Developed by Japan Studio and Team ICO, this game while it now holds a cult following did not meet sales expectations upon its original release, it would later go on to inspire the vast superior Shadow of the Colossus and one of my personal favourite games. I never had a chance to check this one out until recently and I was curious to see what I missed out on.
A young boy with horns is slowly dragged into a deserted castle high on the cliffs to be sacrificed to the Shadow Queen, for centuries children who grow horns have been locked away here and left to starve to death but luckily for Ico he manages to escape from his tomb and with the help of Yorda a Princess of light and they both work together to escape the castle and its labyrinth inspired walls.
The game is unusual for its lack of conventional video game design it has very little focus on combat and player deaths are few and far between, the main aspect is puzzle solving where you need to interact with the castles mechanical engineering, blow open doors and pull levers in order to adjust areas that Yorda is able to climb and to allow her to traverse along the same paths as the much braver Ico.
Yorda is able to use her light to open otherwise inaccessible doors and pathways so keeping her safe is a must, at set moments in the story shadow creatures will grab the Princess and drag her into the darkness, if this happens Ico will turn to stone and die instantly.
These creatures can be defeated by hitting them with a stick or even better a sword, another way is to simply grab Yordas hand and run to a nearby light blocked door, this will kill all shadows in the area but the likely hood of a door even being available is rare and this can only be done in select moments during the story.
Yorda moves very slowly throughout the game which can be frustrating at times, I spent the majority of my playthrough holding her hand so she was forced to run but this can only be done on ground and near the very end of the game due to a story progression it becomes near impossible to run with her as she will keep tripping over.
In essence the best way I can describe the gameplay is that it is almost like a giant Zelda Dungeon with much easier combat and some ways easier puzzle solutions but difficulty is not what the developers had in mind while creating this game.
This is more of an interactive story than it is a action-adventure game as some may call this, the game is pretty easy including its final boss fight, without a health bar or a heads up display dying seems to be less important as Ico doesnt seem to have much of a threat, in fact to my knowledge the shadows can cant hurt him and only really go for Yorda, he can be taken out with basic platforming mistakes but thats about it.
I think this works in the games favour as it makes it stand out and to be honest I think if they did focus more on this being more than an interactive story the game would have had much less of an impact because it wouldn’t hold a candle to other Action-Adventure games of the time.
Graphically the game is very impressive for an early PS2 title and it has a great use of darkness and basic design to help emphasise the eerie sense of being lost in the castle halls, the few outside meadow areas which are safe from the shadows are much more relaxing in design and its rendering of the castle from such a height for example from the top of cliffs to the waters below would have taken a lot of development work in the PS2’s early stages.
Ico’s soundtrack is very limited which works well with the basic game play level design and narrative while traversing the castle and its many yards you will be lucky to find any music which adds to the lonely and rather empty atmosphere of Ico and Yordas journey and any music we do get is basic so it doesn’t take away from the narrative that is being told, a genius decision from composer Michiru Oshima and is something I would like to see inspiring more games in the future.
Ico is a fantastic game and for what it was aiming to achieve it did a fantastic job of giving us an all around simple game with its story, gameplay and soundtrack but while this is outstanding in many ways and I do truly love the game its simplicity also leads to its biggest downfall.
The game is very short coming in at around 6 and a half hours for a first playthrough, there isnt even any collectibles or much replay value apart from maybe aiming faster completion times which may seem like nit picking for a game that is now 22 years old but we wouldn’t take kindly to a new PS5 game selling at full price and being this short with no side content so why should a PS2 game from 2001 get the exception bearing in mind people would have paid out the nose if they pre-ordered this back then.
Overall Ico is a game well worth playing, at the moment it is included as part of Playstations Classic catalogue and if you are subscribed to the service I recommend giving it a go
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