It's hard to believe Ico is almost ten years old and Shadow of the Colossus is six. While many games that outsold them multiple times over have aged as gracefully as your average egg salad, these two remain as engaging and immersive as the day they arrived. The solid gameplay is timeless, of course, but the way the pair make you personally invested in the characters and their worlds has rarely been equaled.
The Ico & Shadow of the Colossus Collection is the definitive version of these two classics, sanding down the games' rough edges and re-presenting them to a more appreciative world. The level and character geometry is the same as it always was, but the increase in resolution and widescreen format have done amazing things for the presentation. The art direction was always topnotch, but the improved texturing shows off details that were almost impossible to make out in the games' original incarnations.
Of the two, Shadow of the Colossus benefits most obviously from its update. The poor, overworked PS2 was never happy rendering SotC's wide-open world and the massive giants that walked it, but now everything moves at a solid (if not very ambitious) 30 FPS. The colossussesses move with a steady ponderous grace unhindered by a plummeting frame rate, making it much easier to target them. The guilt of destroying a unique and wonderful creature is just that much harsher when it looks this good, especially when it's for what's so obviously a fool's errand. Is there a story, legend, fable, song, or any other narrative method in which "reviving the dead" has worked out for the best?
Fortunately for Ico, the "rescue the girl" plot tends toward a more optimal resolution. Ico's trip guiding Yorda through the lonely ruined castle, battling shadow demons and solving convoluted puzzles, has lost none of its haunting charm. While the castle has never looked better, though, there are a few nitpicky details that didn't seem so obvious in 2001. Yorda's AI in particular has aged poorly, and it hardly seems like she wants to escape due to the way she has to be pulled or nagged to go anywhere. Clipping errors, like Ico's sword going through a wall, or the chain that he's swinging from moving through his body, also seem a bit more obvious now. Ico's only real weakness, however, is the combat, which basically involves hitting the "bonk monster with stick" button until they eventually fall over and dissipate in a shadowy black cloud. On the plus side, the HD update makes it much easier to see what the shadow demons are supposed to be, addressing a definite problem in the PS2 original. Still, the point of Ico is exploration and puzzle solving in one of the most atmospheric settings in gaming, all while feeling more and more responsible for the helpless girl who trusts you to lead her to freedom. It does these things so incredibly well that, ten years later, it's still regarded as one of the best examples of emotional engagement the world of video games has to offer.
And that's what makes this pair so worthwhile after all this time. The effective storytelling that expertly makes the player care while somehow never getting in the way of the game itself would be wasted if the games weren't worth playing, but all parts come together to make a much greater whole than they would alone. Ico's reward for solving a puzzle is a greater attachment to Yorda as he helps her past another formerly impassable area. Figuring out how to take down a colossus and surviving the epic battle instantly leads to realizing that once again you've done something terribly wrong, but being unable to resist the lure of the next encounter. Being able to re-experience the collection with all the HD bells and whistles is certainly lovely, but the features that make it shine were present in the original games already.
Which isn't to say the updates aren't appreciated, of course. In addition to the visual bump, The Ico & Shadow of the Colossus Collection comes with a pair of interactive themes for the PS3 front end, some interviews on game development with the creative team (which also has a peek at their next game, The Last Guardian, looking utterly phenomenal), and early proof-of-concept movies for each game. Topping things off, the version of Ico is the PAL version, with co-op play for a second player to control Yorda and the expanded "watermelon" ending. This is, simply put, a must have game for any collection, and a pair of journeys worth re-traveling for anyone who's played them before.