Saturday, December 17, 2011

Forty Nine - Ico

Wow. Four Nine. My goal is as close to being finished as is possible. Was that a sentence? Sure, I'll say it is. Oh, look, an Ico review.

This was originally planned to be a review of Half-Life. I started playing Half-Life early this year, and fired it up again in November. However, I got stuck and how - I was doing okay with the shooting stages, but Half-Life's first-person platforming, tightrope walking, and air duct crawling had me dying all the time. I was still early in the game, I was at an impasse, and I don't think I could've finished it in 2011 without spending way too much time. So I decided to shelve it for a different game that A) I own, but have never beaten; B) is reasonably short, at under 10 hours for a full play-through; and C) is acclaimed and well-known enough to be worth crossing off my list. That game was Ico.

Ico is the first game from Team Ico (no kidding), a development group that's part of Sony Japan Studio and only has Ico and Shadow of the Colossus to its name. I played Ico's HD version, which was bundled with Shadow of the Colossus on a single blu-ray. The similarities between the two games are apparent - both feature a similar architecture aesthetic, with grandiose stone structures supported by iron, resembling the temples and stone idols of a number of pre-classical civilizations. The landscapes and buildings are both rich in detail and evoke a sense of tranquility and loneliness, or at least when you aren't being accosted by supernatural shadowy beings.

Seeing Ico's full storyline through, it appears that Shadow of the Colossus is its prequel (probably common knowledge to many gamers out there, but not to me). Anyhow, Ico is about a young boy named Ico, who had the misfortune of being born with horns coming out of his head, similar to a cow's. Ico's imprisoned in a coffin in a strange castle of sorts, but breaks out. He meets with a similarly imprisoned young woman named Yorda; Ico sets Yorda free and the two try to escape together. Yorda has the power to open magically-sealed gates and other things that Ico is helpless to act upon, while Ico is much more agile and stronger than Yorda, making him the go-to guy for running, jumping, climbing, and fighting. Ico's the player character, Yorda's the necessary supporting star. Hm, Ico might have been an inspiration for Enslaved: Odyssey to the West in a few small ways.

The major highlights to Ico's gameplay could be compared most easily to Prince of Persia. Ico has a large castle to navigate, and he does so by navigating its halls and walls by being unreasonably good at clinging and climbing (what game character ISN'T these days?). Ico needs Yorda to open those doors for him, so each segment of the game is typically pushing blocks and climbing walls to solve environmental puzzles (Prince of Persia with a little God of War / Zelda flavor mixed in) and helping the much less athletically-inclined Yorda along. This includes pulling her up ledges, helping her with jumps, and more often than not grabbing her hand and dragging her to the next puzzle area.

But there's fighting too, you say? Well, yes. The castle's denizens (a mysterious queen and her army of shadow people) aren't keen on Yorda and Ico escaping. The shadows will attack the duo at random, and if they manage to drag Yorda away from Ico then the Queen will cast a spell to give you a Game Over. The combat is one of the game's major weak points, with just a three-hit combo at Ico's disposal, and not even any dodging or guarding mechanics. The enemies don't bring much to the table either, and honestly I was killed more often by the game's camera angles than by letting Yorda being taken away.

Now, Ico can be killed by a high fall and not much else. That's all well and good, but it's extremely bad when you'll experience high falls from bad camera angles. Ico has a fixed camera that you can use the right stick to play with, but messing with the right stick while moving is a recipe for death. This camera is awful and is the only obvious reminder that this game was made way back in 2001.

But look, I'm not all hate. The game's setting is stunning - this castle isn't just a collection of haphazard rooms - it's completely seamless and interconnected to the point where I'm actually impressed at what I'm seeing when the game makes me do a little sensible backtracking. The HD visuals of the PS3 version are stunning and remove any blockiness present in the PS2 original version, and the atmosphere. Hoo boy. The game's use of light, shadow, and subtle sounds is truly impressive.

It's obvious to see where Shadow of the Colossus didn't fix what wasn't broke (atmosphere, movement, aesthetic) and improved what needed to be improved (combat, camera). I definitely would have liked this game better if I finished it last decade (instead of abandoning a play-through after less than an hour), but its cult following is well-deserved. It's not Shadow of the Colossus, or even a Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, but what the hell is? If I were some kind of imaginary video game professor I'd give Ico a B overall, but I'm sure it earned an A+ when it had zeitgeist on its side.

Games Beaten: 2011 Edition

1. Mario vs. Donkey Kong
2. Primal Rage
3. Torchlight Hat Trick
4. Ghost Trick
5. Flower
6. Batman: Arkham Asylum
7. Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus
8. Sly 2: Band of Thieves
9. Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves
10. Tales of Eternia
11. Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds
12. Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII
13. 999: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors
14. Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Revelation
15. Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime
16. Dragon Age: Origins
17. Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky
18. inFamous Evil Finish
20. inFamous 2 Good Finish
21. Big Bang Mini
22. Final Fight: Double Impact
23. Breath of Death VII: The Beginning
24. Cthulhu Saves the World
25. Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword
26. Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening
27. Disgaea Infinite
28. X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse
29. Jeanne d'Arc
30. Dragon Age II
31. Jade Empire
32. Cthulhu's Angels
33. DeathSpank: Orphans of Justice
34. Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten
35. Marvel: Ultimate Alliance
36. Trine
37. Prince of Persia '08
38. Final Fantasy IV: Anniversary Edition
39. Professor Layton and the Last Specter
40. inFamous: Festival of Blood
41. Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception
42. Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
43. Bastion
44. On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness - Episode 1
45. Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door
46. Portal 2
47. BioShock
48. Shadow of the Colossus
49. Ico


I only have one game left for my goal. Really, I ought to make it a good one. My choice is the one game I'm most embarrassed NEVER to have beaten. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Let's roll.

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