High definition remakes and collections are becoming commonplace this console generation, but Ico & Shadow of Colossus Classics HD (PS3), which unites two of the PS2's greatest adventures, has arguably been the most demanded and anticipated by fans.
The former is a puzzle-focused game that revolves around a boy who has been imprisoned in an ancient castle. He breaks free from his cell and together with a fragile princess named Yorda attempts to make an escape. The more action-focused Shadow of the Colossus is essentially a series of epic boss battles broken up with exploration of a vast landscape, in which you play as a young hunter who agrees to slay a number of giant creatures in order to bring a mystery girl back from the dead.
Escape the castle
Ico is basically one long escort mission, which isn't entirely a great thing. Ico and Yorda don't speak the same language, so you must guide her to safety by calling her to you and holding her hand, while protecting her from shadowy figures that can only be fought off with melee weapons. Fail to do so and Yorda will be dragged away, leading to a game-over screen.
The most enjoyable parts of the game see you exploring the castle's treacherous architecture, climbing and pulling switched experimentally in an attempt to find safe passage past obstacles like crumbled bridges and blocked doors. Yorda can't jump but you can, meaning solutions to the castle's puzzles can be pretty challenging.
Yorda can be slow and unresponsive at times, but her delicateness and obvious fear make you want to keep her safe. The atmospheric game world sucks you in completely, and there are some heartbreaking plot twists in what's an unusually sweet tale.
Slay the beast
Shadow of Colossus tasks you with slaying 16 creatures at the behest of an ambiguous spirit in order to bring a girl back to life. Each of the beasts is unique, from towering, humanoid giants to smaller creatures that look and act like bull / tiger hybrids. Some are dangerous, others are seemingly harmless, and each carries its own puzzle or hidden weaknesses.
You roam around the massive game world on horseback, using beams of light from your sword as a compass to locate your targets. Once you find their lairs you have to navigate your way across treacherous ledges and obstacles, generally involving a lot of climbing, before finding the right spot from which to engage them.
Often you'll need to weaken or distract the creature before grabbing onto them and clambering around their furry bodies to find a glowing weak spot to stab, while managing a grip meter which slowly decreases and repeated attempts to shake you off.
The thrilling battles are accompanied by a brilliant orchestral score and a constant sense of peril. At first it feels immensely satisfying to defeat the frightening creatures, but as the story develops you begin to question your selfish motivations for doing so. Are you actually the bad guy of the piece? It's never made explicit, and like Ico, the game evokes a melancholy feeling, raising more questions than it delivers answers, leaving plenty up to interpretation.
Showing their age?
Those spoiled by the convenience of modern games will occasionally find Ico and Shadow of the Colossus a little frustrating in design terms. Whether it's Yorda's helplessness or being thrown from a giant beast yet again, they can be repetitive at times and require a healthy dose of patience. Both titles feature only ten save slots per game, which also seems like an unnecessary throwback, but these niggles are never enough to be outright discouraging and the challenge level simply makes the payoff even greater.
Presented in high definition and with 3D visuals, the games benefit from now-consistent frame rates, providing smoother motion compared to the choppier PS2 originals, although they still look dated in a few regards. Ico's movements are a bit jerky and some of the textures in Shadow of the Colossus pop in suddenly while you're roaming the vast landscape. However, this is the best they've ever looked, and their moodily atmospheric, stylised worlds more than stand the test of time.
As noted at the outset, high definition remakes have become something of a trend, yielding dramatically varied results. On the weaker end of the scale they can come across as cynical cash-ins, poorly produced updates that don't deserve to carry the 'remastered' tag and serve only to sour the memory of great older games. On the other, they can breathe new life into ageing classics, allowing developers to realise their original vision and players to experience the game as it was meant to be played, while exposing classics to players who missed them the first time round. The Ico & Shadow of Colossus Classics HD collection sits firmly in the latter camp.
Both games are worth a revisit if you've already played them, while for those that haven't this is a must buy.
+ Two fantastic games in one package.
+ Both titles look better than ever.
+ Arguably one of the best HD updates yet.
- Still a few visual hiccups.
- Some moments of frustration.
- Save slots are limited to ten per game.