This isn't the first time I've played these games, in fact I've played them both several times before, but this is the first time I've been able to play them in stunning high definition and with a frame rate that both games deserve, which is a steady and constant 30 FPS. That doesn't sound great by today's standards, but it is a vast improvement on the originals. Anyone who has played these games in the past, particularly Shadow of the Colossus, will tell you of the frame rate issues that plagued the PS2 versions.
I believe the frame rate issue was a victim of the over ambition of the projects, as Shadow of the Colossus in particular really did push the humble PS2 to its limits... and then some. But before I get into SotC, let us go right back to the beginning. Ico. In my humble opinion, the first game to transcend the medium of mere video game. Being conscious of not wanting to sound pretentious, I still cannot avoid calling a spade a spade, and so believe me when I tell you that Ico is art in the purest form. Ico is the story of a boy imprisoned in a castle by the elders of his village, as they believe him to be cursed. I won't delve much further into the plot for fear of spoiling what little there is of a story for you. Upon breaking free of the stone tomb he is placed in, Ico has the freedom of the castle from the beginning of the game. And he soon discovers he is not alone. Ico comes across a young girl, Yorda, who it appears has also been locked away in this vast castle prison. Escape from the castle is the premise and objective of the entire game.
Each section of the castle that you encounter is filled with puzzles, but you are not just trying to free yourself now, you have Yorda to rescue, too. And therein lies the beauty of the game. Tapping a button will allow you to take hold of Yorda's hand so you can lead her around. Tapping another will allow you to call her to you. If you have crossed a chasm and you need to get Yorda to your side, you can call her name and she will come running and jumping, trusting you to safely catch her. When I first played this game several years ago on PS2, these were totally new concepts for me in the world of video gaming. And boy what a breath of fresh air it was. In an age when many of my fellow gamers couldn't see past first person shooters, Ico was a revelation. That is as true today as it was when the game was released all those years ago. This is why I place Fumito Ueda in that little pantheon of gaming gods I like to call `The Auteurs', as for me the likes of Fumito Ueda, Shigeru Miyamoto and Hideo Kojima really are the Hitchcocks and Kubricks of the video gaming world.
The vast castle in Ico is stunningly realised. The open areas with bridges, a train tack (complete with usable hand car), a windmill and the like are as much a vision to me now as they were back upon its original release. It_is_beautiful. Only now it is also in stunning 1080p high definition and even more pleasing to the eye. As regards the recent raft of `HD Collections' released for PS3, it is safe to say that some have received better treatment than others, so you'll be pleased to hear that Ico and Shadow of the Colossus are up there with the best, if not THE best. It is clear that they have not only upped the definition but have also subtly worked on the textures, lighting and shadows. The result is a joy to behold.
During your bid for freedom you encounter several waves of enemies, in the form of smoke-like beings, who will try to snatch Yorda away from you. They appear from dark swirling portals that open up in the floor and they will attempt to take Yorda back through these portals with them. Should they succeed, it is game over. There are a few instances where you have to leave Yorda a considerable distance away, or even in another section entirely. These attempts to abduct Yorda make time very much of the essence. At first Ico is armed only with a wooden stick with which to fight these assailants off. However, during the game the sharper eyed amongst you may manage to upgrade Ico's weapon.
Onto Shadow of the Colossus: For me it is still one of the best video games ever made. Of course many will not agree, but I am not unique in bestowing such an accolade upon this game. SotC is the story of a desperate young man, Wanda, who has travelled to a far off land on his trusty steed, Agro, carrying the body of what appears to be his dead girlfriend. He has heard that the spirit like beings of this land, The Dormin, can bring the dead back to life. Upon communing with The Dormin, it is made clear to our hero that for them to grant his wish, he must first destroy several vast Colossi that inhabit the land. However, they warn Wanda that even should he complete this task, his wish will only be granted at a great personal cost. There are sixteen Colossi in total, and defeating them is more or less all there is to do in the entire game. Well, there are one or two other things to do... not so much side quests, but rather a couple of enjoyable (and worthwhile) distractions, but I will let you discover those for yourself. So basically it is a game of sixteen beautifully crafted boss battles. If that sounds odd, it's because it is. I was raised on games that involved battling hordes, minions, henchmen... whatever. Wave after wave of them until you come to the big guy himself - the end of level boss. Well SotC breaks the mould entirely; apart from yourself, your horse, your deceased girlfriend and the Colossi, there's just the odd bird, fish and a few lizards... and that is it.
Of course you do have to discover each of the giants before you can attempt to slay them, so off you go on your trusty steed to seek each of them out. You would think, what with no filler enemies, that travelling to each encounter would be tedious. Well it isn't. It was Ueda's intention that you spend this time in anticipation of each encounter to come, and also contemplating your actions as regards the previous battle. And let me tell you, killing some of these beasts can leave you with an awkward feeling of guilt. You are pleased that you are progressing in the game, but at the same time wondering about the morality of your actions. Many of the Colossi are almost cute. Giant... yes, defensive... yes, but also cute. One even has the look of a big teddy bear. And there they are, minding their own business until you come along to destroy them. It really does get you emotionally tangled. As with Ico, the director has managed to tug your heart strings. This game can touch you on the same emotional level that a book, poem or film can.
The land of SotC is vast and beautiful, but at the same time bleak. It is an ancient, desolate land with nothing more than crumbling ruins, sparse vegetation and the aforementioned animals. However, it is beautiful and it begs you to explore every inch. The Colossi themselves are stunning to behold, and the David versus Goliath sense of scale will make the uninitiated wonder how on earth they are supposed to bring these guys down. Some are bigger than others, and each presents a different kind of challenge. It is how to physically get onto each Colossi that is the puzzle element of the game. Once you have got onto each beast, it is a case of scaling them to find certain weak spots, which you stab with your sword until the beasts are felled. The lumbering behemoths are made of fur and masonry, a bizarre combination indeed... totally surreal. I think Salvador Dali would have loved this game!
Sound has also been improved greatly, and the 5.1 surround sound tracks are extremely welcome as they are far more expansive and richer than the old stereo tracks. For those with the right kind of TV, Stereoscopic 3D has also been provided. The smattering of previously unreleased extras will be of interest to fans old and new alike. These include videos featuring early concept footage of the two games and the musings of the production staff. Also included are two dynamic themes for the PS3 XMB. Unfortunately, unlike the releases of this game in other territories, these extras come to Europeans by way of a DLC code found inside the case, as opposed to being on the actual disc itself. Please don't be tempted to buy the game pre-owned if these extras are important to you, as the codes in a pre-owned game may be missing or already activated.
If I had to pick one negative point about either game I would honestly struggle, but it would be fair of me to point out that controls and physics in video gaming have moved on a lot in the years since these games were made. The controls in the games can at first seem a little unwieldy, but I can assure you that you soon adapt and they become perfectly natural. For the life of me I cannot deduct points from my review score for this as it would be tantamount to nitpicking, and I am also keeping in mind that these are not new games. I would also warn that if you're the type of gamer who usually plays the `shoot everything that moves' type of game, or you have a limited attention span, then perhaps Ico and SotC are not for you. If not, then you're in for one hell of a treat. I'm sure if I spend long enough on my death bed, I will remember the first time I rode a bike, held a girl in my arms, flew on an aeroplane and when I first played Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. It is that big a deal. Games come and go, many we forget, but not the games I have described for you today. This is a chance in a lifetime, to own and play two of the greatest games ever made, on a single Blu-ray disc, in brand new HD paint. What are you waiting for? Just buy it.