Thursday, May 17, 2007


Adventure - Playstation 2
Memory Card - 10 saves
1 player

It's kind of funny how I played ICO after SotC. Usually I try to play games in the order they were developed, just to see how ideas were evolved. But I ended up owning (and opening) SotC before I did ICO. It's quite alright though, because both games are pretty well made, and different too.

Although the 3D visuals are amazing for the system, what struck me more is the feeling of cohesiveness and scope. I've come to realize that in most games, there are a bunch of levels or rooms all thrown together. Rarely do they all mesh together to form one complete environment. But ICO pulls it off extremely well. Each room flows naturally into the next, and each brick, pipe, accessory, etc. is meticulously placed. The designers had the layout planned to the last detail. And the vastness of the areas truly give ICO a sense of grandeur. The castle is huge, and it feels like it.

The core of the gameplay is very similar to Tomb Raider - basically a 3D puzzle platformer. There's a fluidity to the platforming, the animations, and in being able to grab onto ledges, swing on ropes, and shimmy across pipes. But instead of exploring the castle on your own, you have a partner. The female protagonist is Yorda, and part of the charm of the game is her limited abilities. For example, she cannot go up and down ropes. So the puzzle-solving is in figuring out how to get her to advance to the next part of the castle with you. You'll be flipping switches, making long jumps, moving blocks, throwing bombs, and extending your arm out for Yorda to grab. Just by having Yorda in the game, she herself becomes one of the tools to solving some of the puzzles. It's an interesting twist.

There's a little action in the game as well. During certain segments of the game, shadow creatures start appearing and try to drag Yorda into their black hole nest. Once that happens, it's an automatic game over. But you're able to fight them off, and latch onto Yorda's arm to pull her out of the hole before she becomes completely enveloped. You'll come across several different weapons to dispose of the shadow creatures, but even the weakest weapon is good enough to fend them off. It just takes a bit longer to do so.

The problem with ICO is that it never really becomes all that interesting. The action segments do not really change much. Sure you'll come across shadows that are bigger and stronger, but it does not change the monotony of whacking them over and over and over. Those parts are not difficult either. You get the feeling they're thrown in there just to add a little bit of tension. However, all they've added is tedium. The puzzle parts are also not particularly involving. 98% of the puzzles require no thought whatsoever. They pretty much point and limit you to a single path so you'll end up finding a switch that opens up your next point. I admit that a couple of the puzzles had me completely stumped (more because I thought too much about the puzzle rather than too little), but by far the puzzles are very light. Likewise, the platforming elements also lacked challenge. It only started to get more interesting at the very end, with some parts that required some precision and timing in your jumps. But you really didn't need much skill for the majority of the game.

In the end, I'm not really sure why ICO received such attention. Yeah, it looks and sounds great. And the game really ain't too bad. But the game ain't that great either, and that's the big sticking point. It might be unfair to compare it to Team ICO's next effort, but SotC resonated with me a lot more. Neither is worth replaying. But a run through SotC engaged my mind and reflexes more than ICO ever did. It's that lack of engagement that keeps ICO from greatness. The couch save points are a cute touch, though.