"Video game" is a medium cursed by its own name. In the first 40 years, what critical achievements have gathered in its top 100 list? Blockbuster action titles (Half-Life), puzzles (Portal), toys (Mario) and tournaments (StarCraft). I love good entertainment. Good entertainment is precious. But in its first 40 years, the world of cinema had already produced Nosferatu, Metropolis, and Grand Illusion. Notice a peculiar trend: they all focus on the human condition.
Imagine, for a moment, if 99.99% of all movies and books focused on entertainment alone. Imagine if the likes of "Shawshank Redemption" were never filmed and "Catcher in the Rye" never written because the public thought they "weren't fun." What a travesty that would've been. Yet this is precisely where the gaming medium has been for the past four decades and God forbid if a game should be anything other than a toy.
Now look at Ico. Like Shadow of the Colossus, it has plenty of engaging gameplay, fantastic scenery, and a haunting atmosphere, although unlike "Shadow," it places focus on the human condition. This is a taboo in games because gameplay must always come first -- a juvenile concept preached by those that see the word "game" in "gameplay" and think that the two share the same meaning. Ico takes this idea and proceeds to screw it sideways.
Here is a story about adults that want to sacrifice children to save themselves and about children who are willing to sacrifice themselves to save each other. Shadow of the Colossus is also about sacrifice, but it fails where Ico shines when it overlooks a crucial step. It neglects to establish a thriving connection between you and the one you are trying to save. When you labor to exterminate sixteen magnificent giants, your mind will be on how entertaining it is. Yes, "Shadow of the Colossus" is moving to be sure, but with Ico included in this HD Remastered package, it is as if somebody bundled your favorite Disney film with "Pan's Labyrinth."
Before I go on: No, I do not think that Ico is "the Art of Gaming." Gears of War is art; so is Madden NFL 2004. "Art of Gaming" is a pompous term which is a synonym for the word "pretentious," and Ico is anything but. Rather, Ico is humble. It is shy. Like its two protagonists, it does not want to be noticed. Its vast absence of dialogue in the presence of what is otherwise detailed narrative reminds me why silent films carried so much power, now long forgotten.
Dialogue gives us the illusion that people are communicating. This is a big farce. The truth is of course that a thousand meaningful conversations mean nothing and may not draw two people even an inch closer. Ico slyly asks us, "What about holding hands?" The answer is "no," of course, but Ico provides a glimpse of what the right answer might be.
When Fumito Ueda-san started work in 1998, he had one simple concept: a boy taking a girl hand in hand through a castle. This in itself is a gameplay gimmick until you fill your protagonists with life and then drain life out of everything around them. Now all they have is each other and you believe it.
Another thing you believe in is the world itself. Today, many games try to convince you of this by bombarding the environment with vast detail and purpose, forgetting completely that purpose undermines detail. Ico does something bizarre. It believes that the world it takes place in actually exists. It doesn't need to convince anybody because it already convinced itself. This is best exemplified by the iconic pond under the Windmill, which contains no gameplay purpose and appears only once. Why is it there? Well, to begin with, sometimes water collects in large holes in which you can swim.
On the surface, Ico is a game no different from the rest. You run, you fight, you solve problems. Like all games, it's more akin to sport than art. But when shadow wraiths leap out of the ground, gameplay will be the last thing on your mind. You will not care about "sweet moves" or other trivial feats that games are so eager to idolize. Your mind will be largely on the companion nearby.
This is all the doing of Team Ico's animators and AI designers, who accomplished nothing short of magic when they created Yorda and abandoned motion capture. She pulses with life and if you've studied traditional animation, you will know why. I should mention at this point that I heard all about this girl well before I played Ico. Popularity always drains away mysteries and their magic and like everyone, I have an adverse reaction to hype. When the game started, I embraced it with snide cynicism. I'd like to say that I maintained it pretty well, too, until Yorda helped me solve a puzzle without speaking, pointing, or motioning. That shut me up.
I first encountered Ico four years ago and did not like it. When the credits rolled, I wanted to throw the controller across the room. I have matured since then. For starters, I understand that Ico is closer to a vivid dream than a story. A story tends to imply that it has another story preceding it and continues with yet another after it is over. In Ico, you experience a brief, otherworldly journey which has no real past and no actual future. And you meet unforgettable characters, but as with all dreams, once you wake up - they will be gone.
If you're disappointed that I didn't review the gameplay then it's only because I can't compete with YouTube videos, which will give you a better idea about gameplay mechanics than all Amazon reviews combined. As for this "HD" release, what's there to say? You know all of the included changes from reading the marketing specs. You know that "Shadow of the Colossus" runs at a much better frame rate. If you still can't decide, my recommendation is to rent the collection. Although I have a feeling that if you appreciate thought provoking literature and film, your local neighborhood Game Rental store will never see it again. A pity for them.
In 2001, Charles Herold wrote in New York Times that "Ico is not a perfect game, but it is a game of perfect moments." I recommend you read his analysis of the game, although not before you play it. It is far better to experience magic than to read about it. In the end, I do believe that Ico "redefines the boundaries of gaming as we know them." But as Herold said, it is by no means perfect. It is, however, the first step. Let's hope there will be others.
, Reviewed By John Doe
The ICO and Shadow of the Colossus Collection created by Team Ico