ICO PS2 Review

ICO is a game that received massive attention from the gaming media as well as those who are truly passionate about games. Unfortunately titles like ICO aren’t welcomed by the more casual player (it doesn’t feature guns, breasts, vulgar language or exhausts), so the attention it received did not translate into massive sales. This is a tragedy for what is one of the PS2’s most well crafted and beautiful games.

In discrimination taken to a whole new level, the game begins with a young boy (the titular Ico), being led away and imprisoned in a castle because he happens to have a pair of horns sprouting from his head. The young lad is then placed inside a sarcophagus and he escapes from it, in a very clumsy manner, by knocking it over with his body weight. Ico soon comes into contact with Yorda, a ghost like and mysterious girl, and rescues her from her prison. The game is very light on the storytelling, but the plot does serve its purpose as the two characters make a bid to escape from the beautiful and haunting castle.

What should strike anyone that appreciates true beauty in their entertainment, is that from the very first cut-scene ICO is a very atmospheric and attractive game. Aurally you’ll hear the wind blow, birds in song and the surrounding ocean, whilst music is used very sparingly. Visually the overall look is very distinctive and lush greens and gorgeous sunlight are all the more strikingly visible due to its washed out look, whilst the castle environment is one of the greatest achievements in level design. It would be a crime to move on without mentioning the stunning character animations, with Ico and Yorda moving with the leaps and bounds of real children, making the thrill of adventure all the more better for it.

For the vast majority of the game you’ll be leading Yorda around by the hand, only parting when puzzles and combat force the two apart. When Yorda is left alone she can be called back to your side, and whilst her AI isn’t anything special and she sometimes annoyingly refuses to do things that she is physically able to do, she does have a decent enough level of intelligence in that head of hers.

Puzzle solving, jumping and climbing are definitely the three things that make up the bulk of the game. In no way did I find the puzzles sending my brain into near exhaustion and this statement is coming from someone who doesn’t have anywhere near the amount of logic skills to call himself the king of puzzle solving. Indeed, for many ICO will be plain and stress-free sailing, but when I did occasionally get stumped the beauty of the castle area and the breathtaking animations held my attention whilst I furthered my investigation into coming up with the solution.

There’s combat too which doesn’t happen overly often, is far from fancy and has seemingly been designed to suggest that Ico just isn’t much of a fighter and if not for those horns, he’d be an ordinary little lad. Initially you’ll be fighting with a plank of wood and keeping a vulnerable Yorda out of harms ways, as shadowy creatures attempt to bundle her away. Combat isn’t a strong point of the game, but like the story it serves its very basic purpose.

Whilst ICO’s problems are few, perhaps the game would have benefited from being a couple of hours longer and a few more complex puzzles wouldn‘t have gone amiss, although I can see myself returning to it again and again as this is a classic that has seemingly been made with the same sort of passion that ICO’s captive audience have for games.