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I figure the best way to review this title will be to review each of the games in their own right (since the games are essentially the same now as they were when first released on the PlayStation 2) and then add a paragraph at the end that sums up the package as a whole and the updated package as it stands now on PlayStation 3, in HD form. So, on we go...
I sadly missed out on this game the first time around, when it was released in 2002, only to discover it 2-3 years later and find out that it was only available as a used game and was fetching around £50-60 per copy! I held off from purchasing it and thankfully it was re-released in 2006, and for only £20 too! I snapped it up and popped the eagerly-awaited disc into my PS2. What followed was one of the best gaming experiences of my life..
Ico was very different to any other game I had played (and still is to this day). It somehow manages to grab you in such an enchanting and magical way, and pull you into its world, forcing you to become emotionally attached to surrounding but slightly surreal beauty, and the lead female characted - Yorda.
You play the role of a young boy (Ico) who has been falsely imprisoned in a large, seemingly-barren castle grounds, with only a long bridge connecting the castle and surrounding area to the mainland. Being stranded on this deserted land, Ico sets out to find a way to escape. Along the way, he meets a beautiful but strange girl, named Yorda. He makes it his mission to rescue her, and protect her as he searches for a way out.
On their journey, they encounter weird 'shadow' creatures that are made of darkness, who try to grab Yorda and take her back into the dark with them. As Ico, you must fend off these creatures and keep Yorda safe. Ico has only a stick at first, later followed by a sword, as his only available means of attack. This keeps things simple but can also prove frustrating occasionally, as multiple shadow creatures try to pull Yorda away from you and you have to mash the attack button to swipe at them with a big stick! This is probably the ONLY negative comment I would make about this game though, so it can't be bad ;)
I will not go into further plot details here, as I do not want to include any spoilers for those of you who may be picking up this game for the first time!
The main part of the game, in your quest to escape to freedom with Yorda, is the puzzles that you encounter on your journey. Some of these are fairly simple, such as moving a block from one place to another, to gain extra height and climb through a window. But others are quite tricky and require some thought. They are never frustratingly difficult or obscure though, and the game is so engrossing and engaging (not to mention beautiful) that you won't mind spending some time exploring and figuring out how to progress to the next part of the castle/grounds. Of course, you have to get Yorda out too, and puzzles often involve you wondering off alone to find a solution, thus allowing Yorda to follow you again because she was unable to reach the area that Ico could reach by himself (she is not as athletic or as strong as Ico!).
I find it a brilliant and touching element to the game, the way you are required to hold Yorda's hand to lead her around. If you let go of the trigger on the controller, you let go of Yorda's hand and she wanders by herself (though never usually very far). The dual shock pad rumbles lightly as you run along, tugging at Yorda's arm, giving you a real sense of attachment and further emotional involvement. Fantastic.
Puzzles require you to climb, search, leap, shimmy and swim your way to freedom, and the gaming world is one of the most beautiful and enchanting I have ever experienced. It's hard to explain, but it's emotional and wonderful, not to mention quite unique.
Wow. Just, wow. Inspirational is not a term I use lightly, yet this is one of those moments when it doesn't even do the audio justice. This is the only game soundtrack I have actually purchased on CD. The main themes in the game are wonderful and fit the game perfectly, enhancing the experience and heightening the sense of emotional attachment to the surroundings and lead characters. The incidental score is atmospheric and haunting, again fitting perfectly with the game, but it's the sheer lack of music that enhances parts of the game even further. When there is nothing but the sound of birdsong and flowing water, interrupted only by Ico's energetic grunts or Yorda's call for attention. Knowing when to use music and when to just have ambient audio is very important, and this game has got it just right.
The main theme song at the end of the game (entitled 'You Were There') is simply awesome, and will no doubt bring a tear to your eye as it plays out the end of the Journey for Ico and Yorda. Never before have I felt so emotional during a game's ending sequence. "Please don't let this be the end!" I was saying to myself, as I completed the game for the first time.
Almost forgot to add: The theme music that plays when saving your game (which you do by sitting on a randomly-placed sofa!) is truly amazing. It fills me with emotion when I listen to it now, because it causes all of the wonderful Ico memories to come flooding back.
Ico is, unfortunately, a reasonably short game. But then again, anything this brilliant would feel too short! If you're expecting epic gaming for 40+ hours then you'll be hugely disappointed. Ico might take you around 12 hours or so at most, during your first play-through, lowering to maybe 8 hours or so for each subsequent completion. However, it does not feel overwhelmingly short, since the game is well-paced and enjoyable all the way through and feels 'complete' when you reach the end. You are ready for the ending when it arrives, even though you still wish the journey could go on for longer. It feels right.
-Shadow of the Colossus-
SotC was released on PlayStation 2 in 2006, about the same time as the re-release of Ico. Colossus was considered to be a sequel of sorts, as it was made by 'Team Ico' (a sub-team of Sony Computer Entertainment). Although it is not actually related to Ico in the way one might typically consider a sequel to be, it does share many similarities. For example, the visual/graphical style is extremely similar, and feels very different to other video games. The atmosphere and emotion felt within the game is similar to Ico - the game is obviously created by the same amazing folks that brought us Ico, and that is a big deal.
Shadow of the Colossus introduces the player to a lead character known as Wander. He takes it upon himself to awaken a princess called Mono, but to achieve this he must slay sixteen huge 'creatures' known as the Colossi, in order to restore life to Mono. Wander rides his horse, Agro, around the barren but beautiful (sound familiar?) landscape, in search of these beings, armed with a sword and bow.
Each Colossi is a different beast, and has its own weak points. After being given a clue from a voice in the sky, as to the next monster's whereabouts, You must set off in search of the being, and kill it. Wander can hold his sword high in order to reflect the Sun's rays, and by moving the sword around, the rays will concentrate into a beam in order to show you the direction in which to travel, to find the current colossi.
Reaching a Colossus can involve lots of climbing, leaping and swimming (familiar again?) but never usually takes very long. When you reach the giant, you must try and discover its weakness and get to it. Your sword can be used again, this time to focus the Sun's rays and reveal the weak spots on the Colossi. You must then climb up onto the beast and hold on tight! Holding the trigger on the controller will allow you to hold on tight to ledges and fur, but your grip meter will deplete and eventually you will let go and fall, if you don't get to a resting point where you can release the trigger and thus allow the meter the recharge.
The moment you grab onto a Colossus and began your ascension, the main theme music kicks in. This is very powerful and really adds tension and excitement to the experience. The giant will do his best to rid himself of his new 'visitor', by shaking and flailing, causing you to fly off and fall from a great height if you don't hold on tight! If you hang on, you'll be flung about until the Colossus pauses for a moment, giving you time to continue onward towards the point that you need to attack. It is then your objective to stab away at certain areas of the monster, indicated by a glowing symbol on its body. Once you empty the giant's health meter, everything slows down and the music stops, as you watch the Colossus fall to its demise in slow-motion. It is a moving and powerful moment, and one that you won't tire of seeing sixteen times.
The Colossi are the puzzles in the game. There are no other enemies or real puzzles within the game, so everything is focussed on the giant beings and how to defeat them. I won't give too much away here, but each Colossus is very different and feels unique. It is hugely entertaining and satisfying, trying to work out how and where to attack each one, and you can't help but feel slightly sad sometimes, after defeating one, since most of them do not go out of their way to attack you -- they mind their own business for the most part, only to be disturbed by you on your quest to bring Mono back from the dead.
Riding Agro feels great, and the controls are spot on. The sense of speed is excellent but sometimes the camera can get annoying, especially during the battles in when you need to stay on your horse. This is the only negative point I can make about this game.
The score for this game is, again, brilliant. It's not quite as memorable for me as Ico's, but is still powerful, atmospheric and emotional, and it certainly enhances and compliments the game perfectly. The theme that plays during Colossi battles, once you have mounted them, is truly outstanding and definitely the highlight of the audio, as it gives you such a great sense of achievement and really encourages you to climb the beast and finish him. It gives the moment a real sense of emotion and passion, while at the same time sounding triumphant.
Shadow of the Colossus takes around 12 hours or so to complete, give or take a couple of hours depending on how long it takes you to defeat each Colossus. Some may require multiple attempts, or you may get lost for an hour trying to find a giant's hiding place. I think the game is long enough, and certainly slaying 16 unique beasts feels like a real achievement. If you're into your games and have the time, you could complete it in a few sessions, but that just means you get to play through it again quicker, on the harder difficulty setting ;)
-The HD Collection-
This package as a whole is probably the best value gaming experience you could hope to own, for the overall quality of the titles themselves and the wonder and emotion that you will discover within. Both games looks better than ever, due to their upgraded HD visuals, and the amazing soundtracks are enhanced by the high quality Audio. Ico and SotC are two of the best games I have ever played. They are, in my opinion (and in the opinion of many others) two of the best games ever created and among the best gaming experiences one could ever have the pleasure of being a part of. Yes, I am crazy about both of these games, I have not felt this passionate about a video game since Metal Gear Solid on PS1, and I doubt I will feel the same way again until The Last Guardian comes to PS3 later this year (or possibly 2013), which will be the third game in the 'Team Ico' releases. It will be worth the wait.