June 8, 2012

Game Review: Ico

*People are actual size

So back in 2001 a game simply called Ico was released. It had kinda crappy box art and didn't garner tons of attention at first. I was a devout Nintendo fanboy and it was released on the PS2. As such... I never heard of it. Later this same game company made a game called Shadow of the Colossus. This was a hit and established that games could be art. It has even been picked up to be made into a movie now. Only then did the name Ico become a household name in the gaming community. 

Flashforward 11 years and now I own a PS3 and the Ico and Shadow of the Colossus HD collection. I had never played through either game and I was excited to see what all the fuss has been about for so long.

Well, on paper, this game sounds kinda boring. One big long escort mission. Small boy (Ico) is imprisoned in a castle cause he has horns and that's what they do to boys with horns. A tremor shakes the boy's cell and he escapes and is alone in a castle. Find the princess, get out of the castle. Occasionally be attacked by easily defeatable shadow monsters that try and re-kidnap said princess. Rinse, repeat. 

These guys are easier than they look. I beat them down with a wooden stick.
That is literally all there is to this game. Its a lonely game. Rarely is there any talking. You only meet one other person in your journey besides Yorda and the black shadows. Rarely is anything explained. The princess that tags along (Yorda) doesn't speak your language so when she talks, you get some random language characters. Its basically one big long dungeon puzzle. Push a block, climb a rope, swing on a rope, climb a ledge, etc. etc. 

Now I hate escort missions in games (and this game is just a huge escort mission), but somehow here it is thoroughly entertaining. And here is why:

You will climb on every last inch of this castle. 
See that? That is the whole game right there. Well, almost, since the whole thing isn't in the picture. Every last square inch. Every open space you see, every wall and doorway... See those tiny round things under the bridge to the right of the waterfall? You will go there too dragging Yorda every step of the way. This game is beautiful. The scale is incredible. One thing that has bothered me in modern games is the loss of scale. People seem too large and capable. When they do put things in that are large and give you a sense of scale, then it is usually a non-interactive rendering like backgrounds or buildings that you can't enter. In Assassin's Creed I can run across the rooftops of the entire city of Rome or Constantinople in 15 minutes or so. Ezio would scaled this entire castle in and out in a matter of minutes. In this game it can take 2 minutes to climb a single ladder. Inside is scaled to outside. It all exists and you are tiny. And... it.... is .... breathtaking.

Reference this picture and the size of the wall Ico is standing on with the one above and you get an idea for the size of the castle.
There are only two ways to lose. Fall from too high, or the princess gets captured and the world turns to stone. Either way, you will be going back to your last physical save point. There was no autosave feature, so if you don't save, you will repeat stuff you've done. The only way to save are on these stone couches. You sit down, Yorda sits next to you and you take a rest and save. I liked it. I forget what it is like in our modern gaming culture to have consequences for dying since dying just puts you back a few minutes or to the beginning of the recent firefight.

Take a break guys.
There is a bit of a downer to this game. The controls are really wonky. Trying to get Yorda to follow me or to turn and face the correct angle never seemed to do exactly what I intended. I had to fight Ico to climb. I'd touch a pole for him to climb and he'd treat it as a wall half the time. I'd jump to catch a bar, and Ico wouldn't catch it for no good reason. Wonky.

The place this game truly shines though is the weird bond between Yorda and Ico. They never really talk other than Ico calling out to Yorda to follow him. But they trust each other. Maybe its the hand holding, the the constant life saving, or just the fact that they are trying to escape together. You feel the bond somehow and the game capitalizes on it as its main story function.

This pretty much sums up the whole game to me.

Anyway. I'd recommend everyone everywhere to play through this game to get a sense for what building in games should look like and feel like. Even after 11 years this game (or at least the HD version) is still amazing and breathtaking in its scale.

8/10 for turdy control

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