If Ico and Shadow and the Colossus were novels, they'd be getting the Penguin Modern Classics treatment around about now. They'd be done up in paperback with a jarringly appropriate bit of art stuck on the front, while inside you'd get an introductory essay with a name like, "Shadow of the Beast: Manichean belief structures and Agro the horse", written by Tony Tanner - if he wasn't already dead. You'd plod through that intro because you wanted to get your money's worth, and after all that, you might end up with the strange feeling that there weren't too many reasons left to re-read the actual stories anymore.
Luckily, Ico and Shadow of the Colossus are video games, and video games have their own impulses when it comes to curatorship. In Sony's new HD collection, both of Fumito Ueda's classics are reborn in high resolution and 7.1 surround sound with improved frame rates and it's left to the player, rather than Tony Tanner, to unravel what they think of the games themselves. Instead of scholarly essays, there are downloadable themes - one for each game - and making-of videos (none of which we've been sent in our review copy, alas). Instead of the unusual cover image, there are trophies and stereoscopic 3D for both titles.
Best of all, there are still plenty of reasons left to play these games again. Let's check them out.
It's still the single best piece of rumble feedback in games. You know it, right? A little stumbling shudder that shakes timidly through the pad. For once, it's not telling you where to dig for treasure, or that you're taking damage, or that the emperor's fleet is attacking the hangar so you'd better scramble to the next cut-scene. Instead, it's telling you that you're running along holding hands with Yorda, and that she's struggling to keep up with you.
There are so many things that should be annoying about Ico, and yet none of them actually are. There are big things, like the fact that the game's essentially a prolonged escort mission - or at least when you describe it, that's what it sounds like. Then there are little things, such as platforming that tends to be a little scrappy and inelegant, and simplistic combat: a basic matter of hacking away at the dark shapes that fill the strange castle where you've been trapped, occasionally breaking off to drag Yorda out of a hole.
Why do these things work so well then? At the risk of sounding like a man with Stockholm Syndrome, I think they work because of the roughness. Ico wouldn't be better if you could backflip from one ledge to the next like Lara Croft or air-juggle baddies like Kratos.
It wouldn't be better because you wouldn't be a terrified little kid anymore, and that's what Ico's all about: it's about being brave and trying to look after someone else even though you're lost and spooked out by your frightening surroundings. It's about exploring an eerie castle not because you're looking for the fabled Gold Humidor of King Carlos the Tuberculotic, but because you and your otherworldly companion are hunting for the exit.
Juxtaposed with that is the dreamy emptiness of the setting itself, and it's here that the HD reworking really does its stuff. It's a shame that the frame rate's capped at 30 frames per second rather than 60, perhaps, but seeing the game's assets in 1080p resolution is a bit of a revelation.
Ico's aesthetic may have held up over the years, but if you return to the original PS2 game now, it's surprisingly blurry in all its prettiness. With the PS3 version, everything's still bloomy and mysterious, but the detailing has come to life. Suddenly, you can see individual shafts of light streaming through windows, you can get more of a sense of performance from the characters, you can even make out rough patches on the brickwork and leaves on the trees. The art may be unchanged, but the sharper presentation has brought this world of grass and stone and cloudy sky into focus. It's understated, but it's beautiful.
You know, a bit like Ico.
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