When speaking of narrative in video games, there's quite a bit that can be said about not saying a whole lot. These last few console generations have seen the idea of the "well-developed video game story" interpreted, reinterpreted, deconstructed, and re-imagined by game developers in every which way, resulting in everything from exposition-heavy epics rife with dialogue trees and dissertations to plot-less, action-packed productions utterly devoid of verbiage.
But there's a reason that the stories that drive Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, two of the most acclaimed entrants in the PlayStation 2's extensive oeuvre, have been held in such high esteem since their original releases. Their storylines are minimal, tightly-woven affairs that hardly harangue players with a plethora of plot, but what's there strikes a powerful balance of the fantastical and emotional that manages to resonate long after the credits roll. It's masterful storytelling, and re-experiencing both titles these years later just reaffirms that the mantra of "a good story, well told" most certainly has its place in the games industry.
Already very attractive games in their own rights, both Ico and Shadow of the Colossus look absolutely stunning re-rendered in high-definition. The smoothed-over textures add an extra sense of awe to Ico's forbidden castle, and the behemoth beasts that make up Shadow's sixteen boss battles are all the more majestic in 1080p. The character models look outstanding as well; Ico, Yorda, and their shadowy assailants are all striking in the first game, and hero Wander, steed Agro, and the aforementioned colossi look even better in the second. The games run very smoothly to boot, each remaining at a consistent 30 FPS throughout -- good news for those distraught over the unfortunate chugging that plagued Shadow of the Colossus on its original release.
And while I'm still not 100% sold on the idea of 3D gaming, playing the Collection in stereoscopic 3D on the office television has turned me into, if not a hesitant supporter, a grudging appreciator of what's possible with more than two dimensions. Both Ico and Shadow make excellent use of depth of field in their environments, and the subtle implementation of the 3D effects introduces something of a "diorama" effect, creating the illusion that you're peeking into each games' strange, saturated world. Striking down Shadow's towering titans is still one of the most rewarding and heart-rending experiences I've had in a video game, and there's no denying how incredibly cool it can look leaping off your screen.
The problems that were prominent in both Ico and Shadow's original releases still persist, though, and the former does show its age now and then. Ico's inky enemies still attempt to overwhelm the hero at every opportunity, making the early game in particular something of a frustrating affair, and Yorda, bless her soul, is still bound to aggravate gamers with her... free-spirited nature. Shadow suffers less from such annoyances, but the clunky camera still has a tough time keeping up with the colossi every now and then, which is especially unfortunate when it goes haywire in the midst of an intense battle. The controls are still something of a "love them or hate them" affair as well, and what may be realistic and weighty to some will no doubt feel clumsy to others.
But despite those issues, it's pretty tough to find fault with what's essentially the definitive collection of two very good games (it's worth noting that this Ico is based off the game's slightly beefier PAL iteration) at one very reasonable price. If you've yet to play either Ico or Shadow of the Colossus, then I can't recommend the Collection enough, and even if you've already spent a substantial amount of time with these two titles in their original incarnations, I'd still say that they're worth revisiting. They're meditative gaming experiences that look great, sound spectacular, and have a distinct way of tugging at your heartstrings. And even with all of the diversity and flair found in this HD-gen, there's nothing else out there quite like them.