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Jeremy Jastrzab
08 Feb, 2006

Ico Review

PS2 Review | So what did you miss out on the first time?
Four years ago, a little game by the name of Ico was released on the PS2. It arrived to an avalanche of critical acclaim, but tanked at the till. However, it managed to gain something of a cult status among PS2 gamers that come close to considering themselves devoted or hardcore. Fast-forward to 2006 and Ico gets the second chance that a lot of similar games don’t get. Due to be released next to it’s younger (but very different) cousin Shadow of the Colossus (incidentally due for release on the same day as the Ico re-release), there had to be a good reason that the game from so long ago has been revived within this generation.

Ico is the story of, well, Ico. Unfortunately, poor Ico was born in dire circumstances. In his village, a terrible curse once passed through, meaning that any child born with a pair of horns was afflicted by this curse. In order to protect the village, Ico is taken to a distant castle by a number of occult-type fellows. In this castle, he’s locked inside a large tomb. Not content with the position he’s been placed in, Ico manages to break out of his confinement, only to find himself marooned in the colossal castle, and needs to find his way out. Along the way he meets the mysterious Yorda, a waifish girl who has been caged away who seems to have some sort of dark force trying to keep her from escaping. Together, Ico and Yorda look to escape the castle and their destinies.

The castle is pretty big...

The castle is pretty big...
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The story of Ico can be considered somewhat old-school in that a significant portion is told to you in the manual (which happens to be quite useful). In the game, you aren’t really told the story. It’s much more of a matter of finding things out for yourself and seeing how they pan out. Some gaming newbies may not be used to this style but for Ico, it works pretty well. Abandoning the story in this way lends the game a unique atmosphere, one that isn’t all that present in games these days.

A lot of games that were released four or five years ago have gameplay that just doesn’t quite hold up today. Amazingly, Ico manages to make a lot of games that were released in the recent holidays look redundant. Some parts and issues are a little bit patchy but overall, Ico is an exhibition of excellent game design. The control scheme is simple but it’s open to many an action. One issue that may have turned off gamers about this game is that you have to figure out a lot of the actions on your own (or a lot are actually in the manual) but in general, the game tells you very little. Experimenting reaps rewards.

Getting out of the castle is like one giant puzzle, and you'll have to use Ico and Yorda’s abilities in tandem to do so. Aside from sporting a nice set of horns, Ico is really just a young kid. However, you have to admit that he’s very sprightly. Ico can run, jump, hang off chains and ledges and all seemingly without breaking a sweat. Initially, the concept of the game leaves you in a room and you need to find your way out to the next area. To do this, each portion in the castle is like a mirco-puzzle in itself, and your actions range from simply following a ladder to pushing blocks or flipping switches. As simple as this sounds, it does get much more cerebrally challenging, especially in the later stages as you try and figure out how to open the gate to the castle.

A lot of the actions are easily and seamlessly performed. Whether Ico is going hand-over-hand across a horizontal bar or swinging on some hanging chains, all the actions come off as you control them. Most stuff-ups are your own fault for not being patient enough. Four years down, Ico’s movements feel a little bit loose but it isn’t something that will hinder the game too much. The easy-to-control actions and fluid movement just further underline the greatness of the game's design. There aren’t many occasions where backtracking is required, and only a few portions seem like they’re included to increase the overall game length. It’s amazing how you can spot something that leads to another clue and then another, and eventually to the next room. It really feels like it’s been blended in and it’s not apparent enough for you to know automatically what to do. If you don’t spot it, there's obviously a fair possibility that some unnecessary frustration will set in, but that’s part and parcel of the game.

You shall be punished with my Beating Stick of Death! Ahem.

You shall be punished with my Beating Stick of Death! Ahem.
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Playing as Ico can be tremendously satisfying, especially when you figure out something that you didn’t think was possible. However, for the most part of the game, you need to take care of Yorda as well. She can’t really take care of herself and is very limited as to where she can go. Effectively, you spend a lot of time hauling her semi-useless rear end around. By pressing the R1 button, you can call her to come to you. This can be used to get her to hold your hand and drag her along, or to encourage her to make some jumps or help get up a few walls. However, if you’re in an unreachable position for her, she’ll blatantly refuse to come to you. She isn’t completely useless, as she is necessary for you to open certain passageways, and the AI that controls her is excellent.

This isn’t all as easy as it sounds however. Yorda is wanted and needed in the castle and Ico isn’t free to just whisk her away. Throughout the game, strange, shadowy beings appear in large groups and attempt to snatch Yorda from your grasp and take her back into the portals that they appeared out of. However, your main means of protecting Yorda is to either resort to your horns or to the good ol’ beating stick. The thing that holds back some of the beating stick goodness is that the battle engine consists of a solitary swipe. And you need many swipes to take out the surprisingly intelligent enemies. They may look like black smog formations, but will happily gang up on you, fly over you, flank you and even avoid getting close to you if you’re looking at them. They knock you around and if they manage to capture Yorda and take back into their dimension, it’s game over. There are swords and better weapons as you go along but in general, the combat is the weakest portion of the game. And it can be annoying when you’d like to go exploring because if you wander too far, Yorda is likely to get captured.

If that’s the worst thing that can be said about the game however, then things can’t be too wrong. In the end, combat is somewhat secondary when compared to the rest of the game. The only other issue in terms of gameplay that can be held against Ico is that it is pretty short. We’re talking single digit hours, even if you’re having some troubles figuring out what to do or where to go. It can be argued that a good puzzle game is likely to keep you coming back for more but with Ico, a lot of the thrills aren’t there as you go through again. Regardless, the game is a rarity, in that it provides a unique sense of accomplishment and is an experience that is very different from most games out there.

Graphically, it’s amazing to see how well the game has held up over this period of time. It's a commendable achievement that Ico displays greater textures, architecture and lighting effects then a lot of other much more recent games. Not only is the game design great, but the castle is designed in such a way that you really feel like your isolated and alone. While never really extravagant, the castle really does look superbly believable. The physics in the game are very good as well, with some great little effects included (like Ico’s cape blowing in the wind or the residue left behind by the dark creatures). Still, there are reminders that this is a four-year-old game your playing, namely the 30 fps the game runs at and the lack of detail to be seen when you zoom in close. Regardless, it’s very good technically and artistically.

King of the swingers

King of the swingers
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Now this is something that’s a little bit difficult to comprehend. GTA cities are often described as “living and breathing”. However, after playing through ICO it shows that this description is a load of bulldust. The sound creates an almost perfect atmosphere. You don’t always hear something, but it’s the sound of echoing footsteps or rushing water in the distance that not only make a great setting but they really make the game feel like it should - that you’re isolated and trying to find your way out of this massive castle. The music is spot-on to the situations that you find yourself in, but the only thing that doesn’t quite sit is the lack of English voices but that’s just me I guess.

In reality, ICO is not the golden goose of PS2 games that it’s made out to be. However, it’s not a game that should have been shunned into obscurity and it simply runs rings around the majority of games released since. If you missed it the first time around, this is your opportunity to catch up on a game that is a wonderful experience, one that envokes feelings that other games can't match, and one that has considerably influenced some other major modern titles. And at a Platinum price point, there simply is no excuse.
The Score
Ico is a fine game that boasts both excellent design and atmosphere, and one of the few titles from this generation that have and are likely to stand the test of time.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

Related Content

ICO receives a 2006 re-release
05 Nov, 2005 For those who missed out last time, here’s your second chance.
Shadow of the Colossus producer speaks...
23 Aug, 2005 ...on the length, scale and replayability of pseudo-sequel to Ico.
Sony: There'll be no Ico sequel this year...
22 Jul, 2004 ...but 'watch this space'.
30 Comments
8 years ago
Just one more week till it arrives. Can't wait to finally have this game.
8 years ago
was the re-release done with the digipack casing, or the normal Amaray case?
8 years ago
Quote
"...and one of the few titles from this generation that have and are likely to stand the test of time"
When you say 'one of the few titles from this generation' are you just refering to 1st generation PS2 titles? Cause if you are I agree. Most early PS2 games are utterly forgettable. Except ICO of course

However if your saying that once the GCN , XBOX and PS2 are put to rest that we're only going to be left with a handful of 'timeless classics'. -then I think youre setting the entry level 'for greatness' a little too high.

This current generation has been responsible for a good number of true classics. My only complaint really is that few (if any) of them have come curtesy of Nintendo 1st party development icon_cry.gif
8 years ago
craptest wrote
Quote
"...and one of the few titles from this generation that have and are likely to stand the test of time"
This current generation has been responsible for a good number of true classics.
Really? Can you name some of them? Well, can you name a 'good number' of them? A lot of games are great this generation, but not many take it that extra step... or maybe I'm just yet to play them?
8 years ago
theory wrote
craptest wrote
Quote
"...and one of the few titles from this generation that have and are likely to stand the test of time"
This current generation has been responsible for a good number of true classics.
Really? Can you name some of them? Well, can you name a 'good number' of them? A lot of games are great this generation, but not many take it that extra step... or maybe I'm just yet to play them?
Metroid Prime. Gradius 5. Resident Evil 4. The Wind Waker. Garou: Mark of the Wolves. Soul Calibur 1. Shenmue. 3rd Strike. F-zero GX. Pikmin 2. Animal Crossing (technically last gen...). Jungle Beat. Knights of the Old Republic.

(I'd also add Mario Sunshine, but I don't feel like that argument again...
8 years ago
^ I agree with some of your choices, but I wasn't really trying to get people to list what they think are classics. My point was that craptest kinda made it seem like there were heaps of them. Maybe I'm too rigid in my ratings, but only the elite few ever get classic status in my eyes.

More to the point, it's too early to tell for most games. This would kinda crossover to the discussion we had during the '100 Best Games of All Time' survey. There should be at least a five year wait before allowing a game classic status.
8 years ago
theory wrote
^ I agree with some of your choices, but I wasn't really trying to get people to list what they think are classics. My point was that craptest kinda made it seem like there were heaps of them. Maybe I'm too rigid in my ratings, but only the elite few ever get classic status in my eyes.

More to the point, it's too early to tell for most games. This would kinda crossover to the discussion we had during the '100 Best Games of All Time' survey. There should be at least a five year wait before allowing a game classic status.
I agree, but it can never work like that, otherwise you have to refer to a four year old game as 'current'.

We can already see that some hit games from just a few years ago still hold up, like Metroid Prime, Halo 1 (IMO overrated to begin with, but still plays just as well now as it did then), Soul Calibur 1, Devil May Cry 1 and F-zero GX. Those games still look and play great. But try playing other early hits like GTA3 or Metal Gear Solid 2 now - they haven't held up well at all, in either graphics or gameplay. Both feel broken and clumsy to play, and look very dated.

What I'm saying is, some games are still standing when others have fallen from the 'classic' podium already this gen, and that's the first step to getting the 'all time' qualifier.
8 years ago
i don't know if i agree with you on GTA3 and MGS2, they still play and look good IMO, it's just they've been superceded by VC/SA and MGS3. i especially don't agree with you on DMC1, well, the PAL version anyway, compared to DMC3 (and even DMC2 to some extent), it's horrid to try play again. and then there's Halo 1. the less said about Halo 1, the better IMO.

i do get what you mean though, when a 4 year old game can still hold it's own in a genre, there is usually something very weird going on. maybe this is the definition of a "true classic", and really, there aren't many other games i (personally) would consider for this. RE4 has been mentioned, but i still think it's too new to be considered objectively, maybe that's just me (personal opinions on the game not withstanding).
8 years ago
David wrote
What I'm saying is, some games are still standing when others have fallen from the 'classic' podium already this gen, and that's the first step to getting the 'all time' qualifier.
icon_y1.gif

ObsoletE wrote
and then there's Halo 1. the less said about Halo 1, the better IMO.
icon_y1.gif
8 years ago
I personally regard the original Halo as a classic (I dread to think how many hours I whittled away in co-op mode), but then we're all different and heck, I can't be bothered arguing about it as we'll all just end up wheeling out a looooong list of pros and cons etc etc etc before finally agreeing (80 replies in to the thread) that 'certain people like some games and certain people don't.'

So let's say it now: certain people like some games and certain people don't.

icon_clown.gif
8 years ago
In ten years from now, people will still be talking about Halo. It was the game that put the Xbox on the map. How could that not be a classic in the making? Whether you actually liked the game or not is another story; do you think every gamer on the planet enjoyed Super Mario World or Ocarina of Time? That didn't stop them for becoming classics.

I guess the point I'm trying to make is that the impact the game makes is what defines it as a classic, not just how popular it happens to be.

I hope that made sense...
icon_razz.gif
8 years ago
Classics are funny thing to classify.

I think Halo 1 is a classic FPS and one of the first to tie in movie style immersion. To me it seemed like massive big budget movie.

Half Life 1 is also a classic FPS for different reasons.

I think Mario 64 is a true classic. The 2D SNES versions never intrigued me at all but the step up to 3D did it for me. Yet you will have many a person who loved the NES and SNES versions.

RE4 is hell of alot better than the original but people will refer to the original as a "classic". IMHO the original suxs. But I do like RE4 because the controls are better and well everything is better. Is it a "classic" well I'm not going to go that far but many will.

But is all very qualitative and subjective.

I'm looking forward to getting Ico (my wallet is still out on SoC). Next month is also the platinum version of God of War which most of the pundits believe its the best game to grace the PS2 console. Another title I would like to pick up as well (at least the price is right now).
8 years ago
realitybites wrote
I'm looking forward to getting Ico (my wallet is still out on SoC). Next month is also the platinum version of God of War which most of the pundits believe its the best game to grace the PS2 console. Another title I would like to pick up as well (at least the price is right now).
I find God of War to be pretty forgettable IMO. It's really damn good, but it just doesn't have that classic status.

Btw, can anyone answer Obs question about the casing for ICO? I do hope it has that nice digipack casing.
8 years ago
^Word has it that the casing will be normal
8 years ago
Yeah, I think that this re-release will see it in normal casing.
It's only $50, and apparently ICO was only sold with cardboard cover and postcards on release date? (I might be wrong, I saw that on some website)
8 years ago
Well that sucks. I was hoping for the cardboard casing and all, because that's just cool, but oh well.
8 years ago
*strokes proper ICO cover, cards and all*

icon_biggrin.gif
8 years ago
Lahiru:
that does make sense, and i suppose you're right, and in addition, i think it'll be considered a classic for the same reasons GoldenEye is considered a classic.

realitybites:
i totally disagree with this reasoning for Halo being a classic, for the very reason you tried to dispute with your next sentence. and even if you discount Half-Life, there were plenty of cinematic-style FPS games since HL's release, and prior to Halos, and if you're going by console FPS games, then Halo was no more cinematic than Red Faction, released 6 months earlier. (not disputing the quality of the games, merely the style.)

the only real change Halo was responsible for, was the limiting of weapons. rather than taking the "197 different weapons!!!" it made you strategise your weapon choice, something much more realistic, and inline with a war anyway, something with has become fairly commonplace in recent times.
8 years ago
So you believe Half life is the same as Halo?

They are two completely different styles of gameplay. Look what I meant if I can explain this any better is that playing Halo was like playing inside a movie. Everything seemed larger than life. It didn't mean other games don't have CG cut sequences or use in sequence graphics (ala Eternal Darkness) for conveying the story.

Didn't I say Half Life was a classic? Damn it reads that way.

I do agree though that Red Faction is a very forgettable FPS.
8 years ago
i think Half-Life was a more cinematic experience than Halo is, unless you compare Halo to a Star Trek episode, they have the same hallway afterall.

and i did read you saying that Half-Life is a classic, i just meant that even if you don't think HL was cinematic, there were other FPS game before Halo that were, like Red Faction. like Deus Ex. and probably several others in between.
8 years ago
Seeing that ICO is on the release list as platinum.....will it have that silver platinum case..........I hope not icon_sad.gif
8 years ago
Don't concern yourself people's!

Apparently it is a normal case...but no silver platinum edging!
8 years ago
Bump.

Picked this up yesterday at EB. Comes in normal plastic casing, but at least it's not crappy platinum.

Anyway, the game is absolutely stunning. Graphically it's blown me away, and how the sound is used is...just brilliant. Gameplay wise it's hellishly addictive, and the animations are the best I've ever seen. I think I'm like halfway through or something, but it just keeps getting better and better.
8 years ago
Yeah, I picked this up early yesterday for $48 @ EB.....Big W k-mart and target did not have it icon_sad.gif

Glad I have my copy...although I still haven't played it! lol
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| More
  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  16/02/2006 (Released)
Standard Retail Price:
  $49.5 AU
Publisher:
  Sony Computer Entertainment
Genre:
  Adventure
Year Made:
  2006

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