When I first played Ico on the Playstation Underground demo disc, I knew this game was going to be special. The character graphics, the lush backgrounds, the subdued yet powerful music, and the differing languages of the two major characters. Ico was certainly going to be special I told myself…and I was right. This is the sleeper hit of 2001 on the PS2 or any other system and is right in the upper echelon of great PS2 games.
Ico is about a young boy born with horns. As is customary in his tribe, he must be sacrificed or bad things will happen to his tribe. Ico is put into a sarcophagus-like object, left to die. A thunderstorm happens and knocks Ico’s prison on the ground and it breaks open. Ico is free, but he is in a castle he does not know. He goes into a large room with a spiral staircase with a girl named Yorda hanging in a cage a good distance above the ground. He frees her and they are off on a quest to leave the castle. But someone else has different plans. Will Ico and Yorda make it or not? It is all up to you.
This game is a sight to behold. The movement of the trees is lifelike. When Ico falls into a small pond, the ripple effects are amazing. The castle is very bright and the lighting effects used are spectacular. One particular place is where the sun burns bright on the horizon as you come to a clearing. Both Ico and Yorda, along with the shadow demons and the big boss, are well animated and colored. Yorda moves like a sheet in the wind across the levels and Ico’s overcoat flows back and forth as he runs and jumps. This was obviously a labor of love by Sony and the level of polish is wonderful.
The music is so quiet and subdued in this game that you hardly know it is there. The sound effects are very important in this game. You know when the shadows are coming because the evil sound comes up. Ico and Yorda do not understand each other because they do not speak the same language. They may not understand each other by voice, but they understand each other by feelings and gestures. This game is rather quiet for the majority of the time. This is pretty realistic considering you spend most of your time in a mostly uninhabited castle. I have heard the Japanese version of Ico has Yorda’s speech translated after you beat the game once. I really do not like that idea. I think the game stands on its own, but what do I know.
The game runs like a dream. Ico is in many ways a spiritual successor to the Delphine Software classics (watch out…going to the way back machine) Out of this World, Flashback and Fade to Black. Basically it is you, as Ico, trying to strategize how to get yourself and Princess Yorda out of a given scene and onto the next. There is a lot of backtracking like there were in the games above and I just got the sense I was playing the next generation iterations of those games I so loved many years ago. Another part of the “feel” is that you actually feel for these characters. I honestly have never felt so many emotions in a game before as I did in this one. This game makes you smile, makes you sympathetic and makes you downright cry. Never have I felt that range of emotions or allowed myself to be so close to a character I was playing. This is that “something special” that no other game has brought to the table other than those three games talked about above.
Sounds like a great game, huh? Well, there is one catch to this game. The game is not very long. Some of the puzzles are slightly difficult, but you will eventually get them. Ico is not all that difficult. You can beat this game in under 8 hours. It is unfortunate that the game is so short, but the bang for the buck is huge. The greatest part of the game is the final fight. The way you fight the boss is brilliant and very original. And the ending…well, I will not talk about the ending. You must experience it yourself. Be sure to go through the credits because there is something after them that will make you think about the whole game and what exactly happened.
Once you have figured out all the rooms, the replay value drops like a rock for this game. I have gone back and played the game again just to see everything again. Ico is kind of like a movie that you have to see again and again to see all the small things. This is what you miss by renting the game in my opinion. This game comes very highly recommended and is truly the sleeper hit of 2001 in my opinion.