Finally a really really good PS2 game
Like everyone else I fell hook, line and sinker for all the hype and marketing surrounding the PS2 launch. Since I didn't have my act together to pre-order a system I was stuck driving to Best Buy everyday to see if a new shipment came in. Finally I got my PS2 and went on a buying frenzy of games and accessories. Now I that I probably own fourteen or fifteen PS2 games I must say I have been slightly disappointed. That is up till now. ICO has got to be the sleeper hit of the year if not the decade. It was quietly developed by an internal development team at Sony Computer Entertainment and launched in North America with out any fanfare by Sony Computer Entertainment of America. I only bought this game because I wanted something to play while I waited for Metal Gear Solid 2 and Grand Theft Auto 3 to come out. Boy oh boy did I find a gem.
If you liked Prince of Persia you will love this game. Ico embodies the absolute pinnacle to date of the Adventure / Puzzle-Solving genre. The world is completely interactive. There is nothing in Ico's environment that you can not climb, hang, push, pull or jump off of. If you think you can do it you probably can. Every edge, every railing, every banister you can climb and hang off of even though it most likely does not progress the plot. The controls are fluid and elegant. The movement of Ico is incredibly realistic. It quite fun just to mess around seeing what the young lad is capable of.
If you liked Myst you will love Ico. I have yet to see a more meticulously detailed or more beautifully rendered 3D world than this game. It for the first time really showcases what the PS2 is capable of. The lighting effects are amazing. The camera angels are flawless. There are certain parts of the game where the shear scale are breathtaking and the heights dizzying.
A unique twist of the traditional rescue/escape theme is that Ico and Yorda, the young Princess also trapped in the castle, survival and success are intertwined. Neither one can communicate with each other, but understanding is immediately apparent. Yorda can not jump or climb as well as Ico. If they are to escape he will have to pull her up steep climbs, catch her jumping across large gaps and coach and encourage her to climb up or down ladders and stairs. Ico will have to constantly protect her from the demons that try to steal her away. Yorda however is the only one who knows the secrets of the castle and can open the magically locked doors. The relationship between the two is very tender and innocent.
My girlfriend, who could take or leave the whole video game thing, spent five hours on Sunday watching me play Ico and she loved every minute. She was able to suspend disbelief and immerse herself in this incredibly beautiful world SCEI created. We were both touched by the sad and very Japanese ending.
Ico also has great voice acting ( I think ). My main irritation with most video games is the terrible voice acting that goes into them. Silent Hill 2 is a decent game but the acting is do damn corny the experience is lost. The same is true with the Resident Evil series. Ico however is in Japanese with English subtitles. Though there are few spoken parts when there is acting it is quite well done. Another nice touch is that it is impossible to make any puzzles unsolvable. I hate games that allow you to destroy the only ladder you need to climb out of the pit or let you progress so far in the game without the necessary key, again Resident Evil comes to mind.
It was short and linear. Neither one was is a huge complaint. Given the scale of this game I probably just finished it too fast. There are many things I could still explore so there is some replayability. I understand why the game is so linear. The environment is so large it would be too easy to get lost and not progress the plot for hours and hours if you could just wonder around willy nilly.
The Bottom Line
The best PS2 game to date. Do not be fooled by it's seemingly timid packaging there is an amazing game underneath.