The ICO & Shadow of the Colossus Collection Impressions

Two PlayStation 2 classics make their triumphant return complete with HD visuals, and they're just as incredible as they were the first time around.

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My colossi-killing blade had gone rusty since I last put it to use six years ago. I found myself wandering through a graveyard meadow in search of another behemoth to cross off my list. Dappled patches of sunlight flitted through the trees, illuminating mounds of earth that resembled Hobbit homes. When I crossed a barrier separating this quiet oasis from my prey, the camera pulled back to reveal a stone-encrusted beast resting on its haunches. It looked like a horse with trusses dangling off its face, and it moved with the awkward grace of a just-born lamb. It was as angry as it was confused and wanted little more than to banish me from its home so it could resume its slumber.

I couldn't figure out how to slay this beast. Each hoof stomp shook the screen, threatening my life with every thunderous blow, but I couldn't find a weakness. Its back was covered with hair, but it was dozens of feet above the earth. How could I, an ordinary man, attempt to reach such a lofty height? I brandished my trusty bow and sent a few piercing arrows sailing toward its thick hide, but it remained unperturbed. My limitations were overwhelmingly apparent. I was no threat to this gargantuan foe. I was but a mere fly, a pest that abruptly awakened it and could do nothing to topple it.

And then, when another crashing hoof landed dangerously close to my fragile body, I was forced to dive into the Hobbit hole. An ascending staircase awaited me, and because my equine match was still snorting and stamping outside, I figured it was worth exploring. Down the stairs I ran, pursuing a dusty, dreary path. I sprinted up the hallway as I looked for something of value to make this trip worthwhile but could only find another staircase. This one led up; I took it, two stairs at a time, and emerged in a clearing a little away from the horselike creature. Its back was turned toward me, its legs squatted, as it searched the hole I had disappeared down. My opportunity had presented itself.

Once I figured out what to do, the focus shifted to pure action as I found myself clutching onto its hindquarters with every ounce of my strength. It grunted and screamed, shook its body, stamped its foot, and let out a frustrated growl. But it was no use. I slowly mounted my opponent, desperately grabbing fistfuls of its hair when it tried to shake me off, making slow progress when it stilled itself.

Shadow of the Colossus is a puzzle game wrapped in an adventure brought to life by stunning artistic design and evocative music. Everything is a struggle in this game. Your controls are restricted by the realistic animations, so you can't scamper where you please as other games so willingly allow. You fight for each yard of turf you conquer, and once you find the glowing weak spot that beckons you forward, you still have to steady your sword and hang on tight to have any success. Movement is handled so differently in Colossus from other games that it can be frustrating at first, but once you understand that grip is not infinite--that you can be thrown clear from these towering bodies if you get cocky--you learn to love what it delivers. When I finally plunged my sword into its broad backside and it fell to the ground, I felt a mixture of elation and grief. I had slain the beast, but at what cost?

Six years after it first came out, Shadow of the Colossus is still a unique experience that has no peers. Sure, you can point to the boss fights in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow or maybe Kratos' struggles with titans in God of War III, but the superficial similarities only hint at the wonders found in Shadow of the Colossus. This was an incredible game when it first came out on the PlayStation 2, and it's only more impressive today. It's an emotionally riveting experience that is not only eminently satisfying while you're playing, but it also stays with you long after you put the controller down. I know I haven't been able to get it out of my head since I saw the first colossus years ago.

Shadow of the Colossus appears for the first time on PlayStation 3 alongside its spiritual predecessor. ICO was initially released ten years ago, and didn't have a very strong emotional connection to it. When it first came out, I spent less than an hour with it, realized it was an escort game, and put it permanently back on my shelf. I was young and foolish then, and I'm not proud of my actions, but after sinking a few hours into the HD remake, I realize the error of my ways.

The scope of Ico is much smaller than that found in Colossus. There are no giant monsters to slay, no vast expanses to explore. Rather, you're confined to a castle with a girl who doesn't speak your language. It's an odd concept, but it's executed brilliantly. I was immediately drawn to this strange girl, Yorda, even though we couldn't communicate. You feel like you have to protect and care for her because demons will banish her to the netherworld if you are not vigilant. It's an interesting conceit, and though it does lead to moments of frustration when she refuses to come as you beckon, it's usually empowering and engrossing.

Both of these games have stood up to the ravages of time remarkably well. Strong game design has the ability to transcend eras, but it's the artistic touches that are most striking. Although they don't offer the technical showcase of other PlayStation 3 games, both of these games are still beautiful. Both use a subtle color palette that draws you in without being flashy. Grays and browns are the predominant colors, and there's a dank dusting over every object. It's somber, and the music feeds into this tone. There's a feeling of helplessness and intimidation in both games that makes it easy to connect with the characters and inhabit their struggles.

Aside from the touched-up visuals, there are a couple of other enhancements. For those with state-of-the-art televisions, there is an option to toggle on 3D visuals. This isn't particularly impressive in Ico, a small and intimate game that doesn't push the boundaries of the space you inhabit. But it's a sight to behold in Shadow of the Colossus. You feel just how large these beings are when you're riding on their heads hundreds of feet in the air, and you almost feel as if you're going to be touched by vertigo if you look down too suddenly. There's also behind-the-scenes footage of the creation process of these two classics, which is certainly interesting if you wonder how people could craft something so exquisite.

The bonuses are nice, but the reason to own this package is that both games in it need to be experienced. It doesn't matter if you've played through both already or are taking this journey for the first time; these unique and incredible games are unlike anything else out there. They are in turns stunning, somber, and outright thrilling. I can't recommend them enough, and they are a great tease for the upcoming spiritual successor, The Last Guardian.

Discussion

55 comments
moxyz1
moxyz1

just bought and started playing sotc yesterday for the first time and i think its great, i can see why it is rated by gamers so much now. l also tried ico years ago as i got the demo with a magazine but didnt like escorting the girl so stopped playing without giving it a chance but after trying it again last nite im now hooked. now i have the dilema of which game to complete first lol. looking forward to last guardian all the more now.

LoadedTuna
LoadedTuna

why have you failed me gamespot? the fact that this immaculate video game collection has gone unreviewed for two weeks is a complete travesty.

Granpire
Granpire

@JustPlainLucas Ah, I see your point. Looking at Tom's Gamespot page reveals that he posted the NBA 2K12 review three days ago. I couldn't care less, but I would expect that it's more popular(and hence, more urgent) than this compilation.

JustPlainLucas
JustPlainLucas

@Granpire You're right, that completion time isn't for a first playthrough. I know ICO well and Shadow even better. Playing Shadow in the collection was actually my fifth time. Regardless of experience, however, Tom's had more than enough time to get the game finished for a review.

Granpire
Granpire

@JustPlainLucas Really? Isn't that pushing it a little? I would imagine it could not be on your first playthrough, and you'd really be hard-pressed not to explore the environments... I am the type of gamer that likes to admire the scenery and explore every corner though, so I'm positive I'll get lots of enjoyment of of it.

JustPlainLucas
JustPlainLucas

Still waiting for the review.... both games together can be beaten under 10 hours....

AkashaDemon
AkashaDemon

I took my time getting to the Colossus. Have the adventure of the game is just exploring the landscape and listening to the music. Its a beautiful game that you get rapped up in before you realize it. If its out for the PS3, I think its well worth the money to buy it again and play till my eyes bleed like the last time.

unbentonslaught
unbentonslaught

On Shadow of the Collosus I spent hours just riding through forests and over plains, finding lizards and eating fruit while filling in the edges of the map on the start screen. There are few games that are that immersive.

snake3rules
snake3rules

First I ever heard of this game was in comparison to the newest castlevanias giant battles, and after reading this, and a similarly laudatory review in game informer, I am totally sold on this... Plus I have a 3D tv and i love 3D stuff...

Yams1980
Yams1980

sonys doing a good job releasing some of these ps2 classics in hd, hope they do more like this

ash162
ash162

Enough said i m getting this:)

bugbag
bugbag

Got Colossus day one back in 05, and loved it. It's still my favorite game. I got Ico a year or two later, and was blown away once again. I will most definitely get this when I get a chance, since I'm such a big fan. And the forth colossus you spoke of was the one who took me the longest to figure out. I'll never forget these games, they literally changed my life.

Evo8u
Evo8u

Picked my copy up today. SOTC was great I was blown away by it and I am ready for another play through, on top of being able to experience Ico for the first time. I would have to say that I have a huge love for this type of magical, and mystical game. I get all emotional feeling too when playing games like this, and I can't wait for The Last Guardian!!!

Granpire
Granpire

I've never had a proper chance to play Shadow of The Colossus, and I've never played Ico. I've played enough of Shadow of The Colossus to know how great it is, though, and I'm sure I will love Ico. I definitely want to pick this up.

Zidaneski
Zidaneski

Probably will get this soon to beat Ico but I don't want to play SotC again until I have a 3D television. Or maybe I will play it and then just play it all over again in 3D, lol.

Evilbunz
Evilbunz

@fkbwii its a hd version of SOTC AND ICO!!!!!!!! if they didn't do it i would slap then.... sotc deserves another hd review game was on of the best ps2 games made. top 10 best definitely

x-2tha-z
x-2tha-z

I completed SotC a few years ago. I couldn't really get into Ico. I still own the PS2 copies of both games. I'm picking up the remakes tomorrow. Can't wait to play these in HD. The incentive of trophies might even encourage me to finish Ico.

StanleyL
StanleyL

@fkbwii Wipeout HD, Serious Sam HD, SFII Turbo HD Remix, are all games we've reviewed.

whitejackel
whitejackel

man i love these games cant wait to get my hands on the HD copys.

0CoOlGuY0
0CoOlGuY0

@fkbwii that's because this is way more epic than the average remake :P

blackace
blackace

I believe I have Shadow of the Colossus, but I have no idea where it is at the moment. I never did get Ico, so I picked this game up on sale from Fry's Electronics for just $29.99. I had pre-ordered it at Gamestop, but they wanted $40. I got me a $10 savings. Haven't played it yet. Started playing White Knight Chronicles 2 instead. If you don't own either of these games, make sure you buy this collection, as it's well worth the price.

cigocigo
cigocigo

I thought to myself... Well I have these on PS2 and already completed them once... Were pretty good games, especially SOTC. And I know I'll buy U3, BF3, PES2012 and the GOW collection II... But after listening to the background music of SOTC - that's it, I'm buying this piece of art anyway!

Ciphas
Ciphas

I'm probably just as excited for this as I am for Battlefield 3, Skyrim, Uncharted 3, or any other major release this year :3

fkbwii
fkbwii

We're reviewing remakes now? This is good but I don't remember them reviewing any other HD remake.

MrBBQ56
MrBBQ56

Crap, Tom McShea is doing the review! Get ready for a 6.5

chocolate1325
chocolate1325

It arrives in Europe on Friday so looking forward to it.

slainta
slainta

The real challenge in SotC will be to go for Platinum. That's an incentive to really discover the game at 100%. There are so many hidden little things on it that I didn't bother to complete.

Uesugi-dono
Uesugi-dono

"the reason to own this package is that both games in it need to be experienced" Let me second that: the reason to own this package is that both games in it NEED to be experienced.

warhawk-geeby
warhawk-geeby

I proper want this, but with Uncharted, Battlefield 3 and Skyrim all coming out I just know I won't have the time to play them.. I still have Deus Ex and Resistance 3 to complete.. There's been sooooo many good games this year. I'm not complaining, but it's irritating when you can't buy them all :(

DeathByGeek
DeathByGeek

Picked up the last copy at my best buy. Truly two of the greatest games ever made. Glad they put this collection together. Can't wait for The Last Guardian.

Pete5506
Pete5506

Really should pick this up

Joedgabe
Joedgabe

The games are fantastic ^^ I got the game and the HD makes it look so much more beautiful for SotC. Ico looks a bit of the same. I have to say though... since these games are redone again in HD I do hope they at least give an update on The last guardian. They should take their time doing it to make the game as perfect as possible, but some news would be nice too =[

johny300
johny300

Getting the collection next week.

soulless4now
soulless4now

Can't wait for this since I sadly ignored both games when they were released during the ps2 era.

GONtheSKYLORD
GONtheSKYLORD

Really this is one of the best exclusives. It's almost criminal that it isn't more popular. Too many people missing out.

s_h_a_d_o
s_h_a_d_o

[QUOTE="Tom McShea"]It looked like a horse with trusses dangling off its face...[/QUOTE]

Wait... what? Is there some esoteric meaning to the word "truss" of which I am ignorant? Or did you mean "tresses"? Please explain. Additionally I'm confused by your inverted use of the nomenclature - colossus is singular - colossi, plural. And to all you ***** thumbing me down, I'm not criticising the , just poor writing skills from one who purports to be a journalist. I mean to say, an "ascending staircase" that goes down???. The science of proof-reading is indeed dead. :|

AMD1290
AMD1290

this version looks considerably better than my old PS2 version but one thing that bugged the heck out of me is that it isn’t 60fps as advertised. it's clearly running in 30fps.

GamerYnoX
GamerYnoX

SotC is one of those games that could pass for a native ps3 title.

TheGuardian03
TheGuardian03

You guys better give the collection a 9.0, 8.5 for ico and 8.7 for SOTC back when they were released and now they deserve a 9.0.

detroithardcore
detroithardcore

I loved how there was no BS in shadows, adventure to and slay a boss. All fights epic, and satisfying to accomplish. I passed on God of war collection because I have the originals, But even though I also own these I'm going to get it. You could tell when this game was made it was ahead of it's time, and was limited to standard def TV's. I'd love to adventure through both of these worlds again, in all their HD glory!

abcdefgabcdefgz
abcdefgabcdefgz

It is fun to remake old games but how about a NEW SOTC game on current systems?

madsnakehhh
madsnakehhh

I'm really, really interested in ICO, sadly i already beat SotC and with so many good games and HD collections coming (SH and ZoE) i don't see myself getting this one...but who knows in the future.