Sony continues mining the past decade for gems to polish up and release on the PS3, and two of the shiniest are “Ico” and “Shadow of the Colossus,” newly released as a set.
Both games have been given visual upgrades to 1080p high definition— close-up textures still look blurry at times, but these are good-looking games overall. “Shadow of the Colossus” benefits the most — the original game pushed the PS2 a mite too hard and suffered from an uneven frame rate as a result. The PS3 is much better able to handle its ambitions.
First released in 2001, “Ico” opens with a young horned boy being taken to an enormous castle and sealed alive inside a sarcophagus as a sacrifice. A tremor frees him by chance, and while wandering the castle he discovers a girl in a cage.
The girl is Yorda, and by freeing her Ico draws the attention of smoky black figures who rise from inky portals — and that of the shadowy queen who rules them.
The shadow beings aren’t invulnerable — a few good whacks from a piece of wood will dispatch the smaller ones, though others are tougher. But if they manage to drag Yorda into one of their portals, Ico has just a few moments to rescue her before a wave of magic petrifies him—game over.
Ico must guide Yorda safely past obstacles he can conquer easily. Ico is much more mobile than the fragile waif who accompanies him—where he can climb a chain, leap across a gap or jump down from a high ledge, she must be pulled up over a barrier, guided around an obstacle or given a bridge to cross.
So why keep her around? Aside from the petrifaction thing, Ico encounters many paths that are blocked by enchanted idols, which Yorda has the power to move. The characters need each other to escape, and over the course of the game an obvious attachment develops.
A strong attachment already exists in “Shadow of the Colossus” (an indirect prequel to “Ico”), as a young man named Wander and his faithful horse Agro take on a dangerous quest to resurrect a dead girl.
Wander has carried the girl’s body to a great temple in a forbidden land in the hope that the being that dwells there, the Dormin, may revive her. The Dormin promises to do so if Wander can defeat the 16 colossi inhabiting the land, but warns the price will be high.
The colossi are the only foes Wander will find in his journeys. The vast landscape is host to a variety of climates and a few kinds of wildlife, but there are no minor minions to dispatch — this is a game where every fight is a boss fight.
And what bosses they are. The colossi are so large that Wander can—and must — find ways to clamber up them to reach their weak points. Wander is possessed only of his sword, his bow and a desperately strong grip, and has only his horse as a partner. With these few tools he must conquer all.
The smallest colossus is about the size of an elephant. The largest are hundreds of feet tall (or long). Some walk, some fly, some swim. All present both physical and mental challenges — the behemoths can only be harmed where glowing sigils are present, and these tend to be in out-of-the-way places, like the tops of their heads or buried under armor. Victory over any of them is hard-fought.
The game’s excellent musical score gets your blood pumping as you work to bring down each giant, but mourns each one as it falls —black tendrils escape each dying beast, entering Wander’s body and knocking him out cold. He awakes at the temple as the idol representing the colossus he just killed shatters to a burst of ominous organ music. It’s soon apparent that killing these creatures is not really a heroic deed.