After enjoying both Ico and the atmospherically similar Shadow of the Colossus, I have to declare myself as a fan of director Fumito Ueda. I had not heard of Ico until I stumbled upon it when browsing the Eurogamer forums. I managed to obtain a copy through Amazon after being unable to find it anywhere in town. As for Shadow of the Colossus, I found positive mention of it in several places before grabbing a copy at a nearby Rhino Video Games.
From a cynical point of view, Ico is kind of like a beta version of Prince of Persia: Sands of Time. You and a princess are trying to escape a crumbling castle by navigating a series of climbing, hanging, jumping, and switch puzzles. The evil Queen does not want you to leave and so every now and then you must battle her minions by engaging in repetitive fighting. Sound familiar? The game is inferior to Sands of Time in so many ways, yet there is something special about it.
Ico came out a year or two before Sands of Time and was obviously a huge influence on the latter. Graphically the game is not nearly as detailed as Sands of Time, but it has an eerie “washed-out” appearance that gives it an empty, ghostly feel. The soundtrack is much more somber and sparse than Sands of Time which heightens the sense of loneliness. The Princess herself is a translucent white being who talks infrequently and only in a language that you cannot comprehend. Moreover, you have a strong in-game interaction with the Princess, grabbing her hand and pulling her along as you find ways around the obstacles in your path. All these things combine to give Ico an atmosphere that is unqiue. I’ll give this game 8/10.
Not knowing much about Shadow of the Colossus, I was pleasantly surprised when I was presented with an atmosphere that was almost identical to Ico, right down to the small, rectangular cape that the hero wears. In this game you travel a desolate land on horseback, seeking the lairs of sixteen colossi. These creatures range in size from smaller dog-like forms that are not too much bigger than yourself, to behemoths that tower scores of feet above you. You must defeat them all in order to have the power to save your ailing woman who lies comatose for most of the game.
Some of the moments in this game are truly stunning. I recall charging on horseback across sandy dunes, launching arrows at the enormous flying beast gliding overheard in the hazy desert air. With all the colossi your plan is generally two-fold: 1) find a way to get on the colossus, and 2) scale the colossus to a weak point where you can sink your blade to do major damage. This leads to some epic gameplay as you desperately hang on to the hairy back of a raging giant. Even the time leading up to these conflicts is engaging. You cross all sorts of terrain, using sunlight reflected off your sword to guide you, before you come to the deserted city, crumbling ruins, lonely lake, etc where you awaken the next colossus.
I almost returned this game when I became frustrated with one of the battles. I felt stuck and was having some thoughts similar to Tycho’s regarding the PS2’s ability to execute this game. I was actually convinced by a store clerk who implored me to finish the game and that the tie-in with Ico in the final cutscene was worth the ride. I’m glad I listened to him because Shadow of the Colossus is one of those unique games that carries an appeal that is so much richer than something like Tomb Raider or Halo. On this one I have to give Fumito Ueda a 9/10.