The game is undoubtedly driven by its smartly crafted aesthetic mood, though its production never compromises the gameplay it provides. At a moment when cheap visual fluff is all too often framed by derivative game mechanics, ICO stands sound and elegant. It's an aesthetically driven game done right.
Though it opens with a relatively heavy video sequence, ICO's flow is seldom intruded upon throughout its course. And those sequences that are present are both tastefully minimal and effectively directed. The narrative is a simple one, which is quite fitting: Ico, a young boy born with a set of bull horns, has recently come of age. According to village practice, this means he must be sacrificed. So he is ushered by horse and by skiff to a remote castle and locked into a standing stone tomb. But due to some seismic fluctuation, he manages to escape. Upon doing so, he notices an almost ethereal girl locked in a giant birdcage. He makes it his business to set her free. All of this is communicated by the game's opening sequence, which ends with Ico standing in the huge chamber, his scrawny form eclipsed by the titan structure. From that point on, you control Ico, helping him traverse the many hazards and obstacles found throughout the castle.
Early on, you rescue the girl shown in the opening sequence. Her name is Yorda, and a good number of the game's more striking elements are centered on her interactions with Ico. She isn't nearly as mobile as the diminutive hero, so you're going to spend lots of time "creating" paths for her to safely traverse where before there were none. Simply put, you'll lower platforms for her to hop onto, create bridges for her to cross, and narrow gaps enough for her to jump across (and land in your arms). Far from being tedious, these simple mechanics spotlight what is perhaps the game's most lovingly crafted element: its deep, emotive animations. When you're in close proximity to Yorda, you can take her by the hand and run with her. Doing so will initiate an animation routine that warmly captures the tug-and-pull dynamic of rough puppy love. When she jumps especially far distances, she'll scurry on the face of the wall before scrambling into your arms. And when you reach a save point (which take the form of wrought-iron couches), Ico and Yorda will slowly nod off on each other's shoulders, hand in hand. ICO will indeed pull your strings, in many ways.
The environments also look marvelous. Light is masterfully used throughout most sequences, either saturating the environs with its presence or accentuating the ambiance when darkness rules the moment. A soft haze permeates the game, keeping the mood soft yet heavy, even during its brightest moments. Further, a subtle bit of noise has been tastefully added, which does much to distance ICO from the sterile look found in many 3D games. The effect is somewhat reminiscent of the view from a surveillance camera. Soft, well-proportioned shadows contribute to the moody whole, doing much to weave the character models into the world. The characters themselves are relatively simple in terms of poly count, but their brilliant animations truly bring them to life. As they run through the expertly textured and masterfully constructed worlds, you'll be taken aback many times. The game's look is definitely the quality that leaves the strongest impression. Taking into account the game's lush ambient effects and a creeping, minimalist score, the whole of the production is inspired in ways that games seldom are.
Combat is similarly understated; you basically encounter one type of monster, which you can attack with one move. As such, the game will likely disappoint those craving sheer mechanical depth. But if you're playing ICO for a hearty twitch experience, you're missing the point entirely.
Update On Sep 07, 2010: Many things to say about this game, yet I'm having trouble with the words, please forgive if I seem to repeat myself.
You play as a devil horned boy, named Ico, and according to the local village this is a sign of evil and this means he must be sacrificed. So he is ushered by horse to a remote castle and locked into a stone tomb. Tomb falls over and ico is free! As you explore a bit you will come across Yorda, the princess, in a cage. Well our hero of the tale makes it his job to free her. She isn't nearly as mobile as the hero, so you're going to spend plenty of time lowering platforms, creating bridges, and helping her across narrow gaps. Far from being tedious, the simple mechanics spotlight what is perhaps the game's most exquisitly done element- its deep, emotive animations. If you're close to the princess, you can take her by the hand and run with her from danger or just to lead her to a wrought iron couch, that is a save point, to see the two fall asleep hand-in-hand on each other. When she jumps far distances, she'll scurry on the face of the wall before scrambling into your arms.
There is a simple combat system here, for that I am grateful, you get only one attack and few weapons to decide from. If your looking for a game that is combat oriented then this one is not for you. The point of this game really is the relationship between ico and yorda, its something that really tugs on your heart strings. You will be saving Yorda, alot, because she is grabbed alot. Really can't stress the alot part enough. However I believe this to be another key point between the hero and damsel, it gives you a sense of protectivness over her, because of this we can further relate to ico's feelings.
I love the game for its elegantly crafted aesthetic mood, its driven on this and it's well. Light is masterfully used throughout the game, either saturating the world with its presence or accentuating the ambiance when darkness rules.. A soft haze sets the mood quite well, soft yet heavy. To even further the experience of this game there is a subtle bit of noise added quite tastefully in the background. The game's look is definitely quality that leaves the strongest impression, taking into account the game's lush effects and a creeping, minimalist score, the while of the production is inspired in ways that games seldom are. A simple game, yet one that can be played over many times.