An impeccable, provocative and emotional affair, ICO & Shadow of the Colossus Collection makes a strong argument in favour of interactive art, and does so with such a matter of fact, effortless mentality that it's impossible not to fall in love with the experience.
Despite being heralded as two of the finest games ever created, there's an effortless manner at which both ICO and Shadow of the Colossus go about their business.
It's with ICO that we start. Originally released ten years ago, the game centres upon the relationship between a young boy and an ethereal girl named Yorda. It emerges that the boy has been incarcerated in a vast castle after being considered a bad omen by the residents of his native village. Happening upon an escape route, the boy discovers the mystical Yorda trapped in a cage, and immediately sets about releasing the girl from her confines. Together the newly freed duo embark on an adventure that sees them attempting to escape from the castle's captivity. To say much more would be to spoil the game's unparalleled sense of discovery, but what you'll uncover is a narrative so engulfing that it left us with goosebumps at numerous points during its running time.
What's most staggering about ICO if you're coming to it from a fresh perspective is just how much it's influenced other games. The strongest comparison would probably be to Playdead's recent PSN downloadable, LIMBO, which has much in common with ICO's level design. Simple puzzles are at the heart of the game's progression, but it's in the relationship between the two protagonists that the title really finds its lasting presence.
With a quick tap of R1 you're able to clasp the hand of Yorda, dragging her through the environment with the subtlest of controller rumbles complementing your actions. It's perhaps the best implementation of rumble ever to appear in a video game, and its meaning is entirely up for interpretation. Some people believe that the rumble signifies the strain on the fragile Yorda as you pull at her brittle body, but we happen to believe its more akin to the fluttering warmth that passes between two human beings in spite of great adversity.
ICO is a game scattered with great imagery, but nothing appeals quite like the first time you drag the wistful Yorda across an epic bridge as the wind whispers in your ears. There's really nothing else quite like it in games; it's a spine-tingling moment that's underlined by the sheer simplicity of it all.
While ICO and Shadow Of The Colossus aren't technically connected, there are similarities that indicate they're the brainchild of the same creator. Both games have a penchant for extravagant, Mayan architecture that represent the non-natural environments in the two campaigns. They also each enjoy pulled out camera angles that emphasise the enormity of each game's scale.
And no game does scale quite like Shadow of the Colossus. Originally released in 2005, the game's drawn-out opening centres on the journey of its protagonist Wander, a worn 20-something adventurer who's travelled to a forbidden land in order to bring back the life of his deceased love. Resting her body on an exuberant stone bed — which serves as a visual reminder of your plight throughout the game's ten hour campaign — Wander is informed that he must defeat no fewer than 16 Colossi in order to restore his companion. The Colossi are huge majestic beasts that roam the forbidden land.
Like ICO, it's the simplicity of Shadow of the Colossus that underlines its brilliance. There are no mini-bosses, sub-quests or mini games: it's all about you, your horse and the 16 boss fights ahead of you.
You'll need to find the Colossi before you can face them, but thankfully your sword is equipped with a nifty gadget that points you in the direction of each beast when held towards the sun. The game's Hyrulian hub world is beautiful in its emptiness, spanning long horizons of nothing but fields, deserts and postcard-perfect blue skies. Pelting through the landscape invokes memories of ICO's sense of loneliness, as there's nothing to accompany you but the sound of your horse's hooves hitting the turf below.
Fighting the Colossi is where the game most stuns. With each creature possessing a different look and style, you'll need to carefully consider your methods in order to bring the hulking monsters down. Fights are intense, white knuckle rides backed by one of the most powerful musical scores in video games. The solutions for each boss battle are wonderfully creative too: one requires you to frighten the beast with a burning torch, while another has you hopping between pillars and runways in an attempt to crack the enemy's armour.
Our favourite boss fight comes in the form of Colossus number five, a winged eagle-like foe that resides in a forgotten lake. Here you'll need to clasp hold of the beast as it swoops down to attack you, and will find yourself clambering across its body hundreds of feet into the air as the world flies by beneath you.
The game's imagination is freed from its technical limitations on the PlayStation 3, with the screen-tearing and frame rate inconsistencies that plagued the title's original release now no longer a concern. The cleaned up textures don't hurt either, giving the game's outstanding art direction room to shine.
Both games are bona fide classics, ensuring ICO & Shadow of the Colossus Collection's status as a must-own compilation. Stereoscopic 3D support, Trophies and a couple of behind-the-scenes videos (curiously absent from our review copy) help to round out the package, but it's the inclusion of the definitive versions of two of the greatest games ever designed that makes this collection such a necessary purchase.
If video games aren't art, then ICO & Shadow of the Colossus Collection is not a video game. It's a staggering compilation of two of the most creative, intimate and emotional pieces of interactive entertainment ever conceived. Bring on The Last Guardian.