Ico and Shadow of the Colossus- Reflections On A Gaming Life

Ico and Shadow of the Colossus were released 10 years ago and so I thought I'd do a retrospective on some of my favourite games of all time.

 I had a Nintendo 64 and PS1 and my interest in gaming was waning. It wasn't because the games coming out were bad but rather I was at university, discovering the joys of clubbing and just generally socialising. I worked part-time as a youth worker in a youth center in East London, one of the ones always in the papers because of the spate of regular stabbings, and we were creating gaming collages for our games room. It was through this that I saw a review of Ico and the art style of the game intrigued me.

The Ico cardboard cover is in the style of famed artist De Chirico and it was in part this art style that intrigued me. I saw a wrapped copy of Ico for sale at my local second hand video game shop and so I bought the game and a PS2 that same day. The packed cardboard box edition with postcards had me impressed and then I played the game and it blew me away. The first introduction to the character is full of mystery and very little is explained. Why is there a boy with horns? Why is he being taken to the temple? Why is he placed in the sarcophagus? What happened to the people of this land? The wonderful thing about this game is that very little is revealed to you, even when you finish the game. The world seemed rich and immersed in a history which I didn't know, no lore was presented in Ico but you could create your own narrative through events and the structures within the castle. A lot you had to interpret and guess and for someone who likes media that makes you think and question, that suited me just fine.

Playing the game I fell in love with the simple but powerful mechanic of not understanding my partner Yorda, but knowing that I had to help her escape the castle. The game itself is an escort mission but not annoying; you develop a protective bond with this ethereal girl who you can't communicate with. The bond of holding hands is powerful and later on when you are without her it feels terrible, not many escort missions can achieve that.

When Team Ico, the creators behind Ico released Shadow of the Colossus I bought it the day it came out and played it solidly for a week. At the beginning of SOTC we are given some narrative but events feel bigger than us and the world seems to have existed before our character comes into play, it seems like a lived in world yet so very little is told; Why is Mono dead? Who is Wander and what is his relationship to Mono? What is the desolate place and how did Wander know of the prophecy to cheat death and bring people back from the other side? Who are the Colossi and who is the voice guiding you to destroy such beautiful creatures?

There seems to be a connection that you felt if you worked hard enough you could understand, but with the economy of design and lack of voice over work and cut scenes explaining the story, you could create your own narrative based on what you saw and felt. There is no ludo-narrative dissonance; the world is free to explore and it is only by holding the sword aloft that you are directed where to go. Meeting the different colossi for the first time was such a thrill, very few games have matched the sheer awe of meeting these mysterious creatures for the first time. As you fulfil your dread destiny and kill these mighty beasts there is a feeling of remorse and regret. After each killings there is a futile interactivity as the black tendrils envelop you and leave their mark on your slowly mottling skin, a mark of your sin.

These games still resonates with me 10 years after the release of Team Ico's first game,  and this is in no small part due to their phenomenal soundtracks which were both created by Kou Ootani, who also sound tracked the wonderful Haibane Renmei (one of my favourite anime). The Ico OST is scarce but perfectly pitched for key events, like the original Prince of Persia game. SOTC has an emotive score full of sadness but also adventure, it suits the mood perfectly and both soundtracks are masterclasses on scoring for a game and how much a score can lend to an overall games impact.

I look forward to The Last Guardian and wait, like most of the world, with unquenchable excitement at what Fumito Ueda, the auteur of Team Ico has spend a whole console generation to produce.