A decade ago, Team Ico’s stunning platforming-puzzle game Ico hit the PS2 and made waves amongst hardcore gamers who were blown away by its incredible cinematography and minimalist plot. However, while the game was a critical hit, it didn’t do too well sales-wise. At its core, the story is about a boy named Ico shunned by a village that doesn’t understand him, thrown into a castle where he meets Yorda. She speaks a completely different language that he doesn’t understand, but he does understand that he needs to protect her from the evil shadow monsters coming to take her away, and does whatever is required to accomplish that goal.
There’s a great innocence to their characters that makes the adventure endearing, and the whole experience is incredible. The settings are gorgeous, the characters are likeable, the animation is incredibly smooth, the music is tranquil and relaxing for the most part, and yet there’s an air of intensity throughout the whole game because it’s just two kids against a seemingly never-ending swarm of shadow monsters. Both games test your platforming skills, but Ico really raised the par of logic puzzles in gaming.
Four years later, the development team returned with Shadow of the Colossus, which brought back the minimalist plot that required its players to interpret for themselves, with Wander’s quest to save his fallen love interest being the driving force behind the game, but never fully explained. SotC debuted the “little guy climbs on ENORMOUS BOSS CREATURE” combat that has been popularized to some degree since, most notably by Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. The game stood out for its stunning art design - even more so than Ico because of the sheer size of your rivals. The second you find the first colossi you have to battle, you’re just in awe of this monstrosity coming towards you. And that’s not even the worst part - you still have to figure out how to get onto it, which is a puzzle in and of itself, and THEN need to figure out how to slay the beast while he flails about and tries to send you flying.
The approach each game took to how it delivered not only its storyline but also its gameplay stood out at the time and has held up remarkably well. The visuals of both games revolved more around the beautiful scenery and sights you saw throughout the adventure than on pure polygon counts, and as a result, there’s no way they could look bad - they were made to drop your jaw visually from a purely artistic standpoint, and have aged beautifully thanks to that. These HD remastered collections can be hit or miss, with some delivering an uneven remastering like the God of War ones, or some really botching things like the Splinter Cell HD one. This one, however, like the games it contains, was crafted with care. Each game runs at a solid 30 frames per second - a godsend for SotC, whose original framerate was all over the place. It pushed the PS2 to its limits in ways that not even the God of War series could equal, and easily benefits the most from being reworked, despite not being the older of the two games, oddly enough.
Ico’s big additions come in the form of not only its European cover art being included on a reversible cover (another great little thing we don’t see much on consoles), but also its European version’s improvements, like adding subtitles over Yorda speech so it can be fully understood by players on a second runthrough - adding some instant replay value right away, and also allowing you to play as her in a two-player mode. The graphical improvement make the puzzles easier to solve now since everything’s so clear and not muddy, you can easily tell parts of the world apart from each other, and having the game default to a mostly zoomed out view really brings out how good the textures look now as opposed to the original game.
The 16:9 widescreen presentation really benefits each game tremendously. Both are filled with beautiful cinematic viewpoints and camera angles, with Ico featuring huge bridges and deep towers whose size seem more vast than ever before thanks to it. Shadow of the Colossus really shines with the widescreen viewpoint now - enemies look bigger, and the size difference between Wander and the colossi is more staggering. Detail-wise, each game looks far better than their PS2 incarnations. I’ve played each fairly recently on the PS2 with component cables, and while that cleans up the image a lot and gives you the truest image possible for that hardware, it doesn’t touch just how crisp everything is in the remastered versions.
Everything that should look more realistic in the games, like the bricks in Ico’s castle, or the fur on the colossi in SotC does. One great thing I really appreciate about this collection is the usage of in-engine cut scenes really helping the collection as a whole because unlike the God of War ones, where there’s always a difference between the remastering of the game itself, the CG cinematics, and the in-game engine ones that always wind up looking terrible by comparison because they aren’t remastered. Everything is nice and consistent here, and looks as good as it’s going to look as of right now. Would it be better if they were redone from the ground up? Absolutely, because they still look like gussied-up PS2 games, but since that isn’t likely, I’ll gladly take a really good HD remastering over nothing at all.
Beyond the revamped graphics, inclusion of the European version of Ico, and trophy support to woo existing owners of the game, the Ico/Shadow of the Colossus Collection also features the best-sounding versions of the games yet. Both of Team Ico’s games have been revered for their tremendous audio. Each one’s soundtrack is tremendous, with Ico’s being really relaxing, and SotC’s being incredibly intense. Both games also thrive due to their atmospheric sound effects, which sound better than ever now.
I also like the bonus content included on the disc. There are a handful of videos about each game, including a fantastic, but short documentary covering their development, some early concept videos, and video on NICO, the first planned sequel for Ico. The videos are easily accessed on the XMB and subtitled in English, and thankfully use the usual PS3 video controls and not some game-specific one, so you can pause and rewind each one with ease in case you miss something. There are even premium themes included as well, which are both really beautiful and have a nice scratched film filter over them. I would have liked to have had SotC’s scattershot camera fixed, and it would be nice to choose to exit out of one and go to the other without using the home button, but otherwise, I’ve got no real complaints about this collection.
If you’ve ever been on the fence about these games, this collection is a must because it is the best version of them there will likely ever be. Even if you’ve got either of them, or both, this is still a must-buy because playing them in the remastered format is almost like playing them again for the first time. The bonus videos are fascinating to see after a decade of playing the developers‘ work and will definitely reward long-time fans. The graphics are more vibrant, the audio is better than ever, and while SotC has some lingering control problems I would have liked to have had fixed, they really don’t hurt the experience all that much. Each game remains as fun to play now as they were when they were first released, and the extra features enhance the experience a lot because you get first-hand information about what the developer’s vision was for them.