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ups: Beautiful, egaging, lingering.
downs: Some frustrating puzzles.

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ICO Review
review
game: ICO
five star
posted by: GF! Back Catalogue 10/2004 => 1995
publisher: SCEA
developer: SCEJ
genre:
platform:
keywords:
date posted: 09:10 AM Thu Nov 15th, 2001
last revision: 09:35 AM Thu Nov 10th, 2005



Click to read.by Jason Frank

There are some books and films that make you want to linger. You're less concerned with getting to the end than you are with soaking in all that you can. I love it when a filmmaker or an author can create a world so fascinating and multi-faceted that I don't want to leave. Video games, by their objective based nature, rarely elicit this kind of reaction in me. I'm usually too busy saving the world to stop and smell the virtual roses. Ico is one of the few games that I've played where it didn't matter all that much if I reached my objectives as long as I had enough time to take in my surroundings. Unfortunately, with a deadline looming over my head, I don't feel like I was really able to take the time needed to appreciate all the work that went into this world.

What is Ico? I've spent hours in this world and I'm still not sure that I can answer that question. I've completed the game and I really don't have a sense of closure, but that's alright with me. There is very little dialogue and even less in the way of exposition. The manual gives you a little in the way of background information, but I actually preferred knowing little. This is a game where the atmosphere and design are in the forefront. There is the thinnest thread of a story. It feels more like an afterthought than anything else. None of the characters speak a language that I'm familiar with, but I almost didn't want the subtitles. I didn't care what the characters were saying to one another. I was so caught up in the mood of the piece that the actual details felt irrelevant. The sound design also takes a minimal approach. This is another example of how less can indeed be more.

The game starts off with a little horned boy breaking out of a sarcophagus and attempting to work his way through a very interesting setting. After you travel through a few rooms, you find a girl in a cage that you must free and escort through the castle. Finding a way through the obstacles for both yourself and your new little friend is what really sets this game apart from many of the other platformers out there. It's pretty easy for you to get from point A to B, but finding a suitable path for the girl is another matter entirely. I have to admit that this girl is not the brightest light bulb on the strip. In fact, some of her actions can be so annoying and frustrating that you're tempted to just leave her behind. Unfortunately, the game just won't let you do that.

The puzzles are what set this game apart. They require thought and patience. A few of the puzzles seem a little more random than logical, but for the most part, you should be able to work your way through with careful attention to the details. Playing video games with complex puzzles always seems a little more productive that fighting games or first person shooters. There's a sense of accomplishment that comes when you work out how to lower a bridge or light a candle that just can't be equaled by memorizing attack combos. It feels like you're actually exercising you brain instead of numbing it. Even though I found some of the puzzles unreasonable, I enjoyed being in this world so much that I never really got frustrated when a puzzle took a little longer than I wanted.

Besides solving a series of puzzles that open more of the castle for you, you always have to protect the girl from a seemingly endless horde of shadowy spirits. They are very cool when you first encounter them, but ultimately it gets a little repetitive. Ico has two basic attacks, and it is just a matter of hitting the buttons quickly enough. I also would have liked a little more variety in the foes you encounter. They are all slight variations of the same thing. There could have been some really creative things done with this.

Ico is the most visually stunning game available on the PS2. There is a level of serenity playing this game that is not easily equalled. The only tension I felt when playing this game occurred when I remembered that my editor was waiting for a review. If your feeling the weight of the world bearing down on you and you're not limber enough for yoga, then Ico might offer some much needed therapy for the nerves.

Ico is a work of art. Video games as a whole still have a ways to go before they can be judged alongside film and literature, but Ico is a step in the right direction. The comparisons with Myst are inevitable, but unnecessary. These are two distinct games in terms of mood, design and story. The level of environmental interaction and the character development creates an entirely new experience than occurred on that best selling isle.

There are moments of frustration and repetition, but the experience was so immersive and pleasurable that I can't help but give this game the highest recommendation. There will be a lot of gamers who will get impatient with this game and label it slow or boring. Unfortunately, they've been raised on a diet of point scoring and objective reaching. If you're willing to take a little time to linger and savor, then this game will reward you with much more than a high score. Don't rent this game and rush through it. Buy it and linger for as long as you can.

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