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Ico HD | Review |


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#1 panzerfaust

panzerfaust

Posted 04 October 2011 - 10:33 PM

Back in 2001 when Ico was first released there was scarcely anything quite like it. Perhaps, like many games of the past, it was over-praised for being something different where now it may seem aged – a feat of its time and little else. Now given a re-release and the HD treatment, Ico may just be another example of a developer aiming to cash in on nostalgia. What is strange, however, is that Ico in 2011 is grabbing players in the same way it did 10 years ago, players who are entering its castle chambers for the very first time.


Playing Ico is much like experiencing a dream. You have little idea of how everything has come about, or how you got to where you are, yet everything seems natural, and thus you comfortably proceed through your imagination. The game begins with little explanation, following a young boy named Ico as his captors escort him to a castle isolated upon a misty island. Although normal in every other respect, Ico possesses a feature unlike most boys his age – two horns that protrude from his head. It is because his horns that he is entombed in the basement of this abandoned fortress, and then by a great stroke of luck, is able to break free. Shortly after exploring past the remains of his broken stone tomb, Ico discovers a girl, Yorda, caged high above ground in the neighboring tower. He then takes it upon himself to free the girl, and so your adventure with Yorda begins.

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Yorda brings a very unique presence to the game as you guide and protect her throughout the journey.


Primarily a puzzle adventure, you’ll engage in the typical practice of moving crates, activating switches, lowering bridges, and platforming across gaps and ledges in order to create a useable path for Yorda as you both seek for a way to escape the island. The puzzle process is very well conceived, with only a few possible instances of being stumped for what may turn out to be rather straightforward, yet uncanny solutions. The main question of each area is how to get Yorda in a certain place, and end with you by her side. However, it soon becomes clear that the castle does not wish for Yorda to leave, as shadowy creatures emerge through its stone floors to steal her back from you as the game proceeds. Once again, explanation comes slowly through only a few custscenes dispersed throughout the entire playthrough, and as Ico and Yorda seem to share different languages, there is little dialogue to establish a relationship – yet one is certainly there, and it’s very real.

As told through the game’s brilliant yet simple animations, Yorda is seen as dainty and frail. She looks noticeably nervous as she watches Ico take on courageous feats of heights and leaps, and at the start of the game seems reluctant to trust you. Guiding her through use of the R1 button, you can call out to Yorda when a path is ready, reach out to catch her when she leaps a gap, pull her up to the ledge of a high wall, and most iconically – hold her hand.

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Yorda possess some sort of power that will allow you to push past magically sealed entrances.


Escorting A.I. companions has become a rather infamous affair in gaming. These segments are often considered troublesome, annoying, and bring the experience of many games to an archaic standstill. With this in mind, it’s very interesting to see how the entirety of Ico is built upon guiding a rather useless A.I. through puzzles, defending her from enemies in between, and yet somehow at the end of it all isn’t reflected upon negatively. In fact, it’s the fragile nature of Yorda, her uselessness, which makes her one of the most interesting elements to be used in a video game.

Your companion, along with the deliberate pace of the overall game and its puzzles comes together in a very moving way when placed within the game’s immaculately created atmosphere. Ico’s visuals more than stand the test of time – they continue to impress, and the immersive art direction only proves to benefit from the HD upgrade. The castle is incredibly lonely; with stone rooms of huge scale where only the crackling sound of torches and the patter of footsteps from Ico and his barefooted friend reverberate off the walls. You’ll witness excellent examples of level design as you explore the castle’s towering walls and courtyards, sometimes backtracking to areas in new and exciting ways. Stepping outside introduces an incredibly bright sunlight that’s both warm and inviting, and the camera pans unlike any other, reaching far across the screen, drifting over enchanting landscapes before you feel its pull back towards the task at hand. No life bars, meters, or text are to be seen.

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The castle is haunting, and at the same time beautiful.


Yorda’s pale figure emits a subtle white glow, and she is often seen patiently awaiting your return, her torn dress flapping in the wind while all that can be heard is the breeze and chirping of the birds – and it is at these moments that Ico is most powerful. Gently tugging this sheepish girl along by the hand amongst the vibrantly colored outdoors or empty castle towers has the potential to move players in ways that remains unique even a decade later. It involves a youthful attachment, one that can make you uncomfortable should your companion ever leave your view.

However, it’s not to say that this 4-6 hour escort mission isn’t tedious at times. The camera, though interesting, can give you awkward angles in combat, and jumping to your death as a result of unsure distances and having trouble lining up leaps to narrow chains is a very real, and sometimes frustrating occurrence. The shadowy creatures after Yorda also tend to overstay their welcome, coming in large waves that create a panicky process of running back and forth – at one end trying to wack at enemies who possess difficult to strike hitboxes and rise back up numerous times, and at the other end making sure to grab Yorda before she is sucked into a pool of darkness. Fortunately, the creatures typically only come when you’re not knee deep in puzzle solving.

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You must solve what's ahead in order to create manageable distances that Yorda can overcome.


Despite these annoyances, they bear little weight on what the player will take away from the ultimate experience. The game is very meticulous in its puzzles, and players always looking to swing their stick or constantly leap from ledge to ledge will find the experience resoundingly average, even painful. Perhaps in any other game, waiting for your companion to slowly climb a substantially lengthy ladder – step by step, ever so cautiously as Yorda does – would be an absolutely deplorable experience. And yet you’ll stand there, and wait, not in impatience but with understanding, awaiting Yorda, your bright beacon of hope – two lost youth looking for freedom.

Ico is a curious game to lend judgment to as its experience can certainly vary depending on what players choose to take from it. It’s eerie in its presentation, thoughtful in design, and profoundly vivid throughout. Though created with gaming elements we’re all too familiar with – ledges, ropes, levers, and 3 swing combos – Ico is able to grab at our hearts in a masterfully conceived way. At one point in the game, Yorda will periodically stumble to the ground as you try to run her along at your usual brisk pace. What is perhaps the greatest example of the effect this game has on its players is that some will, at this moment, slow their pace. Not because it is more efficient to do so, but because she is in pain – this fictional A.I. character with no usefulness about her is in pain, and it concerns you.

10/10
Love it or Hate it: Caution

Edited by panzerfaust, 04 July 2012 - 04:13 PM.

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#2 j-cart

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Posted 05 October 2011 - 12:17 AM

I think I threw up a bit in my mouth.
Spoiler


Keep on reviewing.

#3 SolidSnake86

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Posted 05 October 2011 - 08:41 AM

Sadly, Panzerfaust, your review has made me very interested in purchasing the game. I say sadly, because I didn't want to spend the extra cash nor know when I'll have the time - yet it sounds like a very intriguing game that I knew absolutely nothing about prior to reading your well written review.

Though I am curious, how is the difficulty level of the puzzles? I'm not so into games that have nerve-wracking puzzles. I didn't think the puzzles in God Of War 3 or the Riddlers 'puzzles' in Arkham Asylum were that bad...but I hate spending tons of time on one perplexing conundrum.


#4 panzerfaust

panzerfaust

Posted 05 October 2011 - 05:18 PM

Haha sorry to cause you trouble.

I would say the puzzles are more interesting than difficult. There are a few that may stump you simply because you didn't realize you could do something easy (there's bombs in the next room, or that you have the ability to rock back and forth on a chain for a bigger jump), though there are certainly pretty clever ones towards the end. In terms of difficulty I'd say I had a much easier time with Ico than say Portal, or even Portal 2 if you're familiar with those. I'm not very good at puzzles and it never hurts to look at a guide if you're at the point of frustration.

That being said, it's holiday season and the collection has and probably will be on sale a lot. In fact, I believe it's going for $25 at Best Buy right now? It's somewhere on the front page, for sure. And of course you'd be getting Shadow of the Colossus on the disc as well, which I'd say is another must-play, if not more-so.

It's a slow game but also only 5-6 hours long. If you have 30 min or an hour at night to get in a peaceful gaming session for yourself, I'd say go for it.

Edited by panzerfaust, 05 October 2011 - 06:18 PM.

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#5 TheBigmac

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Posted 05 October 2011 - 06:22 PM

You have a knack for this panzerfaust. A gift. Your review seems like a pro review from any of the magazines I subscribe to, and in some instances, better written. Keep them coming.

By the way, as you described the experience of navigating the game's scenarios, for some reason, I started hearing Sir David Attenborough's voice in my head, as if it was being narrated by him. Weird, yet bad ass.

#6 SolidSnake86

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Posted 05 October 2011 - 06:25 PM

Thanks for the reply! Much appreciated! You've certainly convinced me to try it out and, at $25 for two games, it certainly seems like Ico alone would be worth the money - though I have heard great things about Shadow of the Colossus.

A 5-6 hour game sounds perfect for my schedule nowadays as I typically only get a half-hour to play per day, if that. Looks like Best Buy will be getting my $25 this week!


#7 sonicsam

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Posted 05 October 2011 - 08:01 PM

SolidSnake86 - Buy it! It might be one of the best purchases you've made all year and I mean that entirely.

I agree with TheBigMac, this review was great in every aspect. I don't say that because panzerfaust gave it a 10/10 either.. I'm still playing through Ico for the first time, but SotC is seeing my 8th playthrough. :]

#8 WV Matsui

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Posted 05 October 2011 - 08:24 PM

Is Yorda hot?

#9 nativetongue88

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Posted 06 October 2011 - 01:10 AM

I pretty much disagree on your stance on the game, but that's just me. I've never been one to go backwards in time on my game playing (except for nes, genesis, and snes classics). I somehow didn't get to either Ico or Shadow when they came out and picked up the collection. Definitely not for me, due to the dated controls. I can understand why others did it.

Why I'm really responding though is to tell you that this is a great review. Like the poster above states, it's better than some I've come across in magazines. You should definitely start a blog or send samples to websites/magazines. I think you may have a future in it.
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#10 panzerfaust

panzerfaust

Posted 06 October 2011 - 02:00 AM

Thanks for the feedback guys, it means a lot.

It's been my first written review in a while and I wanted to go for a simpler style, and overall I like the flow of this better than my choppy material of the past. Hope to revise some my old stuff and continue to pump these out.

Glad this was helpful and thanks for the comments so far.

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#11 DT778

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Posted 07 October 2011 - 05:51 PM

Is anyone else experiencing this? Sometimes when I have the joystick pushed all the way ICO will just walk instead of run.

#12 spoderman

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Posted 08 October 2011 - 10:59 PM

ICO is fantastic and this version of it shows that it has aged quite well. The only thing that truly disappointed me was the length. 6 hours is too short for a game like this, at the end it leaves you wanting so much more of it, but for the 6 hours I played it I was amazed by it. The controls and Yorda's AI can get frustrating at times and I got stumped a few times with the puzzles.. but most of the puzzles are pretty seamless which is another thing I like about the game. There was only one instance in the game where the controls made solving a puzzle difficult. I would put ICO in my top 10 favorite puzzle oriented type games.

Is anyone else experiencing this? Sometimes when I have the joystick pushed all the way ICO will just walk instead of run.


Nope, I didn't have that problem.

#13 bigpimpin24

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Posted 19 January 2012 - 10:06 PM

Bumping this since I just played through it. Awesome review. I remember reading it around the time it was posted but I just now barely played the game. I was excited to try this game out since it is highly praised all over the place.

Personally, I did not enjoy it as much as everyone else seems to have. The only reason was because of the lack of dialogue and cinematic. The controls and Yorda AI were also annoying at times. The camera specifically, and trying to get Yorda to climb a ladder were the most annoying to me.

I will admit though, the puzzles in some sections were extremely creative and I haven't really played a game like this before. The fact that the whole game revolves around dragging around a useless AI, like you said, was pretty unique. While at times it was a little annoying, it was executed extremely well.

Overall it's a very solid game and not too bad considering the length of it. Going to get the Platinum on it, and then move on to Shadow of the Colossus.

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#14 panzerfaust

panzerfaust

Posted 19 January 2012 - 11:35 PM

Thank you for the feedback, and I'd agree with the points you made.

I felt a little mixed immediately after finishing it as well, and you may have some similar criticisms with Shadow of the Colossus. The horse doesn't always do what you want it to, the colossus platforming can be wonky and frustrating at times, the story is ambiguous and hard to nail down, etc... But these games do sit with you, and you may start to look at what you took away from the experience as a whole, while those small moment to moment frustrations fall to the wayside. People who praise these games don't call them perfect, they are indeed flawed. It's just when the credits start to roll, many can't help but feel overwhelmed by what they just experienced.

This is all subjective though, and it's why it was a scary game to review because it's easily divisive between certain gamers. I hope I was able to clarify that in the writing, and some day I'll try to expand or explain the "Love it or Hate it" rating at the bottom in more detail.

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#15 anotherpoorgamer

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Posted 08 June 2012 - 02:47 PM

Been playing Shadow of the Colossus on PS2. Maybe I should track down the Ico/Shadow double pack.