Miracle's Whip - ICO (Review Wars joint winning review!)

Hey guys, my review came joint first place in Review Wars alongside Heart of Darkness's one, which is here.

Here's mine in full, hope ye enjoy it :)

You may notice the format is different to my usual reviews, this is because I was trying not to make my identity obvious.

Thanks to PimpPeter and Review Wars, because this review wouldn't exist were it not for them!

Ico - Review

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A horned boy and a shimmering, ethereal sylph of a girl emerge from a dark, dingy corridor and out into a crumbling clearing. As their eyes adjust to the light, an immense, ominous windmill fades into view, its blades spinning over a yawning chasm. On the other side of the deep pit is their only escape route: a steep set of stone stairs. The boy could probably just about jump it, but he's not about to leave his only friend in the world behind. He needs her, and she needs him. He lets go of her hand, and begins to climb towards the windmill's dangerous blades...

Ico is a story of love and co-dependence, told through a sublime platforming puzzle game. When it first came out in 2001 it was criminally under-rated and ignored by the gaming public. When its prequel, Shadow of the Colossus, arrived a few years later, it was re-released and finally got some of the credit it deserved. It is a unique experience and one of the most beautiful, emotionally affecting games you will ever play.

Ico is a young lad who was born with horns, which means it sucks to be him. Shunned by his community and sent to a gargantuan prison-castle, his fate seems grim during the game's opening. Quiet and understated, a cut-scene shows faceless riders escorting him slowly and morosely through beautifully rendered forests, the intense silence expressing more than the most raucous and vocal Rockstar or Squeenix sequences.

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'You know, if it wasn't for the malevolent shadow demons trying to kill us, this would make a lovely spot for a picnic.'

Fortunately, he manages to escape his cell and soon meets Yorda, another prisoner. Together they must escape their colossal prison, fighting off shadowy demons that want to drag Yorda down into black inky holes. And that's the story. The reasons for their mistreatment are left unexplained, which works. Ico is not about complex story-lines and mechanics, simplicity is the key. As the game progresses, they will become close and develop a great need and love for each-other, which I will say no more about for fear of spoiling it.

When Ico was released, it was probably the most visually advanced game to date. The camera swoops over epic, haunting vistas both in cut-scenes and during game-play. Rays of light shine through windows, little particles of dust and dynamic shadows give dimensions to the world. Every single moment of this game a joy to look at, every area beautifully crafted and designed. The castle is the game's other big character. The foreboding architecture is ancient and regal, creating a lonely, oppressive atmosphere dripping with dark beauty.

Characters are lovingly created, and the animations are both realistic and fluid. Ico runs and jumps around clumsily like an excited youth (particularly in combat, more about that later), while Yorda's movements are delicate, graceful and vulnerable. Watching her suddenly stumble along inelegantly whenever Ico drags her around by the hand gives her a sense of humanity and realness, which is just as well because you'll be holding her hand a lot.

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'Man... she's so tall. I'm gonna have to buy a sports car.'

Later areas of the game contain shimmering waterfalls, giant trees swaying in the breeze and dark, dank caves. Everything is stunning to look at, even by today's standards.

When it comes to sound, less is more in Ico. The game is silent for the most part, permeated only by the odd elemental effect (running water or a light wind) and the sparse vocal communication between the two protagonists. They don't speak the same language (in fact, both speak in cryptic tongues that are neither English nor Japanese) so communicate only in monosyllabic yells and physical gestures.

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This section requires expert timing and knowing exactly when to execute the 'yawn, stretch and throw arm around' move'

Music is used sparingly, only at emotionally intense moments or cut-scenes. When the aforementioned shadow demons appear eerie, subtle soundscapes kick in. It's an unnerving effect that is never needlessly over-dramatic or overbearing.

Ico is ingenious in its use of storytelling and character development through the game's mechanics. Yorda's spatial awareness is not the best and she must be led everywhere, which necessitates the player physically holding the R1 button to guide her around. It really makes you feel like she needs you there, helping her where she cannot help herself.

The pair have different abilities. Ico can climb chains, jump pits and fight off the baddies, while Yorda can open magic portals. Most of the puzzles are built around this inspired dynamic: Ico must navigate and manipulate the environment in order to find a safe path for her. It's standard platforming with a co-operative twist. You can never leave her behind for too long, however, as the demons will come to get her... which brings us to the combat.

This is the one area I felt the game was a little weak. Combat is simplistic: demons will try to abduct Yorda while you jump around and smack them with your stick/sword until they dissipate. This is good in theory, as Ico is no warrior. His fighting is clumsy and desperate, as a young boy's should be. He is not a badass superhero. However, the nature of the combat is very repetitive and ultimately boring. It also rears its ugly head at the most irritating times, when you're five rooms away from Yorda and often don't have time to get back to her and prevent her being dragged into black holes. In this context, the combat becomes an annoyance later in the adventure, serving only to distract from the core gameplay of platforming and puzzle solving.

Despite some minor flaws, Ico is a true classic. It is a perfect example of the medium reaching the level of art and is more an interactive storytelling experience than a 'game'. I will not spoil the ending, suffice to say that it is the most emotional, moving moment I have experienced in gaming to this day, in my opinion even more so than anything in the more celebrated Shadow of the Colossus. I'm not ashamed to admit that Ico brought tears to my eyes more than once.

Its lack of action and understated nature will not be to everyone's taste, but allow yourself to be drawn into its achingly gorgeous world and you will lose yourself completely in an experience like no other.

Verdict:

Buy and cherish.

Congratulations!

And from reading the review, award well deserved!

This takes me back a bit. It feels like ages ago that I played this game. I cannot wait for The Last Guardian to be released. The screenshots look amazing. It looks like Ueda is continuing to keep his tradition of artful endearing storytelling in his new game.

I remember playing this game when it came out, I must have been about 9 (way to make people feel old). Good old Team ICO.

Anyway, congrats on yer win! From the review, it looks like it was awarded for a reason!

If only I still had a PS2. Sadly, they had a horrible habit of breaking when I touched them.

meganmeave:
Congratulations!

And from reading the review, award well deserved!

This takes me back a bit. It feels like ages ago that I played this game. I cannot wait for The Last Guardian to be released. The screenshots look amazing. It looks like Ueda is continuing to keep his tradition of artful endearing storytelling in his new game.

Thanks Meg! I think I'm going to bebuying a PS3 just so I can play Last Guardian. it looks sublime from the trailers.

Furburt:
I remember playing this game when it came out, I must have been about 9 (way to make people feel old). Good old Team ICO.

Anyway, congrats on yer win! From the review, it looks like it was awarded for a reason!

If only I still had a PS2. Sadly, they had a horrible habit of breaking when I touched them.

Cheers Furb. I went through 3 PS2s myself. Not sure what happened them but they just started refusing to read discs after a few years, especially the DVD player part.

Awesome! I still have, and indeed do, cherish this game. It is truly beautiful :-) And a great review worthy of the win.
@Furburt, lol at you feeling old, I'm 44 I must be nearly dead.... ;-)
Well done, matey.

After reading this review I realised what a good thing it was I bought a backwards compatible PS2. To the swap meets with a purpose!

Good job with the award.

stinkychops:
After reading this review I realised what a good thing it was I bought a backwards compatible PS2. To the swap meets with a purpose!

Good job with the award.

Ico, Shadow of the Collossus, God of War, Resi 4, San Andreas, Bard's Tale, POP Sands of Time, ... the PS2 was a real gem. Never getting rid of my one!

I think I'm going to go play Ico now. The Last Guardian is the only game that has any chance of convincing me to buy a PS3. I don't want to buy one, there's nothing else on it that particularly interests me, but dammit The Last Guardian might be worth three or four hundred dollars to me.

Jenova65:

@Furburt, lol at you feeling old, I'm 44 I must be nearly dead.... ;-)

Nah, I meant that me saying I was 9 when it came out will probably make a few people feel old.

It does for some people, when I say I was 4 when I played Mario 64, and they go "I was 16 when that game came out, argh, I'm old!".

ZephrC:
I think I'm going to go play Ico now. The Last Guardian is the only game that has any chance of convincing me to buy a PS3. I don't want to buy one, there's nothing else on it that particularly interests me, but dammit The Last Guardian might be worth three or four hundred dollars to me.

I'm almost afraid to play it because knowing Team Ico, the story will be beautiful and tragic, meaning that big cute monster thingy is probably going to die, making me very sad.

Good review. I'm glad to see my joint-award winner has good control over words.

Just a few minor nitpicks, though. It would help to italicize game titles, especially when the main character shares a name with the title (Ico =/= Ico), and it also throws in an effect of making your reviews a little more professional by conforming to the English standard of referencing titles of stand-alone works.

Also, I'm not too fond of your short, sentence-long paragraphs, as they make the review feel very fractured. If you can merge those into longer paragraphs, or, if you can't do that, omit them entirely--if you can't expound on something for more than one sentence, is it really worth mentioning?

A well-deserved (joint) win, my friend! I haven't played "Ico" to this day, but your review makes me want to hunt down a copy - it sounds like it's worth the hassle.

Oh, and on a related note... pleeeeeeaaaase, Team Ico, please give us a release date for Last Guardian already! The waiting and the uncertainty are killing me!

Heart of Darkness:
Good review. I'm glad to see my joint-award winner has good control over words.

Just a few minor nitpicks, though. It would help to italicize game titles, especially when the main character shares a name with the title (Ico =/= Ico), and it also throws in an effect of making your reviews a little more professional by conforming to the English standard of referencing titles of stand-alone works.

Never thought of that before. Noted for next one.

Heart of Darkness:

Also, I'm not too fond of your short, sentence-long paragraphs, as they make the review feel very fractured. If you can merge those into longer paragraphs, or, if you can't do that, omit them entirely--if you can't expound on something for more than one sentence, is it really worth mentioning?

Sometimes less is more. I felt there was enough waffle in the first paragraph, I didn't want to bore people with a million details on every aspect!

Furburt:

Jenova65:

@Furburt, lol at you feeling old, I'm 44 I must be nearly dead.... ;-)

Nah, I meant that me saying I was 9 when it came out will probably make a few people feel old.

It does for some people, when I say I was 4 when I played Mario 64, and they go "I was 16 when that game came out, argh, I'm old!".

Ah, I see, lol! I was about 35 when Ico came out :-O

I wish my PS2 hadn't died, I really wanna play this and SotC. Hopefully they'll port it to PS3.

Great review, I can see why you won. Very well written.

MiracleOfSound:

Heart of Darkness:

Also, I'm not too fond of your short, sentence-long paragraphs, as they make the review feel very fractured. If you can merge those into longer paragraphs, or, if you can't do that, omit them entirely--if you can't expound on something for more than one sentence, is it really worth mentioning?

Sometimes less is more. I felt there was enough waffle in the first paragraph, I didn't want to bore people with a million details on every aspect!

EDIT: Whoops, finger slipped. I meant to hit preview to make sure I didn't mess up the quoting, and I hit post instead. My bad.

While I agree that less is sometimes more, I would also argue that doing it often can get a tad irritating. In a text format, when you have single-sentence paragraphs interspersed to with giant pictures and larger blocks of text, they're going to stand out--distracting the reader with minor details like this is not a good sign, as you want the reader to focus on the content, not the format. And since they're really short ideas mixed in with your longer ones, they creates a few pacing issues.

Heart of Darkness:

MiracleOfSound:

Heart of Darkness:

Also, I'm not too fond of your short, sentence-long paragraphs, as they make the review feel very fractured. If you can merge those into longer paragraphs, or, if you can't do that, omit them entirely--if you can't expound on something for more than one sentence, is it really worth mentioning?

Sometimes less is more. I felt there was enough waffle in the first paragraph, I didn't want to bore people with a million details on every aspect!

EDIT: Whoops, finger slipped. I meant to hit preview to make sure I didn't mess up the quoting, and I hit post instead. My bad.

While I agree that less is sometimes more, I would also argue that doing it often can get a tad irritating. In a text format, when you have single-sentence paragraphs interspersed to with giant pictures and larger blocks of text, they're going to stand out--distracting the reader with minor details like this is not a good sign, as you want the reader to focus on the content, not the format. And since they're really short ideas mixed in with your longer ones, they creates a few pacing issues.

Fair enough I guess... I think I was possibly too concerned about putting the pictures in places where they related to the text, which ended up with paragraphs being split up.

I have to admit I was a bit shocked when the scores for your review came in, but I went back and re-read it and saw that it was great. The only criticisms I had were similar to HoD's. But congrats on a good clean win and I hope we see you next time around.

Pimppeter2:
I have to admit I was a bit shocked when the scores for your review came in, but I went back and re-read it and saw that it was great. The only criticisms I had were similar to HoD's. But congrats on a good clean win and I hope we see you next time around.

I'll be there :) twas fun!

I can't believe I haven't played ICO yet, I really should get it. Great review anyway, I enjoyed reading it.

 

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