Wednesday, 13 March 2013


Post-Launch Review
Ico (PS3 HD rerelease)
Developer: Team Ico


Ico is a puzzle-adventure game where the titular character, a young boy with horns, is brought to an old castle and locked away because it's believed that his horns are a bad sign for the village. Ico escapes the prison and discovers a mysterious caged girl - Yorda - who speaks a language he does not understand. Together, Ico and Yorda explore the castle, hoping to find a way out before their dark pursuers can stop them.

Apologies for the lack of screenshots. Game apparently doesn't allow screenshots on PS3.

At Launch

Ico received average review scores of 90%. Critics were impressed with the graphics, sound, and puzzle design. Some critics felt that the game bordered on being repetitive but the short length prevented that downfall; others felt the game was too short. Many reviewers were impressed that they actually cared about the companion character, where in other games they tend to be either neutral or annoying.

Post Launch

The HD re-release (bundled with Shadow of the Colossus) updates the visuals to a full 1080p with improved textures, rendering, and effects. The frame rate is fixed at 30 frames per second and does not drop. Support was added for stereoscopic 3D and 7.1 surround sound. There are also a few bonus features, including some videos and dynamic dashboard themes. The story and gameplay received no changes or updates.
The updated version was praised for its improvements, bumping up average review scores to 92%.

The Good

World, Story, & End
Ico's story and worldbuilding are strong for the same reason as Demon's Souls (or so I've heard) - there are hints, but the game doesn't tell you everything. If you're paying attention, there are some interesting (and some rather creepy) things you can interpret. The one that really gave me pause is the... I don't know, jars? prisons? that Ico is put into at the start, and the role those prisons play toward the end of the game. It's just... creepy. Also, the game manages to do all this with almost no dialogue, which is even more impressive.
And the ending is one of those things where it's left open for interpretation as to exactly what happened and what will happen.

Holding Hands
Ico and Yorda speak different languages and can't really understand each other, so the way to guide her around is by holding her hand. I didn't realize until the end of the game, but this is actually a fairly brilliant design decision. Despite the lack of dialogue and understanding, it almost forces you to bond with Ico and Yorda. The ending would not have been nearly as emotional as it was if I hadn't subconsciously grown to care about the bond between the characters. Well played, developers.

Character Animation (mostly)
Ico and Yorda move fluidly and believably. The bit that impresses me the most is when Ico is running with Yorda - it looks excellent. And the enemies look weird in a good way - their movements are kind of skippy and blurry, reinforcing the supernatural appearance.
That said, Yorda's animations are a little stiff on occasion, most notably when climbing or descending ladders.

The Neutral

The entire game is pretty much an escort mission - drag Yorda around everywhere because she apparently can't do anything herself, including walking. Well okay, she can walk, but only if you call her to follow you. Surprisingly, it's not too bad. The main problem is that your finger will hurt from holding the trigger all the time.

The original version might have been great for its time, but the re-release isn't really. The graphics are significantly better than the original release, but don't look great for a PS3 game. Shadow of the Colossus did a better job with the update.

I don't feel strongly about the puzzles, one way or the other. A lot of critics thought they were imaginative and impressive; I'm not really feeling that. The only thing I can really say is that some of them were a little bit annoying because of the large environments and the occasional necessity of leaving Yorda by herself (making her vulnerable to the shadow creatures).

This clearly isn't a game where combat is a major focus... and you can tell during fights. Much of the time the enemies actually seem afraid of you and will do their best to avoid you... even if your weapon is only a stick. Perhaps this is a deliberate design choice that's supposed to communicate something; one of the final scenes seems to suggest that might actually be the case, but I'm not sure. Anyway, combat is kind of weird and easy.

The Bad

Save Screen Music
There's no music at all during gameplay, but for some reason, the save screen sounds like town music in an NES RPG. I don't understand why there's music here at all, and why it's such a jarring poor fit for the game. It's weird.

Ico, You Have Two Hands
For some reason, Ico cannot hold both a sword and a stick at the same time - once you find a sword, you have to drop it if you want to use a stick to light torches, even though your left hand is empty the entire time. This is particularly weird given that Ico has no trouble holding both a sword and a ladder rung in the same hand, but he can't hold a sword and a stick at the same time. It makes the game feel a little clunky.

Just like my complaint in my review of Shadow of the Colossus, there are controls that you won't find in either the instruction manual or the in-game button listing. The relevant one to this complaint is holding square to swing while hanging from a chain. Because the game refused to tell me that I could swing at all, I spent a good fifteen minutes trying to figure out a circuitous route to a ledge when all I had to do was swing from the chain hanging right in front of it.

The camera position is controlled by the game. You can swing it around temporarily, but it always snaps back to where it's supposed to be at the time. There are a couple of times where the camera will swing around while you're trying to land a tricky jump, which is exceptionally annoying. Also, the controls match the camera angle (not a fixed layout or Ico's perspective), so you might find that even though you haven't changed which buttons you're pushing, you might suddenly be going the wrong way when the camera moves. Not too bad most of the time, except when it's during a jump and it makes you fall to your death.

The Verdict

Recommendation: maybe.
I wasn't super impressed with the game until the end, which I thought was fantastic. Maybe it's because I'm playing the game almost 12 years after its original launch, and I've seen its techniques used in other games since then. I don't know. Anyway, I do think it's worth playing for the excellent ending, but the question is whether you want to spend five to seven hours at it just for the ending.

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