ICO Reader Review
Boy with horns? Rescue the princes?
The stuff of fairytales alone sureley - "Gimme a break..."
At least that's what I thought when the demo pack dropped through my letterbox - thanks Unlce Sony! (It's well worth registering your PS2 as they send you this kind of free stuff all the time, but that's another story).
I played the demo immediately and was overwhelmed by the beautiful nature of this game. Straight away the atmosphere oozes out of the screen as the opening sequence unfolds and control is passed over to the player.
I found the demo very enjoyable and rushed out to buy the game. On loading it up I realized that the start was going to be just like playing the demo through again... YAWN ...or was it? NO - the level had changed and played quite differently - this in itself I found quite refreshing.
So to the story - without going into too much detail you play the part of a young boy who was born with horns, a characteristic that is understandably frowned upon in your village. So the boy is banished and shipped off to a remote island and imprisoned in a huge castle (back to the fairytale again - I know, stick with it). You are released from your cell (some kind of egg affair) by an earthquake and left to explore/find an escape from the caste.
You quickly run into Yorda - a ghostly white princess, whom you quickly come to realize it utterly helpless and needs your help. And here begins your quest to not only escape yourself, but to take Yorda with you. The catch is that you can't understand a word she's saying - nor her yours...
The guiding is done largely by holding her hand and dragging her along behind your, or calling out to her from a distance. A clever game mechanic as it adds a second dimension to the usual push, pull open door, climb nature of the puzzles. Yorda sometimes needs help climbing certain distances with the aid of a box, or you may need to catch her arm as she jumps a wide gap to join you.
I know for sure that some people will find this tedious and frustrating as it dictates the pace of gameplay - which is somewhat slower than most other action/adventure games in comparison, this is intentional and I found it very refreshing. Its nice to not be under pressure all the time.
The tension comes in the form of the 'shadow demons' who appear from time to time to try and carry Yorda off to the world of the dark. You fight these tormented souls initially with a club/stick (also useful to light and use as a torch), later upgrading to swords and mace. In all honesty I think the game could have stood quite strongly without these distractions - although I understand there role in both the plot and gameplay.
It took me about 7 1/2 hours to complete the game, which is a little short, but the experience was well worth it. The graphics are stunning - some of the architecture is truly a sight to be seen. The puzzles are not too difficult to work out leading to a slightly linear experience, but not monotonously so.
The sound is also excellent - ramping up the atmosphere to the max. I had to turn down my speakers for some sections as the wind/weather ambience was making me grit my teeth for some of the outdoor sections.
Emotionally this game is strong also - by the end I felt a certain amount of responsibility for Yorda and over the course of the game had experienced frustration, admiration, helplessness, joy, sadness and relief - not many games can claim to have wrenched all that out of me.
To sum up - If you need your games packed with adrenaline fueled action then leave this well alone. If however you are ready for an amazing looking, sounding and playing game and fancy a welcome change of pace - go get Ico now, it wont disappoint you.
10 / 10