Getting tired of the same old recycled
storylines, graphics, characters, and gameplay? Ever get the feeling like
everything has been done before and things just get churned out according to some
obscure marketing professional’s formula? Well, fear not, console gamers, Sony
has released a game upon the PS2 console that has taken the "road not
taken" – and yes, "that has made all the difference."
Robert Frost references aside, Ico is veritably a
poetic addition to the console gaming world. An adventure title at heart, Ico
tells the story of a misfortunate young boy who has suffers from a stigma that
damns him: a pair of horns. These horns condemn him to be
sacrificed for "the good of his village," and the opening scenes show
the journey made by Ico and the escorts meant to lead him to his doom. By some chance,
prison cell collapses, and he finds himself free, but seemingly alone in the midst of this
"temple". In just a short time, you will begin to explore your prison
and meet your wraith-like companion, a princess, trapped like a bird cruelly
inside a steel cage.
So begins the adventure of Ico. With nothing more
than a stick in one hand and the hand of the mysterious beauty in the other, you
must become the savior who fends off the dark spirits and ultimately defeats the
evil which not only seeks to destroy you and your companion, but also the world.
The focus of gameplay is not on combat, but rather puzzle solving and plot
development. Many times you will have to help coax or physically assist your
delicate companion along the way, such as helping her up large obstacles after
you have hopped up first. You can also climb walls, chains, and use various
platforms to proceed. Battle, when it does occur, is one of two simple button
attacks – which is either good or bad depending on what you’re looking for in a
title. The only thing that will change about your attacks is the acquisition of
swords through puzzle/quest solving. Just remember, this isn’t an action title,
nor should you expect it to be.
The real highlight of Ico is the imaginative and
artistic way the graphics were handled. The sheen of the majestic black horses
shines as one of the first examples of just how good the graphics are in Ico,
and from there you begin to notice the strange aura that seems to accompany the
game. The settings are both very open and very detailed at the same time, the
dank and lonely prison recreated with an artist’s touch. The thing I really
noticed was the exceptional amount of detail that went into Ico’s movements.
When doing just about anything, his figure is extremely animated and detailed. A
prime example is watching him shimmy up a chain, his clothing flapping and his
legs flailing as he ascends. Another interesting effect is a strange brightness
which emanates from your enemy’s glowing "eyes." Because so much of
the background has a lovely and effective matte effect, these bright pinpoints
of light stand out almost 3-dimensionally. At times, there are contrasts and
details that feel as if the developers were trying to work optical illusions
into the visuals.
Sometimes a little means a lot – and this is
certainly the case in the audio department of Ico. Sounds are subtle but meaningful,
often giving you clues or indications of the situations you are in, or about to
be in. The language, much like one of my other recent favorites, Klonoa 2, is
completely invented and translated for you as you go along.
And now, a word of warning: Ico is rather short. Most
gamers will complete this title in less than 10 hours, unless you perhaps get
stuck by some puzzle which evades your logic and you absolutely refuse to peek
at the strategy guide. Seems to be the case with many otherwise higher
ranking games lately; wonderfully created, but sometimes disappointingly short.
There’s really not any variations for replay – so people who don’t care to buy
such short-lived pleasures may want to rent the game at least for the
In the end, I enjoyed Ico a great deal. It seemed
to disregard the conventional structure of many modern games and take it’s own
unique form. From the simple way Ico gently calls the princess to take his hand
and help her, to the atypical visual work which forces you to look twice at what
you’re playing – Ico can charm even the most un-"adventure"-ous
Adventure genre fans with a taste for eye-candy will adore ICO. There is
battle included in the game, but it’s almost non-existent, and barely more than
just a simple swinging motion that doesn’t take more than button pressing to
master. The game runs smoothly and without a lot of load times despite the truly
impressive graphics. May be a little slow for many short-attention span gamers
and maybe a bit short for people who hunger for a more lengthy gaming
Wow. It’s definitely something to be experienced – not just seen. The
shadings and visuals are almost ethereal. While many shades of grey and muted
tones are used,
the game’s appearance doesn’t drag into the monotone. It’s hard to explain, but
the ICO team created an atmosphere, not just a game world – it’s almost as if
the graphics were rendered as art, not just as game settings.
There’s a strange lack of sound in ICO, but when you do hear something it is
done well. It sort of goes along with the graphics, it’s almost as if the
placement of the music you do here was done under a more artistic influence than
just as a fill-in for background sound.
While battle does exist in the game, it is reduced to simple button pressing
– the focus is more on puzzles and plot development. The game’s difficulty is
also of the adventure nature, it’s only as hard as that puzzle solution that’s
sometimes evading you right under your nose.
Historically, adventure gaming has not found a welcome home in the console
world. ICO breaks that streak – offering not only a real adventure title for
fans of the genre, but also one that has done some pretty out-of-the-ordinary
things with the game’s environment. It’s almost as if the game is saying;
"That’s it, I’m not going to conform like the rest of them." ICO dared
to break out of the mold of a typical console title, and in doing so has really
raised the bar in the artistic aspects of game development.
ICO is an "art-house" game in a world of Hollywood-esqe world of
action flicks. You get the distinct feeling this game was meant to be savored,
not devoured; contemplated, not just consumed. A rather short game, the title
will nevertheless leave a lasting impression on you with its rather avant-garde
approach. It will most likely be a winning choice for the adventure gamer
looking for something new and different in an elusive genre.