ICO puts you in control of a young boy (the titular character, Ico), trapped in a mysterious castle and beset upon by monsters. While trying to escape, he meets a girl who has also been imprisoned. You'll test the limits of 2001's AI programming by working together with the girl, solving puzzles to eventually escape the castle. Oh, and shadowy monsters are trying to abduct her at every turn. You'll have to fight off these demons and save the girl from being swallowed by the darkness while solving challenging puzzles.
The atmosphere in ICO turns an otherwise average puzzle-solving, action-platforming romp into an incredibly compelling experience. The minimalist story leaves you with more questions than answers without being frustrating. The muddy textures of PS2 launch-era graphics have been cleaned up considerably, bringing new life to textures that were overlooked years ago. The castle is a fully realized entity, adorned with chandeliers, metalwork, waterwheels and windmills. There are only two or three music tracks in the entire game, leaving the player to absorb the sounds of nature: wind blowing and birds chirping away. While a short experience, it's one that we'd gladly revisit in the future.
Shadow of the Colossus is far more refined than ICO, improving on each of its predecessor's elements. SotC is an equally calm and beautiful game, but does a better job with breaking up its pacing. How so? With giant monsters, of course. The main character, Wander, must kill sixteen giant colossi, armed with only a bow, sword, and his trusty horse. That's the entire game. You'll ride your horse across a gorgeous plain, perhaps through a forest or creek, come across one of the colossi, kill it, and begin again.
The story is a little more fleshed out, with some clarifying cutscenes and a proper ending thrown in. Don't expect to have any definitive answers other than your own interpretation. The graphics stand up surprisingly well, making SotC feel like one of today's top "indie" titles. The music brings a new level of emotional intensity to each boss battle. This game's soundtrack is one of the most gorgeous instrumental works in video gaming.
The glaring problem with both games is their unpolished controls. Ico doesn't have the greatest coordination when making jumps, which caused us to fall down more than a few deadly pits. While trying to climb on top of a few colossi, Wander decided he was going to slip up and fall (when we could get the camera to agree with us). The AI also can prove to be a headache: Trying to call Ico's girlfriend to him can be frustrating, especially when she can be kidnapped at any point. Despite our complaints, these shortcomings don't detract too much from the games.
In terms of content, The ICO & Shadow of the Colossus Collection goes for short and sweet. Any more than 6-10 hours per game and the magic would have been lost. ICO warrants an exploration of its "alternate" second playthrough, and Shadow of the Colossus has both a Hard mode and a Time Attack mode. Along with these extras, included on disc is roughly an hour of video containing developer interviews and concept videos for both games.
Wondering where the "are video games art?" discussion started? Take a crash course with The ICO & Shadow of the Colossus Collection. While a few HD collections out there are rehashes of last generation's franchises, we consider this collection to be a timeless classic.
Meet the tester
James is a staff writer at Reviewed, working to the sounds of classic video game soundtracks. His proudest moment was capturing exclusive footage of Mr. 50 Cent at the 2013 International CES.
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