How does one go about reviewing two of the most inspirational, unique, and downright breathtaking games ever made? How does one do justice to Fumito Ueda's work by using only words and still pictures? It's a colossal task. Get it? Hmm? Yeah, well it is because words, even in the most skilled hands, can't possibly describe what unfolds throughout ICO and Shadow of the Colossus. They're both regarded as being among the best, if not the absolute best games of the previous generation. Some say that Ueda blurred the line between video games and art, when in fact, there was no line to begin with. And these two games, in all of their new high definition glory, prove that our industry is perfectly capable of portraying beauty and emotion through visual stimulation. What you're about to discover (again) is an experience like no other, and we truly mean that.
These are two very mysterious games. They're not driven by a large cast of characters or fabulous dialogue. Instead, they're driven by a sense of intrigue and wonder. ICO is the more basic of the pairing, where you take control of a curious young boy and have to escape a giant, complex castle. But you're not alone, and that's a similarity that can also be drawn alongside SotC. Very early in the game, you'll discover a girl who goes by the name of Yorda, and because you're such a gentleman, you take it upon yourself to escort her into freedom. That's the plan anyway. It's difficult to explain how emotionally involved you become as a player, especially when neither character is speaking your language; but from the moment you hold her hand, you'll be afraid of letting go.
And that's what really sets it apart from everything else. It's one of the only games in existence to maintain such a beautiful relationship on-screen, and also, somehow, transfer it outside of their realm and into your head. This is done unbeknownst to you, because you're otherwise distracted with all of the drama and emotion. As you begin to explore the castle, shadowy figures will appear and try to flee with Yorda. With your bat in hand, you'll have to swing and swipe to banish these 'creatures' before saving her. It can become tense and frantic, and you'll feel angry with yourself when she slips away. She's not completely useless though, her artificial intelligence is actually quite impressive and puts many of 2011's releases to shame, but it's your task to protect her. Whether it's during combat or platforming (the other major aspect of ICO's gameplay), she's your responsibility up until the memorable conclusion.
As for the rest... honestly, you're better off discovering it for yourself. ICO isn't terribly long, it's only about five hours in length but that doesn't in any way detract from its quality. SotC is much longer than its predecessor, so in all you've probably got around twenty hours of glorious gaming ahead of you. Visually, the improvements are immediately obvious. Everything is crisp and clear, and frankly, the games hold up amazingly well. Uglier games have been released on current consoles, which highlights the importance of good art direction. Complaining about the occasionally erratic camera angle or rudimentary controls would be missing the point, and if you can find the time to bicker and moan about these two experiences, then you're in the wrong medium. But can ICO and SotC be classified as 'art'? You'll be ready to answer that question when you start playing. Branding a game as a 'timeless classic' is dangerous because you don't know how it's going to age. Well, now we know exactly how these two beauties have aged. The score at the bottom says it all.
Shadow of the Colossus is equally gripping and engaging, if not more so. This time, the emotional connection is tied between four different individuals: Wander (the main character), Agro (the horse), Mono (the girl), and the player (you). The girl is dead, and you've stumbled upon a place where you can resurrect her soul, but only if you follow the commands of a godly figure beaming down from the heavens. Just as you'll discover with ICO, it's another mysterious journey, but in a very different world. While ICO is technically multi-layered, it's still linear. Shadow is also linear in a way, but you've a huge world to travel around. This isn't a sandbox; it's a big, beautiful and barren landscape that always reminds you of one thing - isolation. Apart from your trusty steed, Wander will be on his own until he meets one of the sixteen colossi. These are pretty much your only encounters with another life-form, but each one is memorable and increasingly spectacular. By the time you're approaching the end, you'd better have some tissues ready.
The colossi can only be reached by following the gleaming light of your blade, and then you'll be challenged with the real task of finding him/her/it. That's your first puzzle. The second puzzle is trying to figure out how to win the fight. So, you're going to be looking for weak spots like any traditional boss battle. But as you should be able to tell, SotC is far from traditional. A colossus is a puzzle in itself, and you'll have to scale it when you finally get your head around its components. The controls are simple: jump, grab and stab are the essentials. You can also whip out your bow and arrow to spark your foe's attention. Every time you kill one of these incredible giants, a wave of sadness will sweep across you. After all, who's the real enemy in question? Could it be Wander? The colossi are semi-organic in how they're built, and you'll rarely feel a sense of happiness when they're defeated. A sense of accomplishment, certainly, but you won't be bragging about it. It's a rather strange feeling, a feeling that's helped along by one of the most stunning, ambient and evocative soundtracks in recent gaming history. And that's putting it mildly.
There is a connection between ICO and Shadow of the Colossus that goes beyond the fact that Ueda is the mastermind behind their genius. It's not often spoken of, and the validity is questioned by some, but it appears that both games are set within the same universe. You really don't need to be aware of this because in regards to the story, there's nothing tangible to link them, but it could be important whenever The Last Guardian decides to say hello again. There are several clear, distinct patterns visible in the architecture of both worlds; but as we've been saying, it's all a mystery. And this connection adds an extra piece to the puzzle. You might have already been familiar with this trivia, kudos to you if that's the case, but it still doesn't stop you from thinking about what's really happening and what you're experiencing...
Being an upgrade, what concerns us the most is the technical prowess of this new collection. If you had any doubts or worries about seeing these golden oldies in their bright new outfits, then we can happily put you at rest by saying this is comfortably the best HD collection available on the PlayStation 3. Unfortunately, we didn't get to try out the new stereoscopic 3D mode because not all of us have mountains of cash lying around, but if it mirrors the quality of everything else, then you're in for quite a ride. The crown jewel here is Shadow of the Colossus, running smoother than ever before, looking better than ever before and playing better than ever before. Really, it was a miracle that Ueda managed to get it running on the PlayStation 2, a system that was crippled by age. But now, every technical niggle had been ironed out and you're almost staring perfection directly in face.
On a single, shiny disc, you're being given a chance to play two of the most iconic games in the history of the video game industry. There's not a whole lot else to say. The majority of us missed ICO in 2001, and then missed Shadow of the Colossus in early 2006. We all make mistakes, but we can't afford to make too many of them if we want people like Fumito Ueda to keep revolutionising the standards and what we expect from the industry. These are the best versions of games that will never be forgotten. They will never, ever fade away and for the lucky gamers who were alive during their era, they could potentially make for beautiful bed time stories at some point in the future. It's unlikely that anything will capture you in the same way that ICO and Shadow of the Colossus will. If a game can make a grown man cry, leave him as an emotional wreck for an entire weekend; then somebody, somewhere is doing something right (Ed: you sure that's the game's doing?).
There you have it, two brilliant games have been made even better, a seemingly impossible task but one that has been pulled off with grace. We couldn't have asked for anything more. But what really stands out is just how well ICO and Shadow of the Colossus hold up in 2011. They still evoke the same emotions and the same feelings that flowed through us almost ten years ago, and that's a remarkable achievement. Nothing has been lost here, and what you gain is certainly worthwhile, absolutely warranting a second purchase and the subsequent journeys that you'll never want to end. Games of this quality are so rare and unbelievably precious that you would be a fool not to play them. We'd go even further by saying that it should be made compulsory for anyone who wants to play video games, because if you don't appreciate what ICO and Shadow of the Colossus bring to the table, then you may as well find another hobby. Amazing stuff.