Mystical and pretty, and with a bit of retro-cool.
This is the only PS2 game I'm interested in really. Well alright, Metal Gear Solid 2 has my attention but it's not the sort of thing I can be bothered with. Especially because I saw my friend playing it and near the end there was a 45-minute cutscene...
I like ICO because I'm still fanatical about old games, like Prince of Persia and Flashback, and their styles of playing. Maybe this is because my PC is pretty much incapable of playing any games released today (I don't actually own a PS2 but I have completed ICO), but at least this carries on the traditions of old. Although, unlike Prince Of Persia, it is gorgeous to look at. Even though graphics don't mean a thing these days, at least not in terms of the game having any lasting appeal, ICO has a particular look. It's sparse and drab, but it gives a hell of a lot of atmosphere because of it. And it also lets the lighting effects do their thing: inside the castle it's dark and gloomy, outside it's so bright it makes your eyes hurt. But that's great. The sense of scale too is a sight to behold. Standing on a bridge overlooking most of the castle, with about 3000 feet below to fall, is an experience in itself. As is plunging from the top of a windmill into a pool of some of the most brilliantly rendered water seen in a game.
The characters are beautiful too, especially in their animation. Ico really does run about and act like a 10yr old, albeit one with the combined fitness of 30 top class athletes. Yorda on the other hand would blow away in the wind and her daintiness is so great you just want to sit back and watch her do her own thing for half an hour.
Fighting is great fun. The shadow monsters are intelligent and almost funny to watch as they evade your blows; but there is still a real satisfaction when your strike hits home and you save Yorda and yourself from the jaws of death. Again, the graphics are top notch with the enemies. Even though they look like they've been stolen from Heart Of Darkness a little bit.
Finally, the showdown at the end is really exciting and tense to play and to watch. In fact, the whole game is a visual feast so I might as well shut up about the graphics. I don't actually remember any music in the game though, even though I'm sure there was some, but at least that shows it doesn't impose.
Great box covers too.
No-one else I know seems to think this, but there just wasn't enough to it for my liking. It's very linear from start to finish both in the gameplay and in the environments. The latter is what I found the hardest to cope with: other than the grey stone walls of the castle and the beautiful skies and grass outside, there is nothing to look at. Even though the appeal is in the simplicity, there needs to be some other environment. It gets better near the end when all of a sudden Ico finds himself somewhere else, but that's not enough. My favourite bit in the whole game was with the windmill, that's the only time there is any water. Considering water has rarely been done so beautifully you think they'd have used it just a little more often.
Also I don't think there is any real story in this game. The game does give reasons for the presence of both characters but the reasons aren't important. The story never moves on except for one or two instances, the rest is just a lot of...dare I say...jumping around?
Also, because of the lack of variety, it can almost get boring. I can't imagine playing for much longer than an hour as the puzzles never let up, and they're all very similar anyway - usually involving Yorda, some boxes and switches.
The Bottom Line
Tranquil, occasionally frustrating and beautiful. If they just add a bit more to look at and do, (but not too much), for the sequel it'll be perfect. Still worth buying anyway.