The vastly superior cover art for Europe and Japan.
“Come on, lady, we don’t have all day.” I started as a fairly impatient Ico, always running, never wanting to wait, snatching up Yorda’s hand at every moment and yanking her away from the cracks in the stone she was so fascinated with. We’re on a mission goshdarnit, and there’s no time to dilly-dally. I won’t have any of this sight-seeing nonsen- ooooohh… That is a rather nice vista, especially for the PS2… Okay, we’re done COME ON, YORDA!

Ico began as a game of me poking things just to see what they will do. I have been able to experience the joy of experimentation in a game that gives you no hints or directions, something I don’t often experience in newer games with their pop-up balloons and message boxes. I learned how to “call” when I first started the game, and promptly mashed R1 repeatedly, running around and yelling like a fool. After rescuing Yorda from the cage, I spent a good 20 minutes or so in that area, just testing the controls and seeing what Yorda could and couldn’t do.
She clearly couldn’t climb chains. She wouldn’t follow me unless I called her, and she wouldn’t do just about anything unless I told her to, or helped her. I found this out the hard way when I exited the area, ran all the way across the bridge to the far doors, and realized I needed her to open them… but she hadn’t followed me.
“Do I really need to babysit you, Yorda?!”
I ran all the way back to find that she had inexplicably climbed the tower to the top, apparently thinking she could reach me easier by jumping down from a high point.
Or perhaps she had decided to commit suicide, thinking I had abandoned her.
Either way, I had to go back inside, call her down, wait 5 minutes for her to reach the bottom, help her up two ledges, then lead her outside.
I never let her leave my side again.

I know it’s a strange thing to point out for a game like this, but the enemy AI in Ico is excellent. The shadow creatures dance around Ico and counterattack intelligently with human precision. I would go in for an attack, just to have one come from behind and grab Yorda. I’d fend that one off, then swivel around to attack the other two encroaching on me. Instead of blindly blundering forward, they hop back out of my reach. If I stand still and wait for them to come to me, they dance just out of reach, taunting me and looking for an opening. You have to develop a strategy against them, and it’s more complex than you might think if you don’t know what to expect. The seemingly complex AI is partly due to the game itself being fairly simple, but it’s nevertheless impressive, and disappointing that many games have not borrowed AI techniques from this game.

I couldn’t write a review of Ico 12 years after its release without discussing its influences. Ico has influenced many games in many ways, and is still influencing new releases today. Everything from Resident Evil 4 to BioShock Infinite has contained some aspect of Ico. In fact, I might even venture to say every game after Ico that has contained an escort mission in some form was influenced by Ico. While RE4 largely borrowed from the “stick close or get grabbed and taken away by the baddies” element, BioShock Infinite takes things deeper into its core story. The bird or the cage? In Ico, it’s certainly the bird (flying shadow dudes) or the cage Yorda came from. Even Dead Rising borrows elements for its escort missions, giving Frank West the ability to hold hands with people he’s rescuing and drag them along.

Ico isn’t a terribly difficult game. The puzzles are straightforward and don’t really increase in difficulty. Neither does the combat, which in fact gets easier as your weapons upgrade. The final boss was a pushover, and I finished the game in just over 6.5 hours. What did I think overall? Meh. Really impressed with the gameplay, but the story didn’t blow my mind. Would it have had I played it 12 years ago? Probably. I might need to play it again, as well, to understand it better, but the ending was fairly blah to me and didn’t leave me with much interest to play again. I’m glad that I’ve finally played it at least once, though, and I can now have an intelligent conversation with someone about it, and use it as a reference for design elements that influenced other games. That said, I just didn’t feel the power of the story that others have raved about. It didn’t move me in the way other games have. I’m sure people will defend Ico to the end of time as one of the greatest love stories in video games, etc etc, but it didn’t quite work for me. Not to say I didn’t enjoy the experience, or that I thought the game was bad. It’s a beautiful game, and the story is well-told in a minimalist fashion. But it’s not one that I’m itching to play again.

Now I need to go play Shadow of the Colossus again. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of that game. Ico was great as Team Ico’s first foray into their unique visual and play style, but I feel SotC is the superior game.



~ by The Retro Gamer on October 9, 2013.

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