on June 19, 2013
Every once in a while, a game comes along that is more than a game. It goes beyond the preconceived notions that we have about what a video game should look like, feel like and sound like. These gems are far more than just video games, they are experiences in and of themselves. While these treasures are rare to find, with this collection, you have two such games displayed in glorious HD for your Playstation 3 console on one convenient disc.
Ico was my first stop on this disc, and what an experience it is. Ico puts you in the shoes of a little boy who has been cast out and sent to a dark, desolate castle to die simply because he has horns. After breaking free from his prison, Ico begins to wander the dark castle and discovers a majestic looking girl named Yorda locked inside of a cage. He frees her, and the story begins.
Ico essentially functions as one large escort mission- something that would turn most gamers off. Make no mistake, however, this is one escort that you will remember for a lifetime. While guiding Yorda through the castle, you will encounter puzzles, platforming sequences and enemies. What makes Ico unique, however, is that the only enemies you will find throughout the main game are shadow creatures. These shadow creatures have been sent to drag Yorda into their shadow portals at all costs and it is your job to ensure that she does not get whisked away, lest you face a game over.
There are many aspects of Ico that challenge the preconceived ideologies we think a video game should have. But perhaps the biggest one is that the only way to view a game over screen, is to have Yorda be taken away by shadow creatures, or falling from a cliff. This ensures that no matter what, you will always have an eye on Yorda- and that is exactly what the developers had in mind.
The puzzles in Ico aren't terribly challenging, but they aren't cakewalks either. Prepare to spend some time pushing blocks around and swinging from ropes before you finally see the correct method of advancing. As you solve puzzles in a way that allows Ico to progress, you must also ensure that Yorda never strays too far behind and that she will be able to advance with you. Taking her by the hand, you lead her through the puzzles and dazzling locales.
When shadow creatures attack, prepare for an adrenaline rush. They come from all angles, swooping in, swinging at Ico and making every attempt to drag Yorda off. It is these fight sequences that offer the most intense and well crafted parts of the game. If Yorda begins to get dragged off, your eyes immediately go to the shadow creature as you begin an all-out sprint to ensure she isn't dragged into a shadow pit.
The environments and music of Ico are truly dazzling. The environments look fabulous on the PS3, displaying beautiful skies, desolate looking castle textures and rough looking waters well below the castle's confines. The music is gorgeous in its simplicity. Don't go into this game expecting a Danny Elfman arrangement. What music there is plays subtly and this allows for you to hear the interactions between Yorda and Ico as well as the occasional sound of a gull flying overhead or a wave crashing down below the castle.
As you make your way through the game, you will feel more like you are experiencing a divine vision. No part of Ico feels forced upon the gamer, or like a chore. Give Ico a couple of hours. For some, it takes time to get used to because it is unlike anything you have ever played. Allow yourself to get a couple of hours in, even if you become frustrated. You will thank yourself that you did.
Ico ends beautifully and heroically and will leave you questioning just how far companionship manifests itself in your own life. The emotional attachment that the developers have you experiencing with Yorda is absolutely unparalleled and makes this truly a must play for anyone who considers themselves a gamer.
Ico isn't quite perfect, however. Some minor things weigh it down, including a camera that can be downright frustrating. The camera is rather passive in terms of how much control you have over it, so often times you will be unable to see what lies ahead of you as you run down a castle path. Other times, the camera will be positioned in such a way that you can't see a particular jump. This caused me to fall to my death or lose Yorda more than a few times throughout the game. This hiccup is easily overlooked in the grand scheme of this piece of art, however.
Many will also criticize Ico for being too short, but I do believe this is how the developers imagined it. Ico will take most gamers around five hours on average. My play time ended up being about six and a half because of the time I spent appreciating the environments. For some players, you may finish in less than five hours, and this is fine. The length of this game should by no means deter you from experiencing it. Play it all the way through and don't worry about a total play time.
In the grand scheme of things, art is made to be appreciated, regardless of how long it takes you to appreciate it, and draw meaning from it. Ico functions in a similar way. Whether you are advanced enough to blaze through in three hours, or so slow that it takes you eight, you will be touched by a rare gem of a game that delivers an experience very unlike any other you have had before.
For the incredible price that this game now goes for, Ico would easily be worth the price of admission alone.
However, with this amazing bundle, you get a second incredible experience on the same disc.
Enter Shadow of the Colossus. A title that the Ico team began work on after the production of Ico but before its release.
Initially code-named "Nico", Shadow of the Colossus tells the tale of a wandering warrior atop a faithful steed who is willing to do anything to bring the one he loves back from the dead.
At the end of his rope, the wanderer seeks the help of the gods of a distant temple to revive his love. In order for the magic to work, he and his steed Agro must traverse the world and kill 16 colossi who are represented by statues inside of the temple. When the colossi fall, so too do their statue representations.
The wanderer begins a journey that is quite different from Ico in content, but just as emotionally and artistically powerful.
Shadow of the Colossus, like its predecessor, is unlike any other game you have ever played. The game features no enemies except for the 16 colossi you are hunting.
As you ride around the open world on your steed, you will constantly be waiting to be attacked by a random enemy, but it never happens.
In this sense, traveling to the various locations of the colossi is a lot like mentally preparing yourself for an experience. It gives you a chance to think while you continue your journey. When you finally do arrive, the colossi will absolutely take your breath away.
The colossi are likely bigger and more mysterious than any other video game boss you have come in contact with previously. They do more than fill the screen, and you get the sense that they could crush you with one blow.
The process of taking down a colossi involves finding a way to climb onto it and scaling its body until you find a weak point that glows blue. Stabbing this weak point with your sword will drain the health of the colossus, and eventually bring it down.
While its fairly easy to figure out how to climb a colossi, by jumping on a certain part of it or waiting for it to move a certain way, others are a little more difficult and a few notable ones are downright frustrating.
Making the colossi vulnerable can involve your bow, environmental elements and more.
No matter how frustrated you get at some of the colossi, bear down and make yourself pull through. When you finally see the giant topple to the ground, you will want to keep going.
Those who persevere to the end of the this roughly eight hour experience are treated to another beautiful ending.
The real strength of SOC lies in the epic feeling of the colossi battle. The notion that one man is capable of bringing down a beast hundreds of feet tall for the sake of love is something every gamer should experience.
Like Ico, SOC camera can be frustrating at times, too. Sometimes your camera will get stuck inside of a colossi body, or fail to shift fast enough before you get smashed, but like the previous game, it can easily be overlooked.
The music in SOC is atmospheric and beautiful and the visuals create dazzling landscapes and marvelously haunting looking colossi.
When it is all said and done, these two games are must plays for gamers everywhere, and with this fantastic price tag and beautiful graphical overhaul, there has never been a better time to experience them together than now.
Along with the games, the collection comes with two dynamic themes for your PS3 dashboard, as well as insider trailers and interviews with the developers, which are entertaining and worth a look if you really enjoyed the games.
If you haven't experienced these games before, as was the case for me, don't think, just buy these right now and dive right in.
If you have played them before and wish to experience them again, the price is right and graphics are gorgeous.
Every once in a while we gamers need an escape from the Call of Duty clones and the Halo multiplayer.
We need to do more than just race a luxury car or beat up a bad guy.
Every once in a while we need something to remind us why we play games.
Ico and Shadow of the Colossus remind us why we play, and why emotion is the most beautiful human trait.
Gamers of all ages and backgrounds owe it to themselves to allow these two sheer pieces of art to tug at their heart strings and breathe youthful life into their hearts, minds and gaming console.