like no other game.  Elements in this game are stripped down to the very basics and so you learn to enjoy such things as the connection between Ico and Yorda, the terrific castle architecture, and the intriguing art style.  This game is definitely one that every gamer should experience at least once to understand that there’s more to gaming besides killing as many beasts as you possibly can or collecting as many items as fast as possible.  I think we all once understood this but merely forgotten, Ico does a great job of bringing this aspect back to gaming and it helps us understand that you don’t need those things to have a great gaming experience. 


Shadow of the Colossus:

Shadow of the Colossus is a very unique game and like Ico, it has a minimalist approach.  The story quickly unfolds as Wander travels to a forbidden land and is given the task of defeating 16 colossi in order to revive a young girl known as Mono.  There are no other enemies to defeat in the game other than the colossi, and each one requires a different strategy in order to defeat it.  Often times the environment plays an important role in discovering the weak points and strategies for defeating the colossi. This varying approach to the puzzles gives the game variety and provides for unique experiences during each battle.


The forbidden land is a very large one and Wander must travel to the very ends of it in order to defeat all of the colossi.  Even though the game is six years old, the environments still provide plenty of beautiful scenery to view when traveling to the next battle.  Throughout the journey, there are plenty of scenic views of waterfalls, city ruins, elaborate temples, forests with sunlight beaming through the trees, sand dunes, and erupting geysers.  Viewing all of these scenic areas, and even battling colossi in the majority of them, was one of my favorite aspects of the game even though at times there were large amounts of popup. 


Battles with colossi are puzzle focused, but balanced with action and strategy.  You won’t be mindlessly swinging swords or button mashing, Shadow of Colossus is all about finding your enemy’s weak point and figuring out how to exploit it:  each colossus has a certain point (or points) that you must find and thrust your sword into repeatedly.  There are certain areas on a colossus’ body that are climbable; it’s then a struggle between climbing the beasts, managing stamina, and thrusting the sword into its weak points.  While the strategy for each colossus is different, variety in each individual battle doesn’t change and a lot of the times the same strategy is used over and over until the colossus’ health bar is depleted.  This requires some trial and error, which can prove to be boring and tedious; the game would’ve benefited from having more than one way to take down the colossus and giving the gamer the option of choosing which method. 


Following in Ico’s footsteps, the mysterious, solitary atmosphere is prevalent throughout Team Ico’s second PS2 gem. Wander travels the land and all you hear are sounds of his horse, Agro, galloping along with rushing water over waterfalls and birds chirping.  It’s a very lonely game and the lack of music makes it even lonelier, adding to the feelings of despair that Wander must feel concerning Mono’s death.  During cut scenes and battles, large orchestral arrangements can be heard which come in right on cue as the excitement begins to pick up.  Minor details like these are really what set it apart from other games; they add to the uniqueness that Team Ico is known for. 


Despite a few minor graphical problems and dated controls, Shadow of the Colossus has aged well.  Being my first time playing through this game, I was not swayed by nostalgic eyes that may have changed my review had I played it when it first came out and so I can say I completely enjoyed the experience.  It’s an incredible adventure that has its pros and cons, all the while still providing uniqueness not found in many other games.  There were times when I felt extremely frustrated (not being able to mount Agro successfully, for example) and times when I was completely blown away by the visuals, gameplay, and overall experience.  All in all, Shadow of the Colossus still provides a great gaming experience even six years after its original release date and it does a good job complimenting Ico, as the two games make up a collection you don’t want to miss.