ICO
Game Info
Platform(s)
Playstation 2
Publisher
SCEA
Developer
SCEA
Genre
Adventure
Official Website
ESRB Rating
Violence
Grade
The Good

• Awesome ambiance
• Puzzles are intelligently done
• Simple controls/excellent gameplay
• Enemy AI is pretty good

The Bad

• Camera is not helpful at times
• Too short

 
Grade
A-

ICO is a rarity in the gaming world: a game which is visually impressive that provides an excellent gaming experience unmarred by poor controls or weak gameplay. Ico is a young boy who has the poor fortune of being born with horns. The villagers take this as a bad omen and have him taken away to a fortress ruin to be locked away. Luckily, he is freed from his stone sarcophagus and proceeds to escape. He comes across Yorda, a spirit like girl who seems to be likewise imprisoned. Since Ico and Yorda don't speak the same language, he communicates with her by motioning to her and dragging her along by the hand. Their goal is to escape from the immense fortress. Along the way, though, they are sieged by dark spirits who try to drag Yorda back into their portals and return her to her cage.

The first thing that will impress you about ICO is the sheer ambiance of the game. ICO is so slopping over with it that the player is immediately transported into the game. From that point, a sense of wonder develops about the mysterious environment you must work through. Each room is huge. That is an understatement. Anyone with a fear of heights will feel vertigo when moving the camera around, especially in the outdoor areas.

All of the little things are done right. Ico kicks up dust as he runs across stone paths. If he swings his stick too close to Yorda, she jumps back in surprise. Birds fly in and out and react to the movement of Yorda and Ico. Probably the most impressive thing is the water effects. Never before have I seen water look as close to real water as in this game.

All of this graphical and environmental quality would be useless if it weren't for such a great control scheme. ICO's control is basic but effective. One button is for attacks, another for jumping, and another for activating switches. In combination, these commands allow Ico to do a number of things. The only hiccup in this scheme is the fact the the ability to move the camera is sometimes not all that effective. While it allows you a look around the environment, the control is not centered on Ico, but a certain point where the camera originates. This can leave certain areas unviewable until the camera angle changes.

While fighting off the dark spirits is essential to survival, the real challenge to the game is the puzzles that the gamer must solve to get to the next room. While some are simple and obvious (like pushing a block on or off a switch), others not only take time to figure out but take time to recognize that they ARE puzzles. There will be times where the player will run through a room and into the next, only to find a dead-end. Upon returning to the previous room, they'll see the true exit on a lower level, but must find a less-than-obvious means of getting to it. Items in the environment, like chandeliers and pots, are often essential parts of the puzzle.

The only thing I found disappointing about this game (outside of the weak camera control) was that it was too short. The average player can beat it in 6 to 10 hours and with no perks for beating it, there's no benefit in playing a second time. Since the game runs from room to room in a linear fashion, players will have a hard time justifying playing the game a second time, except to again experience the wonder that the initial playthrough created.

Usually a short game with no replay value would get a mediocre (low B or C) grade, but when a game like ICO comes around, you must play it. The overall experience and intelligence of this game far outweighs the shortness. Every serious gamer owes it to themselves to at least play this game once. Fans of puzzle-based platformers will eat this one up. ICO shows that at least someone in the gaming industry hasn't forgotten how to make a great game.

- - Kinderfeld

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