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ICO (PlayStation 2) artwork

ICO (PlayStation 2) review

"One of the key ingredients to a successful game, as most would say, is common a marketing technique. Whether it is a gimmick that a specific title uses, or a certain household name to boost sales, bad games tend to sell decently based on something that is completely driven away from the original concept of having fun. ICO is the complete opposite of what I am discussing here, and for such a good reason: it uses no gimmicks, it has no star-power, and it is not a flashy title. Playing ICO is like ..."

One of the key ingredients to a successful game, as most would say, is common a marketing technique. Whether it is a gimmick that a specific title uses, or a certain household name to boost sales, bad games tend to sell decently based on something that is completely driven away from the original concept of having fun. ICO is the complete opposite of what I am discussing here, and for such a good reason: it uses no gimmicks, it has no star-power, and it is not a flashy title. Playing ICO is like telling someone you love him or her by simply glaring into his or her eyes. A communication without words: something grand, yet melancholic. ICO is the best form of poetry ever represented in a video game to date, which is always something that is absolutely appreciated in every form of the word.

ICO revolves around a young boy by the same name that has been ousted from his village from having horns. Considered sacrilegious, or something of the sort, the boy is now an outcast, as he is taken to an abandon island, and left to die amongst the hollow castle walls. While exploring, Ico comes across a glowing young woman by the name of Yorda, whom is trapped inside of a cage hoisted high above the castle’s interior. Soon after this chance meeting, Ico soon realizes that Yorda is not your average pre-teen, and shadow demons have a special interest in the girl. With his trusty wooden stick, Ico must fend off the demons from Yorda’s tail, and attempt to escape the castle with Yorda in-hand.

The combat in ICO is quite simple: Ico has no health, and the only ways to lose are to plummet to your death, or allow the darkness to capture Yorda. If Yorda becomes locked up inside of the black pit, Ico can pull her out at the last moment. Not only does this make for some epic scenes that are actually played out rather than viewed, but it also allows the player to plan ahead of time, just in case something terrible were to happen. You will fight using a mere stick, and in the latter half of the game, a secondary option of a sword, for alternating situations. Very basic combat skills, which will prolong the battles on a very novice scale throughout the entire game. Then again, ICO is not the type of game that revolves itself around action.

In fact, ICO is the exact opposite. Not in the past ten years has a game come along that will make your brain freeze for a good moment or two. The game revolves around using your head to escape the environments that surround you, and may actually raise your IQ. Or lower it, if you’re stumped to the point of jamming your head through the television. The trick to outsmarting the level design itself is to keep a keen eye on the atmospheres that Ico roams around in. If you find a small detail, you will be forced to remember it, as long as the current solution does not involve it. While backtracking is aplenty in ICO, it is hardly visible that you are running around in circles, due to the different routes that are provided to the player in a linear fashion. If only more developers that enjoy backtracking actually got creative enough to build separate areas to give the player the illusion that they were reaching a new destination, rather than mind numbingly following the practiced path to the goal.

One of the things that can be wholly appreciate within ICO’s gameplay is the fact that the majority of the jumps in the game are not preset, meaning that you may jump awkwardly, and fall to a grim death. Sure, this isn’t the most chipper news you’ve heard in years, and it may become an annoyance towards the latter half of the game, but the challenge in the game is not to be so careless in the first place. Considering the fact that Ico has no other way to die besides allow the shadows to absorb Yorda into the darkness, this works as a wonderful bookmark to the pace of the game, as you must act fast in certain situations, while making sure that you are not performing your actions too recklessly.

No game is without it’s flaws, and despite my passion for ICO as a poetic experience, and as a step towards a better region of gaming, the game is quite redundant when it comes to the battle sequences. Best known for the sore thumbs of button mashing, ICO provides battles that are handfed to you, or ones that will merely pop up in the heat of figuring out what exactly you must do. While it is a steep step to climb in remembering your location and your objective that you think that you have pegged out as you must duke it out with a very (very) slim selection of shadow beasts before they snatch Yorda away. To put it simply, the fights are just not fun. There is no variety in battle, as there are three to five enemy types, all of which are virtually the same in combat, only taking extra hits compared to the rest. Very disappointing.

The atmosphere itself is the starring member of the cast, as the images that are shown on screen can actually manipulate the mind as being a fantasy land that may actually exist, considering nothing to too farfetched, and the landscapes are so surreal. The set-based camera is something that is usually hated amongst players, but with combining both a set-style camera angle with a free-range style, you can scope out the lush cliffs, or the corroding bricks that are crumbling by the second. The majority of the game takes place in one environment, and the character of that environment does not wear thin, not even towards the climatic end of the game. The sound boosts this, as the sound of birds chirping, or the sea crashes against the rocks below will echo throughout the area as a reminder that, sometimes, video games are more than they are. Every room will leave you longing for more, like a sweet kiss before a departure... or deciding when you will eat the last Twinkie in the box that you bought two weeks ago.

To be frank, you will be drawn into the scenery, and the characters, despite their lack of interaction. It is quite amazing how well we can adapt to characters that we know little about; both of whom cannot speak one another’s language. You will feel for the characters as the drama unfolds silently, and they haven’t even spoken to one another on a common basis! Sad. I’m not sure what is exactly worse, however; feeling sorry for characters that do not know anything about each other than the fact that they’re being chased, or the silence having more of a heartbreaking impact than an overdrawn speech at the climax of a game that has plagued the genre for the past five to ten years.

Playing ICO is like dancing with a beautiful person that you care for, yet will never be with, or listening to the one song that reminds you of the saddest moment of your life. Sure, it sounds depressing, but it is one of the few things that makes life simply beautiful. Is ICO beautiful? In every sense of the word. Is it a masterpiece? Absolutely. Is it for everyone? Definitely not, as the thought of thinking your way through something for up to an hour can throw some folks off from actually sitting back, scratching their heads, and coming up with the right idea. Patience is virtue, but sadly, not all of us have it.

Sound: 9.5
Lush sound effects can be heard coming from the objects in the environments themselves, including the static overtones that come from the bottomless dark holes that the endless supply of enemies pour from. All is heard from the camera angles perspective, sans the aforementioned item on the soundtrack. The only actual music that you will hear throughout the game is the amazing track on the memory card access screen, and it absolutely fits the tone of harsh in abandonment, yet curiously playful all the while. One of the few games that has a good soundtrack that is not overloaded with cheesy music to ruin the mood, which is a nice break from the cliché.

Graphics: 10
The thing regarding ICO’s graphics is that, while they are quite jerky by today’s standards, you can still appreciate them. After all, tearing down a forest to build a high-tech mall may be swell, and while it might be awe-inspiring to most, the majority will prefer whatever is beautiful. With that said, this is amongst the greatest atmospheres ever established by man. Not only will the views of the endless ocean take your breath and actually render you numb with awe, but the static look to the character design, specifically Yorda, is absolutely brilliant. This is one of the few things in life, much less gaming, than everyone can relate to in the same sense, rather than purely interpretation. Not the most up-to-date game, but easily the best in this department.

Gameplay: 9.5
Amongst the reasons that this is so genius is not only to do with the fact that the areas themselves are different, but rather the fact that the former path is inaccessible, such as your character falling from a steep ledge to another path. Not since the early days of the Legend of Zelda series has a title provided such an defining look at the adventure genre, as the origin of the genre was based around common sense puzzles, and geographic memory of exactly where you are. Not only does ICO do this so fashionably well, but it also does it better than any game in existence. Only minor problems exist with a mismatch in the jumping controls, although it could easily blend in as one of the positives to the game for some gamers. I suppose this can be taken with the classic “The glass is half-empty/full” comparison. Regardless, it knocks the score from being perfect, despite the excellent and unique handling of the two characters.

Enjoyment: 9.5
You must be ready for an arm wrestling match between your mind and the game’s obstacles before tackling this one head-on, considering that the game will likely break younger players at the very thought of such puzzles. As stated previously, the solutions to the puzzles may very well rest right in front of your eyes, as you scream in frustration. This is definitely not a title for everyone, as it is completely different by today’s gaming standards on what the Adventure genre should be, but older, wiser gamers from the past will realize the brilliance, and the effort that was taken to make this game a masterpiece to be cherished throughout the years. Quite bluntly, a surprising staple in gaming culture.

Overall: 9.5 (not an average)
From the moment that you find Yorda in the cage to arguably one of the finest builds towards a climax in any game to date, ICO will leave you extremely pleased with the entire production as a whole. The gameplay is completely different than nearly every single title on the market as of right now, and while the action sequences are lackluster in comparison to the throwback adventure elements, they can be avoided on the scale that weighs how incredible the game is for the five hours that it takes to complete the game. Just like a great film will leave you breathless to the very end, which a fist gripping your heart until the final sigh of relief after a strong current of emotions, ICO will hold you in, and never let go... until it wants to, anyway. At the pinnacle of gaming, all games will have certain aspects that ICO possesses, but we may never see them all packaged into one title again. Bravo.

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Community review by zoop (February 05, 2004)

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