Review: ICO (PlayStation 2)

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Review by William Kee

Much like Shadow of the Colossus, ICO is built with the simpliest of interests at hand, but thanks to the mastermind of Fumido Ueda, you are transported seemingly into a world much more beautiful than our own, and we are left to bask at the very wonders of everything around us.

Shadow of the Colossus still remains one of my top 5 videogames of all time, and if you look at it from a critical standpoint, there isn’t a lot of game to it. It’s arguably more of a work of art, and is one of the games most frequently tossed in the middle of the debate of whether of not video games can be categorized as an art form. I think like movies and music, video games still deliver an experience like no other, and for many, like the recent BioShock Infinite, you are still left dreaming about it and fantasizing about returning to that world long after you’ve completed the game. I think many games that leave you thinking about it the longer you are away from it shows the reach and impact that video games have had on the human psyche over the years.

And ICO is surely one of those games I have been thinking about for the past week. In fact…no matter how much I loved and despised certain aspects of the game, it still had me wanting to return back to that world and play it through to the end.

ICO is set as a spiritiual successor to 2005’s Shadow of the Colossus, and follows Ico, a young boy born with horns, who has been cast out from his village because he is believed to be a bad omen. He is then locked away in an abandoned fortress, where darkness continues to loom and an evil Queen lurks from within. It is here where Ico escapes, and discovers Yorda, the princess and daughter of the Queen, who is also locked away in the castle for the Queen to eventually use as a shell to regain her own life in a younger body.

Along with some of the more challenging puzzles, you will find yourself battling swarms of darkness enemies in an attempt to keep Yorda safe.

Along with some of the more challenging puzzles, you will find yourself battling swarms of darkness enemies in an attempt to keep Yorda safe.

The game follows a similar control scheme and feel to Shadow of the Colossus, as well as ambience. Ico must guide Yorda throughout the large castle in order to escape, while every door and passage you enter provides another new challenging puzzle for your characters. Fumido Ueda’s concept for Ico was through communication without words, and Ico and Yorda demonstrate that through holding hands, and although Ico can call out to Yorda to have her follow him, you will spend most of the game with one of your hands locked in hers. However, there is that feeling of resistance and hesitation from Yorda that shows a growth of trust between Ico and Yorda takes time to develop throughout the story, and also that Yorda is going against her mother’s (the Queen’s) demands.

That aspect of the game at many times proved to be quite an annoyance with me personally. I got very animated whenever I was trying to get Yorda to hurry up, because I’m an impatient bastard. I also felt that aspect of the game held up more like a “rag-doll simulator”, where as Ico is running and dragging Yorda about as if she were a stuffed toy, and her animation at times when being dragged around in different directions made my comments seem more clear.

As for the rest of the game, I really had no complaints. I was invested in the story from the start. It was a simple concept nonetheless, but for a 2001 title, this is truely impressive. And if you look at a lot of what was released around that time, this game is still held as a cult classic and one that is hard to find in most stores. It is seriously a beautifully, well-crafted game with a lot of heart put in to it. I was definitely able to jump in to the game after much experience mastering Shadow of the Colossus’ controls.

The protagonist Ico and his female companion, Yorda.

The protagonist Ico and his female companion, Yorda.

Although, I find myself comparing ICO to its successor, Shadow of the Colossus, which is not fair because ICO came first, and Shadow of the Colossus was definitely leaps and bounds above what they originally set out to achieve in ICO.

I still prefer the emotional response I got from Shadow of the Colossus, where it seemed to get everything right and still bring more to the table. In Shadow of the Colossus, you were defeating 16 colossal giants on land, air and sea, in hopes of bringing your dead love back to life, but where the game stood leaps and bounds above Ico in one aspect was in delivering an emotional connection with each of the bosses you kill. Through each cinematic post-boss cutscene, you were left to watch the energy drain out of each colossi as they fell to the ground in defeat, with sad, climactic music that made you feel for the enemies you just took time to kill. Never had I experienced such an emotional connection to what were supposed to be the enemies in a video game.

For a puzzle game, this was definitely one of the most challenging I’ve experienced in a long time. Maybe 80 percent of the puzzles I tried, I ended up having to search for help online. And upon searching, I did several face palms and felt like I total idiot for not seeing the obvious clues that were in front of me. I would’ve liked it if they provided for some puzzles, some form of a hint box, or taken the overworld voice of Dormin from SotC to provide at least a riddle that could help me solve some of the puzzles.

That, and making sure I kept Yorda by my side and not stolen away by the darkness enemies, were the only real challenges I faced in the game. My character never died, unless he accidentally threw himself off a cliff while trying to grab a hanging chain (which happens on several occasions). You start off with a wooden plank before eventually upgrading to a bad-ass sword. Some puzzles require extra items that can be located in the areas, including bombs, fire and square blocks for climbing and for opening plated doors.

An overview of the castle....looks pretty big

An overview of the castle….looks pretty big

The only real glitch I had in the game was right near the beginning, when I was trying to go through a door with Yorda, and the game froze several times. But once I got through and saved, I was okay. Save points were very clever though at times out of place. If you found a rather uncomfortable looking glowing stone couch, Ico and Yorda could sit and rest on it and save the game. A lot of the menus and even the start-up screen reminded me of Shadow of the Colossus, but even so, you have to remember that ICO came up with it first.

The lighting and the visual aspects of the game are truly stunning, and for a game that is spent primarily within the compounds of a large, dark castle, the graphics and attention to detail is magnificent. Even the attention to details in the background truly show how huge the world around these two young characters must be, including how far they have to travel to escape. Every room is different, no two rooms are the same, and no two puzzles are similar. Team ICO did a fabulous job of breathing life and originality into every fiber of this game’s being.

Ico and Yorda traversing along the border of the castle towards an east-end tower.

Ico and Yorda traversing along the border of the castle towards an east-end tower.

So in the end, I have to now rate this game. And as much as I want to lower my rating because of how much Yorda drove me insane throughout the story, I have to judge based on lots of other factors.

ICO was an enchanting and wonderous journey. A journey of growth and about trust between two people from different walks of life. It can be deemed as a love story, as journeying through the perilous castle to allow Yorda to be free from the grasp of her Queen mother provided Ico with a reason to keep pushing forward. However, with that all in mind, I still prefer to return to the world of Shadow of the Colossus every time. Maybe someday I can return to ICO without having to refer to Let’s Plays to get past difficult puzzles.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

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