| The Good
Puzzles are intelligently done
Simple controls/excellent gameplay
Enemy AI is pretty good
| The Bad
Camera is not helpful at times
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.