Reviewer’s Rating: ★★★1/2
Team Ico’s games seem to stand on their own lonely mountaintop. It’s difficult to compare them to anything else because they evoke feelings unheard of in most games like loneliness, isolation, and wonder. Now, both of Team Ico’s games have been dolled up with HD graphics to win over a new generation of gamers.
This remastered re-release features both of Team Ico’s games: “Ico” and “Shadow of the Colossus.” The first game is about a boy who is abandoned in a mysterious castle because the horns growing from his head are considered a bad omen. He must help princess Yorda escape her evil mother and the shadowy minions she sends after them. “Ico” is more about evoking subtle emotion than dialogue, character development, and exposition. The loneliness of exploring the empty castle and the intentionally minimalist story make for an immersive experience.
Sadly, the lovely Yorda is a space cadet. You must guide her hand-in-hand through the castle, and her occasional inability to climb ladders or think for herself makes the whole game feel like you’re babysitting as much as you are adventuring. In an era when “escort mission” is a dirty word, “Ico” may be too frustrating for many gamers. Yorda was obnoxiously slow back when the game originally released in 2001, and she hasn’t aged well, which is a shame because the puzzles, atmosphere and story are truly captivating.
“Shadow of the Colossus,” on the other hand, has aged like wine. The story is just as minimal. In this story, a boy travels to a forbidden and uninhabited land to ask a banished god to revive his female companion. Armed with a sacred sword and his trusty horse Agro, he must find each of the sixteen colossi and slay them in order to bring the girl back. What’s amazing about the story of “Colossus” is how much it tells by leaving out the details. The player is never told the connection between the main character and the girl, how he got the sacred sword or how he knows about the banished god. There are only a few dozen lines of dialogue in the entirety of the game, but the sense of scale and sacrifice craft an epic man vs. nature vs. god tale that plays out entirely through the player’s feelings, rather than plot devices.
Hunting each of the colossi begins with holding your sword towards the heavens and following the beam of refracted light. Once you find them, you must observe the creature’s habits and attack patterns and use the environment to your advantage, such as leaping from a tower onto the creature’s back and climbing towards its weak spot. “God of War” and several others have tried their best to copy this gameplay, but to this day, the cleverness and sense of scale in “Colossus’s” battles has yet to be matched. Pulling your horse alongside the wing of a snake-like flying creature and then backflipping off the saddle onto the monster’s hide is simply one of the coolest experiences in gaming, and the soundtrack is an orchestral powerhouse that makes the battles even more epic.
Both games have been given some HD makeover to hide their old age, and look fantastic. “Shadow of the Colossus” also runs much more smoothly than its original PS2 counterpart. There’s a smidgen of bonus content and trophies to chase after, giving both of these relatively short games a little more shelf life. “Colossus” features a time attack mode that rewards players with new weapons, and for the first time, gamers in the USA can mess around with “Ico’s” multiplayer mode. For the reduced price of $39.99, there’s a respectable amount of content to be found for diehard players who want to unlock everything.
Of the two games, “Shadow of the Colossus” is clearly the MVP, but “Ico” is still gorgeous and unique enough to warrant a playthrough. If you let these two gems slip through your fingers years ago, please don’t make the same mistake again.