Ico takes place in a fantasy realm where a young boy, Ico, is imprisoned in a castle for being born with horns. He escapes only to come across a young girl, Yorda, with mystery powers, a language he can't understand, and shadow monsters on the prowl. The story has a few cutscenes, but most of the narrative is told through subtle interactions with the environment and Yorda. In some ways this was a stroke of genius, but it comes off as too mysterious for it’s own good.
This game is essentially like Zelda if instead of several dungeons, it focused on one larger keep. Solving puzzles in order to escape the labyrinth was a neat idea, but these range from simple to frustratingly complicated obstructions. They wouldn’t be so complex if the controls weren’t as hard as wrangling a flopping fish. Combat is also a complete where the shadows are relentless and death can occur if Yorda is captured. Oh but wait, bad camera angles and Yorda’s AI top the cake to making the gameplay go from bad to god-awful. The concept for a great game is here, but it’s just too cumbersome and uninteresting to play.
This was already a beautiful looking game and thanks to the HD upgrade that’s even truer now. The music is haunting and fits the bleak environment. The castle has a great design along with the puzzles though again, the mechanics hold these touches of brilliance back. Even after this HD version, the developers weren’t able to fix what was originally wrong with the game in the first place aka the gameplay. For a game to not be fun, or even playable beyond throwing a controller every ten minutes, well, that’s just not right.
Ico is an artistic game with a unique vision held back by its wonky mechanics. While it’s definitely a game to be experienced, it’s just not fun to play. Read about it, or watch a Let’s Play on YouTube. Just don’t buy it.
Ico was originally released for the PS2 on September 24, 2001 and was later re-released in HD for the PS3 on September 27, 2011.