The sleeper hit of the fall, ICO is the first really good puzzle game for the Playstation 2. Gaining some positive buzz at Electronic Entertainment Expo, the game quickly became one of my unexpected favorites at the show. Now that I finally have the finished version, I'm even more impressed.
ICO tells the story of a young boy, Ico, born with horns. When he comes of age, he (like all the other bull boys in town) is to be sacrificed at a castle. After a beautiful intro sequence and an earthquake that frees our hero, you are thrust into the roll of Ico. Solving a simple puzzle introduces you to a caged princess who after being released must be guided through the castle.
Sounds simple, right? It's not that easy though, as you'll quickly run into the Queen and her minions who try to take the girl back to the dark world. Fortunately you can acquire weapons to make the task of beating off the shadow creatures easier. Even though the weapons help, trying to solve a puzzle and having the girl attacked at the same time makes life very complicated at times.
Matching your priorities in complexity are the puzzles themselves. While not quite on the level of MYST, some of the puzzles are quite cunning. I don't want to reveal anything here, but be ready for some difficult situations.
One of the biggest things ICO has going for it is the incredible environmental graphics. The power of the Playstation 2 creates a world that you can almost feel and smell. The textures are realistic and add to the air of the crumbling castle. The environmental effects, especially the haze, give an emotion to the game that hasn't really been experienced on a console before. To perfect things, the animation of Ico and the princess is perfect and has a very innocent quality to it. It's really cool when Ico grabs the princess by the hand and runs with her (half dragging her). The graphics are top-notch.
On the sound side the game stays simple. There's good music and sound effects and other than that, nothing. However, what is there adds to the atmosphere and mood of the game. It's all done very effectively.
Like the pieces of the different puzzles in the game, ICO brings all the pieces of a good game together. If you haven't already done so, stop what you're doing and buy this game. It's that good.
ESBR Rating: E
Developer:Sony Computer Entertainment
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Suggested Retail Price: $49.99
Fun Factor: A+
Reviewer's Wild Card: A+