While there are easily a good hundred games out there that quite often tickle my proverbial fancy, I hardly come across a truly moving game. Have I come across one? Why, yes, I indeed have, thank you. To be honest, I was pretty excited about Ico since its release a while ago, but was too lazy/thrifty/stupid to actually purchase the game. So, I held out long enough ’til I saw the game for a modest fifteen dollars at Head Games. Picked it up, popped it in the PS2, and was drowned in the artistic sway of the game. The game’s got freakin’ presence, I tell you.
Yes, I did use the “artistic sway” to describe Ico. You could call me one of those new-age artisans who actually believes that video games can be an art form. But, after seeing graphics like these, you just might agree with me. You could say that looking at Ico in action is sort of like looking at an impressionistic painting or something—blurry, yet descriptive at the same time. As you lead Ico and the princess through all parts of the castle, you’ll notice little touches that the creators added. Like how they actually designed an entire castle, with realistic architecture that matches up wherever you go. You’ll be crossing a bridge and see a monumental statue way in the background, and later in the game you’ll be at that same monumental statue looking at that same bridge. It may not sound as impressive as it really is, but just take my word for it. And these features are cool of course, but the true aesthetic appeal of Ico is in the interaction between our hero, Ico, and the princess Yorda. Watching the horned little bastard grab the fragile princess by the hand, swinging his stick at shadow demons to protect her, and leading her to safety, it’s just there.
Oh, right, I forgot to mention anything about why Ico is horned and what the hell the shadow demons are doing chasing Yorda. Ico, our hero, as you may have guessed from the title of the game, is a freak, a bad omen to his village. On his twelfth birthday, he was banished to the evil queen’s castle because of his two horns protruding from his head. He’s put in a cell to await his death, some sort of sacrifice to the queen. However, something happens and Ico’s cell is broken open. And of course he wants to get the hell outta there. On his way out, ascending a long, winding staircase, he finds Yorda, a gentle and sort of melancholy princess, held in a cage at the top of the tower. He frees her, but is immediately attacked by a group of shadow demons, lost souls that were previously sacrificed to the queen. And hell no, those demons aren’t Ico’s only trouble, ’cause the whole castle is like one well-designed puzzle, almost like a video game or something!
Gameplay consists of Ico leading—well, more like working with—Yorda to escape the castle. As the masculine figure of the duo, you’ve got to protect her and figure out the secrets of the castle. Despite being the damsel in distress, Yorda can use her mystical powers to open certain doors. Combine this element of cooperation with clever puzzles and you’ve got quite a game. Of course, those damn shadow demons are going to harass you a little bit, and I’m sure you’ll hear from the infamous queen a few times, but that’s all expected, right? Controls are just right, allowing for Ico to sport a variety of maneuvers to escape from the giant castle before him. The sound effects used are also pretty unique. There’s no distracting music to, uh, be distracted by. Instead, music is replaced by the gentle sound of blowing winds, or Yorda panting while Ico tugs her along. Enchanting, to say the least. And God, even the voice acting is saved. Ico and Yorda speak different languages, leaving communication between the two limited. This doesn’t stop the story from progressing, and upon completion of the game you can go back and play through again, this time Yorda being understandable. The language barrier is just another twist thrown in to this pot of awesome gaming.
I think that’s enough swooning for now. Just believe me when I say Ico is moving. As long as one doesn’t begin play expecting an action game, I’m sure most fans of video games will be able to appreciate it. Try it out, you won’t think I’m that crazy.