The Playstation 2’s collection of software is staggering. The amount of quality games during its lifespan is hard to manage down to the “best” 20 or so releases. But if you Google “top PS2 games”, two games are on every single list, usually ranking around 10 or higher. Now those two games will be available on one disc, in an HD package from Sony in the form of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus Collection.
I’ll admit right now, even being a hardcore gamer and a PS2 fanatic, that I skipped over not just one of these games but both of them. How? I have no idea. I will try to keep this spoiler free (despite Ico being exactly 10 years old), and also try to be as concise as possible, though I am talking about two games. This appeals to two demographics of people; those that have played it and want to play it again in all of its remastered glory, and those like myself who have never played either game but want to finally experience what all the fuss was about years ago.
We’ll start with Ico; the story of a boy with horns who meets a girl and helps her escape the castle where they were both being held prisoner. This is made more difficult than, say, walking out the front door, due to puzzling platforming elements and “shadow creatures” which try to snatch the girl and drag her away into a black portal. If that happens, it’s game over.
And I’m not going to lie, I was very emotionally drawn to this character’s story, and cried a little as it came to a close. The funny thing is, there isn’t much dialogue in the game. Even the opening, which is just a series of scenes, has a very minimal amount of dialogue and storytelling. The presentation and direction is so sound that much exposition isn’t needed. However, the option to pause the occasional cutscene would have been nice. I missed a small portion of the opening because I wasn’t ready and tried to pause it to finish writing what I was writing at the time. We are decades into game development in general and developers are still having a hard time dealing with the concept of busy adults enjoying games.
Team Ico does an amazing job at giving you a sense of urgency through the whole game. Anytime I had to leave Yorda (the girl) behind in a room for a few minutes, I got more and more scared the further I got away from her; if you are away for too long, the shadow people come after her and you have to make a mad dash back to her in time, otherwise it’s game over. If I left her behind for a moment, and hit a switch, I was constantly worried that shadow people would jump her while I was away. It’s an amazing feeling that games just don’t have anymore. Everything is “urgent” because of a clock on the screen nowadays; it seems hard for developers to snap that urgent feeling into a game without it, but Team Ico did a winning job.
The version of Ico on this disc is the PAL version, which had a few harder puzzles and allows you to play with a second person as Yorda after completing the game the first time. While the AI is glitchy at times (I ran into her pacing back and forth while I was reaching my hand out for her to jump and grab quite a few times. The easy fix is to release the “call” trigger, then redo it.), having a human partner can speed things up a bit. While Yorda still has the same restrictions and needs assistance, having someone there to guide her more efficiently can make for a better play experience.
With this release of Ico being an HD touchup — I’m not going to lie — I expected the graphics to be better. They’re not bad, and they do look much better on a 46” HDTV than the original PS2 game stretched to that size. But you can still tell that it’s a dated game. While I still ran across clipping between environments and the characters, the framerate was very steady. I had heard the original game had a rough framerate, but I had no complaints during my five and a half hour run through the game. The characters and environments sometimes had a blocky look to them but, again, it was just a touch up to the graphics and looked better than the PS2 game running on an HDTV. The game is also 3D compatible and upgraded to surround sound quality, butI didn’t get a chance to test either of these features.
A little gripe is the inability to invert the camera. I’m kind of old school and prefer inverted controls, so maneuvering the camera was a chore at times, but nothing to affect the score at all. If I was to score Ico alone, I would give it a 5/5, especially if it was a downloadable game all by itself on the PSN for $20.
Moving on the second half of the disc, Shadow of the Colossus, we find ourselves on a quest to resurrect a woman by killing giant creatures that roam the land. Armed with a magical sword, a bow and arrow, and accompanied by a mighty steed, you set off to slay these gentle colossi one by one.
The story is set up in the introductory cutscene and throughout the rest of the game you are treated with bits of dialogue from an all-mighty creature that you only hear before each colossi. Like Ico, the narrative power is in the gameplay.
The sun reflecting off your sword guides you to each beast, which is either awakened by your presence or is peacefully lumbering along. The moral dilemma that Team Ico instills in the story is just that; these creatures aren’t out slaying humans or wrecking havoc. They are minding their own business. I will admit I never felt the sense of “being alone” that others have spoken of while playing. While true — you are alone in the game– I just never got the vibe they mentioned. But I did feel terrible about killing these colossi. As each one fell, I really just didn’t want to do it anymore, and maybe that’s why I didn’t “get” this game, or get into it.
By the eighth colossus, I was done with the game. I had no intention to play anymore. It’s not because it’s a bad game, I honestly just didn’t enjoy killing these giants. The game is great, especially if it can invoke that kind of feeling in me.
The intensity of scaling one of these giant creatures kept me on the edge of my seat. I’m not huge on platforming in general, but having to cling to something 50 times your size, or bigger, and crawling up or along it to find its weak point was tense. You only have so much stamina, so if you hold on too long, you’ll lose your grip and fall. If you let go to recharge it, you might get thrown off. Each colossus was unique, and when they entered your view, it was really hard not to gasp in wonder at the sheer size of what you were up against.
Compared to Ico, Shadow of the Colossus has a much more fluctuating intensity level. While Ico had the sense of urgency pegged down, Shadow of the Colossus had that adrenaline rush factor down to perfection. With every colossus you face, you have that same feeling of relief after the final blow was struck. Of course, directly after that strike is the “what have I done?” feeling, but I digress.
Character animation in Shadow of the Colossus puts a lot of Playstation 3 games I have played to shame. Watching your character climb around the environment makes me forget I am playing a PS2 game at times. I have honestly only played a few PS3 games with better character animation in a third-person game. The only problem I had controlling my character was climbing the horse. Sometimes it took me half a dozen or more times to mount the horse, and I only got it right on the first attempt a few times.
After completing the game, you also unlock a Time Attack mode with both normal and hard difficulty levels, and a few more trophies to mop up. As with Ico, I couldn’t test the surround sound addition or the 3D functionality, but both are enhancements made in this collection. Shadow of the Colossus is honestly not for me; however, I totally understand why it is a top 20 game on PS2. Both games packaged on one disc, for $39.99 at that, makes this a healthy addition to every Playstation 3 owners’ collection.
Pros: emotional tales, bargain priced, replay value
Cons: standard PS2 clipping problems, short length for one playthrough