Developer: Bluepoint Games
Release Date: 9/27/2011
Available Exclusively On
Ico is probably one of the most forgotten games in history. Being one of the first graphical powerhouses for the PS2, it proved that you don’t need a complex story and characters to have a good game. All you know is that you are a boy named Ico who is trying to save a girl named Yorda from her evil mother queen and escape from the castle. You enter as a captured prisoner because you have horns. You then escape and find Yorda along the way. What made Ico such a big deal was that you led her around manually by holding R1. This forced you to become attached to her, and they rarely spoke.
This game was way ahead of its time. That’s probably why people passed it by for Jak & Daxter and other PS2 games at the time. The game consists of some pretty cleverly designed puzzles that involve pulling switches, climbing, cutting ropes, and swinging on chains. You also push and pull the occasional block. The level design is really well done, but there were a few obscure puzzles like jumping off of a chain to knock a bridge down. This is completely against the game’s mechanics so you would never know to do this. Leading Yorda around sounds annoying, but it prevents you from having to rely on the already shoddy AI. The game mechanics work well enough in design but they are sloppy and frustrating to deal with.
When you jump Ico tends to clip into ledges and ladders making you have to slightly adjust him until he latches on. If you press the analog stick just slightly and jump he will jump 20 feet causing you to jump off ledges or fall down to your death. There’s just so much bad collision detection and the animations are janky and not well done. When you drag Yorda around her arm looks like a flopping noodle that can go through her body. I know this was originally designed for PS1 before the game jumped ship to PS2…but still. There are other mechanics like setting your sword down to pick up a giant stick, light it on fire, then setting off a bomb. Sometimes you have to toss these before they blow you up. Fun game mechanics and all but they repeated through the entire game making you be grateful for the short length (just about 4 hours).
A lot of times I didn’t know where to go because the middle of the game has two areas that are identical, but just slightly different. The constant backtracking can confuse you requiring a walkthrough. There are no boss battles to speak of except the final boss, but the combat is so frustrating and annoying. Ico swings his sword around aimlessly and you can’t move while doing so. The AI jumps away as soon as you run after it so if you get stuck in a three-hit combo you get knocked down and Yorda gets dragged away. You can’t die in this game during combat, but if Yorda gets dragged underground you’re done. You can pull her out of the hole, but sometimes a shadow creature will hit you and knock you back then you have to suffer the long animation of getting up. A lot of games had these animations (The Mark of Kri) and I don’t know why. It breaks the fluidity of everything. Once you get the hidden mace in the game combat is really easy, but you still get annoyed by the creatures constantly backing up when you approach.
The graphics look great with the new HD upgrade, but even back then they were amazing. A lot of textures have been slightly upscaled and some bloom and HDR have been added for better lighting. You can still notice the game’s age during up-close shots of areas. Textures are muddy and so blurry they don’t even look like what they are representing. The main thing is that you can pan the camera around more now that the resolution has been bumped up making navigation easier. This is how you do HD upgrades right.
Overall, Ico is a great game, but the dated mechanics really show their age. If you can look past all this you are in for a great, albeit short, game but don’t expect engaging characters or a complex story. There are 4 cutscenes in the whole game, but this is about the journey and not the story.
Shadow of the Colossus
I have been wanting to review this game forever, and now I have the chance. I played this back in 2005 when it first came out and it was just unreal. SotC still has some of the best graphics to grace the PS2, it almost looked next-gen at the time. Of course, it suffered from the massive slowdown, but now we can play it with some extra graphical effects and at 60FPS. There’s not much of a story here, there never is with Famito Ueda’s games. You are a boy named Wander who brings a girl to a temple, a cursed land, and vows to destroy all 16 colossi in order to bring her back to life. The game has one of the most touching endings I can remember.
The game is very basic, you just head to each colossus and slay it. There is a huge open-world, but it is very barren and void of life, but that’s the way it is supposed to be. You feel very alone and helpless in this land of brown and gray. You have two weapons, a sword, and a bow. You can hold the sword up to the light to guide you to the next colossus which really isn’t that hard. Once you find it you have to figure out how to get on top of it and that’s the tricky part. Each colossus is completely different. Some are tall, some are fat, some are the size of a lion. These lumbering beasts will attack, but you need to find their weak spots. One colossus has weak spots on the bottom of its feet. When it walks you need to use your bow and shoot it. It then falls over and you can jump up and grab its fur and start climbing. Some aren’t so easy, in fact, there are no hints on how to get on top of these beasts. One tricky water serpent requires you to swim over him and then his tail will come out of the water so you can grab it.
The best part is when you get on these things. Each colossus is like a level in itself. You can climb around and hold the R1 button to stay on. They will try to shake you and your window to actually stab the glowing weak spots that are really small. You have a stamina meter and when it depletes you let go and fall back down. This can be really frustrating if getting on top of the Colossus is already frustrating or a long fiasco. As you slay these monsters your stamina and health increase, but you still need to watch out. The worst part about the game is the God-awful controls. They just suck and the game mechanics are sluggish and unresponsive. If it weren’t for this the game would be perfect. Wander’s animations are a bit jerky and when the colossi shake you and your stamina is dropping you just want to charge your stab and kill it, but sure enough, you get shaken again right as you start to charge. Wander flops around and it just feels sluggish. When you try walking on the colossus Wander will fall and tumble, sometimes right down to the ground. I almost threw my controller several times because of this. You will mainly die because of the mechanics, not your skills.
Let’s talk about your horse. Aggro is the main character, but I felt like I was driving a Mac truck. He won’t move if you push the stick forward, instead, you have to mash X and it takes forever for his momentum to get going. You can only tap the stick left and right to steer him, but he moves too quickly and runs right into walls, which he then stops on a dime and turns completely around. Maneuvering through tight areas is a serious pain. The horse controls are just terrible. This is probably the only bad part of the game, there is nothing else like this game out there. The colossi themselves look fantastic and are just gigantic. You really feel helpless and wonder how you are going to take this thing down. It all adds to the foreboding atmosphere of the game, the loneliness, and helplessness that you feel throughout.