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Friday, November 11, 2011

ICO Review

Written 02/19/2010
Note: Screenshot and video courtesy of Google Images and Youtube respectively. Credit goes to the original capturers.
Have you ever heard of ICO? No? Don't worry, nobody else has either. Unfortunately though, you're missing out on one of the best games on the PS2...really.

Visuals and Presentation

Considering that ICO was released in late 2001 and the power of the PS2 had not yet been fully realized, the game is simply beautiful! The environments, while mostly indoors, make you feel as though you're taking a journey through a waking dream. The character and weapon models look as good as they can for the time frame. Textures look good as well, but can be a little repetitive. My only real complaint is that the outdoor environments can be pretty bright and thus hard on the eyes.
Visuals and Presentation Rating:4 Star

As far as sounds go, ICO simply doesn't have many. The ones that are there are high quality and add immensely to the overall feel of the game. The music is very subtle, but equally appropriate. The voice acting is all in Japanese, but fits everything nicely. In all, ICO provides limited but good sound.

Sound Rating:3 Star

ICO's gameplay consists of 80% puzzle solving, 15% platforming, and 5% combat. ICO is not for the person in your life who dislikes critical thinking and puzzle solving, as it will quickly and effectively frustrate the living daylights out of them. You will spend a lot of time looking around with the camera for the best possible method to solve a puzzle or clear a platforming sequence. Even then, such things often boil down to trial and error, and that's really half the fun. If all you had to worry about in these puzzles and platforming sequences was yourself, then the game would be entirely too easy. During all of these sequences you must bring your companion, Yorda, along with you to open magically sealed doors that Ico cannot open on his own. Unfortunately, she is nowhere near as agile as Ico, and alternate paths must be opened for her to progress.

After those paths are opened though, Ico must literally hold Yorda's hand and lead her throughout the game. You might think this would end up being a nuisance, but in reality it's quite refreshing. It's not often in gaming that you have the opportunity to touch your companion characters in a meaningful way like that outside of a cutscene. I quickly found myself growing attached to her by this frequent simple gesture.

On occasion, you will need to defend Yorda from encroaching shadowy beasts who will attempt to capture her and drag her through portals into their realm. These are the only times you will experience any combat in ICO. There are only three weapons that Ico can use: a stick, a sword, and a different sword that has magical lightning emitting from it. After obtaining a weapon, or if you feel confident enough to go unarmed, simply press the square button to swing; that's it. Typically, this would make me want to howl in agony, but there is so little combat in ICO that it's not really a problem. In all, the gameplay in ICO feels like a Zelda game with stripped down combat. If something can even resemble a Zelda game in the slightest, that's a huge plus in my book.

Gameplay Rating:4 Star
WARNING: Major Spoiler Alert! Also note that some of this section is purely conjecture and may be false.
In the traditional sense, ICO does not have very much of a story, but ICO is not a traditional game. If you have played Shadow of the Colossus, you will recall that at the very end of the game, the main character was possessed by an evil spirit. After having the spirit cast out of him, he is found as an infant with horns beginning to grow out of his head. In ICO, the main character is a boy no older than ten years old with, you guessed it, horns protruding out of his head. This makes me believe that Ico is the same person that you played as in Shadow of the Colossus.

Either way, at the beginning of the game, Ico is brought to a castle on a remote island to be sacrificed to an unknown being for simply having horns. After escaping his bonds, he sets out to find a way out of the castle to freedom. While exploring, he stumbles upon Yorda, who is also being held captive for some unknown reason. Needing all the help he can get, Ico frees her and discovers that she is the daughter to the queen of the very castle you're in.

It is here that conventional storytelling ends. The tale is no longer told with words, but by the silence and emptiness surrounding you. Like a piece of art, the interpretation of this is left to the observer, and there is no right or wrong way to see it. However you do interpret it though, this is a journey that absolutely must be experienced to understand and appreciate.

Story Rating:4.5 Star
Replay Value

Unfortunately, considering that ICO is purely linear game and takes 7 hours or less to complete on the first playthrough, replaying it a second time will take you even less time than that. There is also nothing new to discover by exploring areas more in depth because of that linear nature. So unless you enjoy the game enough to replay it the exact same way you did the first time, ICO's replay value is virtually nonexistent. Honestly though, a game as unique as this deserves a replay, but not everyone might agree.

Replay Value Rating:1 Star

Final Thoughts and Overall Score

It really is a tragedy that one of the brightest gems of the PS2 era has gone so largely unnoticed. Though I suppose that this was somewhat rectified with Shadow of the Colossus. If you have the opportunity to experience ICO, take that opportunity and run with it! There is no other game out there quite as unique and tranquil as this. Any self respecting gamer would be doing themselves a severe disservice by not experiencing it.

ICO Overall Score:4.5 Star

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