Why you should play Ico

I’ve recently spent some time playing some classic games that I missed out on. One of which is Ico, the HD re-release of which Sony made available a while back as a free game for PS plus members, packaged together with Shadow of the Colossus. So why should you play a 13 year old game that was originally released for the PS2 and was a commercial failure? Because it’s fucking brilliant, that’s why.

Anymore, I don’t finish all that many games. I usually give games a 1-2 hour trial, and if I’m not hooked, then I toss it. Maybe 25% of the games I try pass that test. Maybe 10% I play through to completion. I completed Ico in 3 sittings. And I could have easliy done it in one, if the fucking clock didn’t conspire against me by telling me that, against all probability, it was 1 in the morning again.

OK – So I liked the game. Why? That’s a difficult question to answer. The art is exceptional. The animation of the main characters especially so. But mostly I dug the design philosophy, which was “addition by subtraction.” There’s nothing extraneous to the game. But what’s there is done well. Usually very well. Small details related to the interaction of the two main characters is a prime example. It could have gone horribly wrong. Your chick (Yolinda) that you are rescuing doesn’t do a whole lot. You’re basically escorting her through the game’s puzzles. This could have really turned you off to Yolinda. I’ve played plenty of “escort” style games where I loathed the character that I was trying to save, because they were such a hinderance. Escorting Yolinda doesn’t feel like a hinderance. The gane designers have done a great job of creating an emotional attachment between the player and Yolinda. This is mostly done with the animation of the characters. For instance, in order to get her to follow you, you hold hands. Awww… That’s cute, isn’t it? Actually, it is cute. And effective. Another plus is that the game is short (7-10 hours.) At much more than that and I could see it losing it’s luster.

The puzzle designs I felt had the right degree of difficulty. There was only once I had to go to the net to figure something out, and that was basically because I did not understand the controls. If you play, go to the net first, and read up on the controls. Remember: games used to come in boxes that had instruction manuals. You don’t get much in the way of in game instruction with an old title like this. Also – Their controllers didn’t have a shit pot load of buttons like they do now, so buttons often had double duty in certain circumstances. Hint: if you don’t know how to do something, it’s probably circle.

The enemies are not terribly bright, but their animation is old school and cool. Plus, all you have to fight them off with is a fucking stick that you found. Which makes them much more of a challenge.

So one word of criticism. The controls can be a little hanky. How hanky? Let’s say that Mr Hanky had a hanky, and said hanky was a bit hanky on account of him being made of poo, and all, and whenever he used it, it would get, well, a little hanky. They can be that hanky. As hanky as Mr. Hanky’s hanky hanky. Mostly this is due to the camera angles. They will sometimes change unexpectedly on you. For instance, when you are trying to make a critical jump, and you will have to change the direction you are running in order to go in a straight line. But then you overcorrect, and plummit to your doom. Mostly, however, this was something that you just have to adapt to. It took me about half way through the game for me to stop fighting it. So my advice is to just deal, man. If you are expecting the same sort of camera control that you have in modern games, it will piss you off. If instead, you just view it as parts of the game’s challenge, you’ll enjoy yourself.

Overall, I rate this as a strong play. Plus it’s cheap as fuck, so what do you have to lose?