In 2005, I, like many others, played Shadow of the Colossus by Team Ico. At the time, it had no connection to ICO as a spiritual successor for me. I didn’t really know anything about ICO other than it had terrible boxart (here in North America, anyway), and a lot of escorting gameplay. If those two things weren’t enough to lose my attention at that time, the fact that the game had almost become impossible to find would have sealed the deal for me. Despite the positive critical reception the game got, I couldn’t imagine ICO being something I would have ever been interested in.
So when I was starting Shadow of the Colossus, I didn’t go in eagerly anticipating a new title from this developer. I just saw a pretty-looking game that showed a swordsman on horseback and promised the experience of slaying these gigantic, dark creatures. Now, the game definitely provides all this, but what was running through my mind at the end wasn’t the adrenaline of killing the colossi or the excitement of the journey. The impact it left came from the game’s visual beauty, and moreso its effectiveness at telling this story of selfishness and sacrifice.
I loved the game despite some potentially deal-breaking flaws. In fact, something as basic as controls were probably the biggest hurdle for players. For some, they were functional but only to the point of being just barely tolerable. For others, it made the game practically unplayable. Still, if you could penetrate this issue, you could find something really incredible in Shadow of the Colossus.
Along with providing an experience that was really emotionally powerful, SotC also made me very curious as to what I had missed with ICO. It would take ten years after its original release, and a generation of consoles later, but I would finally get my shot to find out in the form of The ICO and Shadow of the Colossus Collection.
And honestly, I wouldn’t enjoy it very much in the beginning.
ICO is a game that’s full of annoyances. That same feeling of having controls that were just barely working was very much present here, animations would take just a little too long, the camera was usually fixed in an unhelpful position (which we can probably blame on the year 2001 more than anything), the only good thing about the combat was when you could skip a fight entirely, and almost the entire game was an escort mission. I felt almost obligated to hate this game.
Somehow, though, I ended up loving it.
Just as a puzzle-platformer, ICO is one of the best. Accompanied with a beautiful art style, the clever puzzles are accompanied by a sense of epicness. There is a lot of satisfaction to be had when you solve them, but they also help tell a lot of this story about what lengths this boy will go to in order to free not only himself, but the only companion he has.
The escorting was just as annoying as I had imagined it being, at first. You have to help this girl with literally everything. Every instance of jumping and climbing takes her forever, the combat only exists in order to protect her from shadow monsters, and you must hold her hand if you expect to get anywhere at a reasonable pace. I was practically born to hate this sort of thing.
It’s a character that’s almost entirely helpless in this situation, yet that somehow helps you develop a sense of loyalty to her. You develop a sort of protectiveness of this character, and after enough time in the game your instinct refuses to let you leave her behind. It’s honestly one of the more powerful relationships I’ve experienced in a game, and the two characters don’t even speak the same language.
And that’s what really stood out to me about ICO. Despite being a flawed game in many ways, it leaves such an impression that I would go so far as to say I loved it more than I loved its successor. Both games greatest strength is how they can make you feel, and ICO overcomes a lot its own demons by successfully delivering in this aspect.
I firmly believe that all games should strive for quality gameplay, and I hope Team Ico can improve on some of the problems in their next game, The Last Guardian. But both ICO and Shadow of the Colossus are shining examples of a developer striving for something much more ambitious. Something that’s incredibly powerful, yet also more intangible.
If you have a PS3 and haven’t tried these games, I believe you owe it to yourself to get your hands on The ICO and Shadow of the Colossus Collection. It may be a challenge at times to find the masterpieces in here, but by the end of it, if you can see what I see, it’ll be worth it.Posted in Op Ed by Ben Matlock on October 14, 2011