If you’re a gamer with access to the Internet (which I’m assuming you are, because… well… you’re reading this on Stevivor), the odds are, you’ve heard of either ICO or Shadow of the Colossus. Both games’ names get bandied about in forums and ranty post comment sections every time Roger Ebert says something about video games not being an art form.
And there’s no question about it. ICO and Shadow of the Colossus are art.
When I first tried playing ICO, Blockbuster was still a thing. I’d seen a glowing review, and as an overly-cautious 12-year-old with a limited supply of birthday money, I decided to rent it before I committed to a purchase. It lasted about 20 minutes before I made plans for its return.
You control Ico, a boy attempting to save a princess from a castle (I know what it sounds like, but Super Mario this is not). Her name is Yorda, and to be honest, she can’t do much of anything except open certain doors that block your path. You’re infinitely more athletic than she is, jumping higher and further than she can. It’s your job to get her from point A to point B by solving a series of puzzles (mostly moving blocks and pulling switches).
It takes the time to build mood and atmosphere – a 12-year-old me thought it was boring, but returning to it as a 22-year-old, I found myself sucked in, and infected by its charms. Sure, some of the gameplay elements haven’t aged quite so gracefully (there are moments when Yorda’s AI will irk you, and the combat – beat this enemy with a stick, literally – leaves a lot to be desired), but it’s still clear why ICO was one of the critical darlings of last generation.
Shadow of the Colossus
As nice as ICO is, the main event of this collection is Shadow of the Colossus. Shadow does away with all the ‘boring’ stuff that weighs games down – you know, like lengthy cut-scenes, dungeons, towns, NPCs to interact with – and whittles gaming down to its essence: epic boss battles.
You are Wander, and you have to defeat 16 massive colossi to save a girl named Mono. Yes, the controls are a bit on the clunky side and take a bit/lot of getting used to (the menu does give you full control over the button/command allocation, so feel free to change as you see fit), but believe me, once it all clicks, it clicks. What ICO lacks in action, Shadow more than makes up for. These are some of the best video-game boss battles ever conceived, and they’ve never played as well. The dodgy frame rate of the original release is no more, and thanks to its slight HD makeover, the game’s never looked as good either.
ICO and Shadow of the Colossus are not your usual video games. They’re minimal, understated affairs that pack an (unexpected) emotional punch. They will linger with you long after you’ve finished them, so much so that when Roger Ebert says something about video games not being an art form, you’ll be leaving ranty, grammatical-error-plagued comments on his blog citing one of, if not both of, these games.
Every PS3 owner who missed out on them last generation should definitely give this double pack a shot. Plus, it’s the best way to tide you over until the release of Team Ico’s third game, 2012 Sony-exclusive The Last Guardian.