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REVIEW: Sony and Team Ico put an end to cynical remake cash-ins

Ico and Shadow of the Colossus are the latest to join the ever growing HD re-release circuit. I have, so far at least, been generally cynical of the re-do trend; although it’s allowing people to experience previous gen titles they may have missed, the general choice of what gets the re-release and what’s included seems to be a tad random.

“Why don’t more games have a hold hands button? That would’ve made Gears of War a very different game.”

We’ve had Splinter Cell, Tomb Raider, Sly Raccoon and Beyond Good and Evil to name a few. We are also soon to get “collections” from Metal Gear Solid and Silent Hill, albeit the kind of collection assembled by a child with no attention span. The problem is, they miss the point by being more of an easy route selection than collection. I would argue that, with the exception of Beyond Good & Evil, the rest are just exercises in money-milking. And then there’s this.

Ico (pronounced E-ko) and Shadow of the Colossus are two of the most highly regarded games ever released. Critically lauded, both are still in the 90+ region on aggregate sites as well as having a loyal and vocal fan-base. Shadow of the Colossus was one of my games of the year when it was originally released back in 2006, but I had never played Ico, something that allowed me to enter this review with a lot less nostalgia-vision.

Both Ico and Shadow of the Colossus are simple stories, told more through the experience of the game itself over cut scenes and dialogue. As these are re-releases I will be focusing more on how they have evolved than what they are, but here’s the skinny. Ico is an unfortunate chap who is at that tender age when you start to get horny, in this case literally. Banished for life in a large fortress, he escapes and discovers an ethereal girl called Yorda, and takes it upon himself to rescue her from an evil witch and her shadowy minions.

SotC is set in arguably the same universe but is a different tale. Wander is a man on a mission to rescue Mono, a girl sacrificed because she had a dark future ahead of her. In order to do this he must destroy 16 idols by killing their real life colossi counterparts. Two refreshingly different takes on the save-the-girl theme.

I’ve got to kill 16 what now?

Both titles are simple in terms of premise and gameplay, but that is really doing a disservice to them. It’s easy to label SotC as 16 boss fights in a row, but it is so much more. It’s as much about the journey as the battles, as you endure and see the consequences of your actions played out, it hits emotional chords that mainstream “cinematic” games have aimed for and failed to hit for years. Each Colossus is much more than a straight fight as well, with some battles lasting up to an hour as you work out where their weak points are and set about scaling them, they are as much a traditional platforming level as they are the enemy.

Ico is a different beast, being very much an old school block and switch type affair at heart. Initial play-through reminded me of the first time I played the original Tomb Raider on PS1.

The sense of stillness mixed with climbing, and puzzle solving to get to the next area, is a welcome change of pace. There was also an element of PC point ‘n’ clicker Myst as well as you are thrown into a world and left to find your own way instead of being herded from A to B with tutorials and waypoints constantly. This freedom may annoy some in SotC as your sword shines the way to the next battle.

So, armed with this and a cryptic clue you set off only to find yourself on a precipice with no way down. It points to the target in a straight line; though your journey may be anything but. Another bone of contention, even at the time is that of checkpoints, as in, there are none. I personally find this refreshing as it makes me worry more about the situation. It’s nice to have a game where failure means something other than re-spawning 20 feet back.

I will however admit that repeating sections because the camera shifted just as you jumped or you wandered too far away from Yorda can be irritating, especially if you decide on not saving at the stone sofa thinking you could get to the next one. Worse is battling a colossus for half an hour and screwing it up before the kill hit and having to journey back from the temple to do it again, but the hardest journey is the most rewarding.

I can see clearly now

Whereas most HD re-dos are simple up-scales, some actual time has been taken here, with a lot of redone textures giving the castle and surrounds a grander look and sense of scale.  Similarly, the extra fidelity allows more depth; the result of which leaves you feeling lost and alone in the fortresses expanses. Thank goodness you have a spooky girl with you to hold your hand. Now that I think about it, why don’t more games have a hold hands button? That would’ve made Gears of War a very different game.

SotC was always the more polished of the two but now the difference is clearly noticeable. The clarity and depth add fundamentally to the feel of scale as you approach each colossus. The level of guilt as I plunged my sword into the head (1st and 3rd colossus especially) was more-so as the camera swished round to see their faces and innocent eyes that shouted “what the hell did I ever do to you?!”

In Ico the camera does a relatively good job of giving you a floating cinematic feel in keeping with the game’s overall tone, though at times it does seem more interested in focusing in on the expert pointing job the castle builders did instead of guiding the way. The second analogue allows for camera movement, but this is more tilts and pans than movement; giving less control than you would like. This was never a problem in SotC but it does have its own issues. During the fights that involved the bow I found myself repeatedly missing targets because I was heading away on Argo with the camera facing the Colossus, but when it came time to fire and I hit the ready weapon button the camera would snap back to behind me, leaving me to rotate back round again. On time sensitive targets this was and still is a tad frustrating, and it is a shame it was not fixed.

“Playful stings give way to sweeping orchestral tracks that are as much a part of the world as the art style.”

The sound maintains its charm in its use of music (and lack of, where necessary). Both feature large sections where all you hear is the wind and surrounding noises that make you feel alone and ultimately segregated from the world you are trying to return to. Playful stings give way to sweeping orchestral tracks that are as much a part of the world as the art style.

Both games, although very good, are not the type of games that will be replayed, at least not very often, much like you wouldn’t watch the same adventure/thriller movie week in week out, as you know where it goes and how it ends. Trophy support tries to add legs to both by offering challenges such as completing Ico in two hours and though I enjoy extra challenge, visually you will be dragging Yorda around like an excited kid pulls his mum through Toys ‘R’ Us.  I like to walk around like I actually would, taking in the surroundings, running through it kind of goes contrary to the idea of the game. SotC awards for collecting items on time attack and finding all the lizards and fruit trees, as well as hard mode, unlocked for beating the game. Trophies aside, I feel SotC is the more rounded and replayable of the two.

And finally

As I said at the start, titles like this were generally overlooked by the masses, and although there is now a larger fan base thanks to the second hand market, I fear that it may not find as many new fans as it should. Indie games on PSN/XBLA like the excellent Limbo have shown that there are alternatives to the endless shoot-em-in-the-face-a-thons that have become the bread and butter of the current gen. The question is whether they will put their FPSes down for a while and try something fresh, or just keep death-matching until the next oh-so different shooter arrives. I kind of already know the answer, and to be honest, it’s their loss.

Like:
- None of the charm is lost in the HD translation
- Just as playable now as they always were
- Refreshingly different (depressingly, as Ico is nine and SotC five years old - there should be more titles that try something else.)

No Like:
- Not the most replayable games
- Original camera and control issues have not been addressed
- Lack of checkpoints will annoy some people.

9/10

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