The Team Ico games posses a special quality. The loneliness of quiet castles, the sting of goodbyes cut short, and the courage to stand against something greater than yourself -- these feelings represent a meager few of the reasons Ico and Shadow of the Colossus earn the "special" salutation.
Originally PlayStation 2 games that struck strong blows in the name of the "games as art" movement, these updated versions of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus now share one Blu-ray disc. Developed by select members of Sony Computer Entertainment's Japan Studio (affectionately known as "Team Ico"), Ico and Shadow of the Colossus deliver an experience that suggests we should feel just as much as we play. Both combine third-person platforming and adventure with puzzle-solving, and both whisper tales of friendship and love.
You shouldn't miss this kind of experience, especially if you've never played either game before. And while Ico hasn't aged as gracefully as its counterpart, the collection still impresses overall.
Ico introduces us to a young boy imprisoned in a castle because of "cursed" horns that grow from his head. After escaping from his cell, he stumbles across a mysterious young girl tormented by shadows. Together, the pair struggles to escape the castle walls.
You control the boy, Ico, throughout the adventure and work to keep the girl, Yorda, safe from capture. Ico employs basic platforming and melee combat, along with environmental puzzles -- all while tasking you with managing Yorda's wellbeing. The charm of Ico comes from its setting and the now classic hand-holding gameplay. But Ico wears its old age. The jumping mechanics lead to more than a few accidental deaths, and the puzzles lack the cleverness of their modern-day equivalents.
Yorda, unfortunately, delivers the most frustration. You'd imagine that a massive escort mission (see: all of Ico) would boast stunning partner AI, but Yorda lacks that distinguished characteristic. She runs aimlessly around ladders when Ico calls, she pauses mid-stride for no reason at all, and she moves slowly enough to spoil Ico's adventurous pace. While I respect Ico for its contributions to gaming, it failed to keep my attention and, more often than not, angered me before entertaining me.
With that said, Ico's conclusion still made me smile, and I consider my overall time with it well spent. If only Yorda put a little more effort into it!
Shadow of the Colossus, alternatively, exists on a different level. In it, you control a young man braving the quiet stretches of a place long forgotten. He aims to see the soul of his lost companion returned to her body; to do so, he must face and defeat 16 Colossi that inhabit the land. Not only has the simple story and setting withstood the test of time, but the actual mechanics feel great. Exploring the forbidden lands of Shadow of the Colossus inspires a strange and interesting feeling of isolated freedom. Battling the Colossi rewards you with a rich sense of accomplishment that bleeds into guilt.
While it didn't enthrall me in the same way it first did on the PlayStation 2, Shadow of the Colossus dwarfs its counterpart and deserves your attention.
Ico fans also have the added pleasure of playing a version of Ico based on the European code, which means special English translations for Yorda (after a full playthrough) and an unlockable two-player mode so a friend can join in on the adventure.
Read more details on how I wrote the Ico & Shadow of the Colossus Collection review.
The Ico & Shadow of the Colossus Collection reminds me that video games can match the evocative and thrilling qualities of any other creative medium. While Ico's gameplay mechanics show their age and Shadow of the Colossus didn't quite take me to the same place it took me more than five years ago, this collection astounds.
Technical updates aside, Ico and Shadow of the Colossus deserve more than just one trip down memory lane.