The Ico & Shadow of the Colossus Collection

Sony Computer Entertainment
5
May 31, 2014

If you've played the original PS2 versions of both of these games, then the PS3 upgrade doesn't make that much difference.  Sure, the games are prettier in HD, and the textures are gorgeous to behold (and if that's your thing, then I'm hardly going to discourage you!), but the glory of these games lies in the content, not the resolution.  If you've never played either of these, then this is a perfect opportunity for you.

Ico (pronounced EE-koh) is the first game in the series, and it's not without its flaws, but I feel that the flaws are vastly overshadowed by its brilliance.  You play as a young boy who's brought to a mysterious castle as a sacrifice—as you were born with horns—and immediately you escape your living tomb due to panic and crumbling, ancient architecture.  The first thing you notice is that you are merely the latest in a very long series of sacrificed children.  The next thing is that there's another child being held there: a strange girl called Yorda.  Although neither of you speak the other's language, it quickly becomes obvious that you need to work together to escape.  The two of you, hand in hand, work your way through the enormous, lonely, malevolent castle, puzzling your way through devices designed to keep you there, fighting off the shadow-creatures trying to reclaim Yorda, and occasionally encountering the terrifying Queen you were being sacrificed to.

The game is deliberately minimalist, and so the history must be pieced together through visuals and the paltry bits of dialogue.  The controls can be frustratingly unresponsive at times, and the fact that the entire game is an escort mission (every gamer's least favorite type) can put people off.  If, however, you're willing to deal with some minor annoyances, this is a deeply felt, utterly beautiful piece of art that demonstrates just how emotionally affecting games can be.

Shadow of the Colossus, while the second game in the series, is actually a prequel to Ico.  In this game, you play as a young man who steals a magic sword from your village and enters a forbidden realm to beg the being there to bring a woman back to life.  Dormin—the collective entity locked in the temple—agree, provided that you free them from their seal.  They charge you with killing the sixteen Colossi in the realm, which act as anchors for the spell keeping Dormin in place.  Armed with your bow and stolen sword, and accompanied by your faithful horse, you set out into a vast, vacant land to fight giant beings.

Every bit as intentionally minimalist as Ico, Shadow of the Colossus is even more ambiguous in terms of plot and backstory.  Most games are quite clear cut: you are the hero, and anyone opposing you is the villain (with a handful gleefully letting you play the villain because good is dumb).  An increasing number of games make things more fuzzy, with anti-heroes and anti-villains working towards noble ends with questionable means or opposing those means with other questionable means, but this remains fairly unique in that it's entirely up to your interpretation where the game falls in the overall spectrum of right to wrong.  Are you a hero trying to save a woman from your superstitious tribe and freeing an unjustly imprisoned spirit?  Are you a villain attacking majestic creatures that might not even be defending themselves and unleashing a demon on the world?  Are you just an idiot caught up in the romance of it all without considering the wider implications?  All of the above?

It's no secret that Shadow of the Colossus is among my all-time favorite games (other spots being held by the likes of Chrono Trigger, Persona 3, and the hot mess that is Xenogears), although the reasons that it makes such a high rank are wrapped up in spoilers that I can't discuss in this review.  I will say that it's one of the few games that have brought tears to my eyes, and it's one of those rare ones that has successfully used the controller to help tell the story.  Whether you want to immerse yourself into beautiful scenery, be swept away by an outstanding soundtrack, lose yourself in an ethical debate, or just enjoy fighting monsters the size of buildings, this game has something for you.  Give it a try, and then join me while we wait for The Last Guardian.

Written by Rachel C.