PS2 REVIEW: ICO

Super SizeI have been waiting for this game since May of 2000 and I am not disappointed in it, one tiny little bit. Ico is one of the best games I've ever played. It's a bit of Tomb Raider, Prince of Persia and Out Of This World, all rolled into one, without ever feeling contrived. The game has everything going for it: Control, graphics and story. With those bases covered, what more do you need?

The game's story is purposely vague and leaves much open for interpretation, even right up the very end, past the credits yet (so make sure you don't walk away from the TV when you think the game is over). You play as Ico, a ten-year old boy, entombed in a castle because he was born with horns protuding from his head, and his village believes this to be a bad sign. They entomb all of their horn-headed progeny and the castle is filled with 'em. A stroke of luck, sets Ico free and from there, a strange vision leads him to an imprisoned girl, who possesses untold powers. Together they must break free of the castle and the Queen...and of course it's up to you to make sure they both get through it alive.

Super SizeThe "hook" of the game is that Ico can join hands with Yorda (the girl) and pull her along with him or he can call her and she'll come to him. This is the basis of many of the games puzzles. Ico must often pull himself up on a ledge and hold his hand out, so that Yorda can climb up as well. Throughout the game you'll locate areas where Ico must leave Yorda behind, but be quick; the longer you are away from here, the more likely the chance of the castles black shadow spectres showing up to drag her back to the depths of the castle. In many cases, Ico must jump over chasms, and then call for Yorda who will then leap and grab onto his hand, and then be pulled to safety.

This game is all about puzzle solving, broken up by bits of action when you must defend Yorda from the spectres. There are no mid-level boss battles, in fact the only boss battle takes place at the end of the game, and is a complete pushover for the most part. The fun, is in getting there. Every level is a masterpiece of gaming, both visually and mechanically. Although some puzzles were a little harder than others, I never experienced more than a few real "hard thinkers". Most of the time, the game shows you the points of interest when you enter a new area for the first time, so it's just a matter of figuring out how to actually get to them. Ico's laundry list of moves include jumping, pulling himself up onto ledges, climbing and swinging on chains, inching along ledges or pipes, either standing up or hanging and of course he has a few weapons at his disposal. Near the beginning of the game, Ico will arm himself with a board, which is the least powerful weapon against the various spectres, but it can be lit on fire, which increases it's punishment factor. He can also locate a sword, which really clears a room. If you are really on the ball (hint hint) you'll locate the super secret Mace, which really kicks. If Ico is unarmed and attacked, he can use his horns to defend himself, although I never had to do this once while playing.

Super SizeVisually, Ico is one of the PS2's best. The amount of textures displayed is incredible and the architectural design of the castle is beyond anything I've seen in a video game. I'll tell you how awesome this game looks. I kept calling my wife into the room to show her the "panoramic views" of the level, even though I know she was getting annoyed. I needed to share it with someone. It's awe-inspiring to look down hundreds of feet off of the ledge of a castle and recognize an area that you've already been to below. Now that's attention to detail. You have to see it to believe it. I've been in castles that didn't look this real. Once you get past how beautiful the world is, you'll be transfixed by the animation of Ico. He looks and moves like a real ten-year old boy. From the quick, almost awkward pace at which he moves, to his energetic jumping and climbing, to the impatient and frantic way he yanks on Yorda's arm to drag her in his direction...it's all eye candy and must be seen in action. Then you'll encounter the shadow creatures of which there are a variety. Some can fly and carry off Yorda to another area, some are huge and can knock you off your feet, some are like spiders and others are fast and wiry...but no matter what shape they take, they are truly creepy.

Originally we reported this game as having somewhere between 10-30 hours of gameplay and for the most part, that was greatly exaggerated, unless you are a very slow gamer. The game is fairly linear and although you can go anywhere, there is generally only one solution for each area. My time clock, kicked in at just around 7 hours. Play it through again, and you'd do it in under 4, I'm sure of it. The game was supposed to unravel Yorda's hieroglyphics the second time through so you could understand what she was saying, but that appears to have been left out. Too bad, as that would have been the only reason to play the game through again and without it, Ico's replay value is greatly diminished. Please note that in my final score, the Value factor refers to replay value and not overall value. Short or not, Ico would receive a 10 on value alone. I am just thankful I had the opportunity to play through the game once.

Super SizeAs I mentioned at the start of this review, Ico provided me with a great gaming experience, and I can say, it's one of my favorites; right up with there with the Metal Gear Solid's of the world. The essence of Ico is that it provides you with everything you need to make it through the game early on, and allows you to put that experience to the test without frustrating you or breaking the rules later on. Once comfortable with the controls and the moves, you'll be swinging, climbing and fighting your way through your own personal fantasy experience. I love this game and I think you will too. My only concern is the relatively short length and the almost zilch replay value. That is going to have to be your deciding factor whether to purchase Ico or not. For me it was an easy decision, as I know I will get an urge to play through this game again within the next couple of months. Bottom line: Although it borrows from other gaming experiences in certain places, you haven't ever played a game like Ico. Highly recommended!

System: PS2
Dev: Sony
Pub: Sony
Release: Sept 2001
Players: 1
Preview by Vuaghn
RATING (OUT OF 5)
OVERALL
4.5
GRAPHICS
5
CONTROL
5
MUSIC/FX
5
VALUE
2.5