It’s a testament to just how good Ico and Shadow of the Colossus are when they can appear on a list of games many years after they were originally released. Sure, this HD collection for the PS3 is a remake of two beloved Playstation 2 games, but going back to them was one of the best gaming experiences we had all year.
Ico is a wonderfully simple premise beautifully executed – you are Ico, trapped in a sprawling castle, and must find your way out alive. Despite your escape being accompanied by the mysterious girl Yorda, theres an overpowering feeling of isolation throughout the game. Every location is eerily quiet, and music is used very sparingly. Instead, the game features subtle ambient sounds which help to remind you that you are truly lost in this castle far away from civilisation, and you are alone. One of the things I love about this game is the environment’s visual design. The castle is made up of spacious rooms and vast concrete walkways, and you can nearly always see the path you’re about to take, or a previously visited area if you look around. Exploring it becomes a joy, and the deeper I went, the more desperate I was to escape. I won’t forget that experience in a hurry.
The other game in the collection is widely regarded as one of the greatest games ever made, and when I eventually played it many years after its original release, I finally understood why. Built around the simple idea of 16 huge boss fights, Shadow of the Colossus is breathtaking, and utterly unique. Each monster is a massive, hulking puzzle, requiring some lateral thinking and fast wits to take down. They are all exquisitely designed, inspired by real life animals with a hint of something very alien. The animation brings them to life so realistically, I can’t help feeling sorry for them when they shake and tremble trying to shrug you off as you climb up their backs, sword in hand ready to plunge into one of the weak spots. As each one falls to its knees, the sense of satisfaction is equalled only by the feeling of loss and sadness that I’ve murdered another giant innocent animal.
I actually didn’t hear about ICO or Shadow of the Colossus until the HD remake was announced, but when Matt finally got his hands on the PS3 HD glory that is those two games, I had no excuses, I just had to play them both.
Starting with Colossus, I took up arms against the 16 enormous, gargantuan, and, well, colossal… colossi, and rode valiantly across deserts, fields, rocky mountains, and even into enormous lakes and ancient ruins, seeking out my enemy. While 16 doesn’t sound like an awful lot, it took me nigh on 5 hours to defeat them all with only a sword, a bow, and a horse, to take down the black hairy foes in whom’s shadows I stood. One thing this game gets absolutely right is the sense of scale, and with your character being nothing more than a young man against creatures that are just beyond epic in comparison, and move in ways that look and feel absolutely right. There’s something awe inspiring about fighting in enormous arenas of terrain and seeing the colossi marching, flying, or swimming toward you, and bringing them down is both an extremely rewarding, yet, oddly saddening experience.
After completing SotC, I moved swiftly onto ICO. The story, following a rather similar trend of making the player feel like a small person in a huge, overwhelming environment, places you in shoes of a small, horn-headed boy, thrown into a castle and left for dead. With the least amount of dialogue and/or plot I have ever seen in a game, the goal is obvious from the beginning; escape the castle alive with your mysterious new companion, having rescued her from a cage. Being, at its core, an adventure puzzle platformer game, ICO is one of the simplest yet beautifully complex games, involving what boils down to a story about friendship and trust, and without cluttering any of the screen with a single HUD element or indicator of any kind, it leaves the entire world and story to your imagination.
ICO and SotC were two of the most memorable and unique games I’ve ever played, and despite each of them being over 6 years old, they were still fantastic, and utterly deserving of their place in our top ten games of 2011.