Review by Max “Xtal” Boone
Developer Team ICO / Bluepoint Games
Publisher Sony Computer Entertainment
Released September 27, 2011
Available for PS3
Time Played Completed
Verdict: 5/5 Gold Star
“My greatest fear of overturning one stone too many– disturbing the memories I had from my original experience– was something not to be realized. Within fifteen minutes I had accepted that I was once again in this beautiful space, and that it would not be for worse.”
I’m Wide Awake on Memories
The re-creation, redefinition, or re-release of a work of art or entertainment must answer one question: why? The way in which that question is answered may vary but the answers remain consistent: suddenly what was new in your work is now old and ugly. A film is re-released to DVD to capitalize on the gains in picture fidelity that consumers didn’t even know they wanted. Just as it will one day be scrubbed cleaner for its Blu-ray audition. This has become accepted practice for the video game industry also, with so much new real estate to capture in the move from 4:3 to 16:9 aspect.
The reason this happens is understood. But is the reaction? Our consumer reaction being, of course, new…improved?…must have… but why must we have it? Is there something one could get out of watching The Godfather, Part II on a Blu-ray that they couldn’t on video tape? No, I don’t think so, though I do think there exists room for many other answers. Maybe you forgot what happens and just want to see it again. Maybe you’ve convinced yourself that picture quality minutia really does matter. Maybe you just didn’t own a VCR, a cassette deck, a PS2. I can’t tell you the reasons you wanted to purchase that film you’d already seen, or that game you’d already played. I only can tell you mine.
When we approach this remade work what exactly should we address? How it’s changed, how it’s stayed the same, the new content or the old? I approached Ico & Shadow of the Colossus – The Collection with apprehension. After completing Ico last year I honestly didn’t know if I’d ever choose to return. What came from my experience of it was nearly unspeakable romanticism: quite literally; I wanted to write about my emotional experience immediately after it had ended, but simply was unable to form a meaningful expression of that experience for almost a week. When the words finally rained, they poured, and soon after crystallized into the spoken embodiment of my profoundly emotional deliverance. In a way it was all that I had left in reality. To physically return to something which in my mind had become this hazy memory of warmth and affirmation … it was a risk that could undermine those memories and grind away at their cocoon.
Ten Years Gone
You’re reading this so it’s easy, and correct, to reach the conclusion that I indeed challenged myself to re-experience Ico. Of modifications there is very little to mention: it runs as well as it ever did on PS2 because it came early in that system’s life cycle and so proved not overly taxing. Most noticeable– to be honest perhaps the only difference I noted– is the picture filling the entire screen; the absence of a vertical letter box naturally pleases the eyes for sure. Quite thankfully– and unsurprisingly– absolutely nothing has been tampered with – no glass viewing windows inserted into the stone walls, no new grating action tracks laid down over the ambient minimalism, just the castle in the mist – as it was.
One thing worth noting for North American players is that the PS2 base version used for this collection is the original PAL release, not NTSC. I noticed something different early on when combat seemed to go on a bit longer than it had previously. A quick investigation told me that I was experiencing minor differences which were native to the original European release of the game. Minor indeed, but interesting that these differences exist at all. In the PAL and hence remastered version the shadow creatures will frequently thrust themselves to the ground, rendering them immune to your attacks, and they’ll also leap over you to avoid attacks; it makes combat segments slightly more challenging. Also different are two sections of the same puzzle area, one of which contains a somewhat awkward jumping puzzle requiring precise timing and reflex. Amusingly, in the original North American version this puzzle is mitigated by virtue of a ladder which allows you to bypass the whole awkward part; in the PAL version the ladder is broken. Subtleties like this ever so slight simplification for American audiences I find quite amusing; who in the design team thought these few changes needed to exist? Surely it’s a conscious decision that is reached … but how curious? Nonetheless they’re small and careful changes that, in retrospect, did not break Ico‘s vision (which is of course properly realized as the PAL version – and now the godawful NTSC “horned boy closeup” version can be truly forgotten!)
When You Put That Skylight In
My greatest fear of overturning one stone too many– disturbing the memories I had from my original experience– was something not to be realized. Within fifteen minutes I had accepted that I was once again in this beautiful space, and that it would not be for worse.
As I played, what I also accepted was that while my notions of what I experience may evolve, the content from which I was being stimulated would never change. There was a change, but it was in me: I had learned to rationalize what exactly it was I understood, what it was I loved about this place. My childish fears that some invented nostalgia would be lost … these were squashed. For once, here is a world that pervades my thoughts, and it’s not a yearning for the past, for safety, or for escape; it’s nothing that needs protection. It’s a genuine desire to project myself, however temporarily, into this vision that Ueda realized. A place that makes perfect creative sense, it is unadulterated; a joy to inhabit. Nothing exists without purpose. There is fear, but no confusion. Your goals are all, at some point, within your sight, and you can reach them with problem solving, trust, and devotion. Everything is clear.
To quote from an article on the collection in my local paper: “Beyond the basics needed to express their ideas, these are games whose power has little or nothing to do with their tech. Their operating system is the human mind/body/soul – they are true art and thus will never need to be excused.”
What I initially failed to understand was that this was not a game being remade because it begged to be accepted by its modern contemporaries, nor whose creators deemed a fresh coat of paint essential to prevent its stagnation. Ico has been remade because it will always be sought out. A painting can be gazed upon by generation after generation; if treated properly it will last forever. PlayStations will burn out and be tossed away; this very medium by which we experience the video game form is prone to decay more than any other. That is why it has been subjected to redevelopment, that is why I expect it won’t be the last time.
Revisit those lists which have appeared in 2006, 2007, 2008, and so on. #75, #50, #25, #15, #10… perhaps not in five years, or even fifteen, but in time, slowly, surely, I have no doubt that Ico along with Shadow of the Colossus will surpass the Marios and the Zeldas, taking their place as the shining exemplars of our medium.
Ico is provocative, it is personal. It is ambiguous, yet subject to discussion. It is emotional without sentiment. It is grand and sweeping without blunder. It is a master of storytelling, though from it what story can be discerned? It is a triumph of the human spirit, but with it comes great sorrow: it is an indisputable work of art; one which demands to exist as long as there are human minds to ponder it.
Email the author of this review at firstname.lastname@example.org.
That was beautiful.
Excellent stuff Xtal 🙂
I really loved Ico having played it only briefly at, though I have never completed it due to not owning a console. Is it available on PC at all? 🙁
I think you hit the nail on the head with re-mastering products and it is clear that many are there to simply earn additional money whilst failing to bring anything to the original product. The recent Resident Evil 4 HD remake was absolutely crucified by the press because it was a hatchet job.
Thankfully, this sounds like it has done with the infinite care the original had.
Sadly, Lewis, no PC for Team Ico games. The studio is internally owned by Sony. But Ico and Shadow of the Colossus both are worth getting a Playstation for, and this HD collection sounds like a good reason to finally splurge on a PS3.
I’ve got Dark Souls and Rage to focus on now, but I can’t wait to get back into these two games – two of the most beautiful and important games ever.
I can see myself loaning my PS3 to Lew as well as Mat who sold his after joining the PC hivemind. Mat has played neither Ico or Shadow of the Colossus so quite frankly I envy his virgin senses.
Excellent write-up xtal. I saw both remastered editions at the Eurogamer expo and they looked wonderful. I will say this however, the lower frame rate of the original Shadow of the Colossus I felt gave the game a certain cinematic quality that might have been lost in the remastered edition, I’m not sure.
Awesome piece. I gotta get myself a PS3 now. I remember buying the PS2 just to play this.
Gregg, believe me, the point you make is the reason I struggled with the decision to purchase the collection: would something be lost? I can tell you that Ico loses none of its power.
I’ve only battled one colossus in Shadow, so my impressions are brief.
There’s really no right answer. The best comparison I can make, Gregg, is this: for many years your favourite vinyl record has become very familiar to you, all its imperfections, crackles and pops. Now though, someone has blown a bit of dust from this record, so as you listen to it again you might notice silence where there used to be a pop.
Whether you miss those pops… you only know.
As a side note: there are very few trophies to be had in Ico, so I found them not overly intrusive. Shadow, however, delivers a trophy after every single colossus is slain. That to me is sad, and overly intrusive.
Trophies? Oh god. It was bad enough in Heavy Rain but Ico and Shadow of the Colossus? Trophy notifications should be an option for these games not mandatory.
As far as I’m aware, Trophy notifications are optional. If you root around your PS3 settings Gregg, you should spot them.
Or maybe I just made that up. I’m sure I heard that somewhere. This is a thing, right?
Excellent review Xtal. I’m abit gutted that I’m missing out on this and SotC AGAIN. These HD collections have been good to me this generation and this would have been a nice way to catch these. I’m pretty sure I’ll end up picking up a PS3 and a stack of games again some years down the line as I seem to do for most retro consoles so maybe I will play these some day.
I feel I’ve missed out on some great journey that y’all have undertaken and come out better for. I’ll have to add these to my ever increasing list of games to get. Only 30 or so more years until retirement, then I’ll be able to catch up on iconic games such as these.