Ico is so simple it’s brilliant, you control the boy and must aid the girl as both of you explore the castle. Your character can climb and hang off ledges and do all the things you have come to expect from any game post Prince of Persia. To defend himself the boy has a simple stick, sometimes exchanged for a sword, but most of the time a stick. That is how you start the game and it is how you finish with no powering up, no magic spells, and no health packages lying around. Just a boy, a stick and a girl against all the huge overshadowing castle has to offer and this is a large part of what makes the game so sublime.
Everything graphically makes you feel very small, the colours are beautiful yet reserved, focusing on light and shadow, creating towering gothic environments of stone, each as picturesque as the last. The graphics could not have been more perfect if they had been hand painted by the greatest artist who ever lived, like the game they are beautiful and simple, Ico is a game of simplicity and subtlety and everything in it gently reinforces that fact.
Simplicity to the point where the girl is completely white and the monsters who appear to drag her back to her prison are just black shadowy silhouettes. You can’t get much more clear cut good and evil than that. Sound acts much in the same way, no constant techno in the background, just the faint whispering of wind as it swirls around the towers, and the occasional haunting melody as the shadow creatures rise from the ground.
The game itself sees you solving puzzle after puzzle in the castle, until you realise the castle itself is one big problem to solve, each puzzle completed acting to make the castle fall together until the whole thing is conquered. You find yourself bewitched into wanting to see the whole thing unfold but you won’t know why. That’s the thing about Ico you know you want to keep going, you know you can’t let the shadows have the girl, but you don’t know why, you can’t put your finger on it but it’s definitely there and it’s beautiful.
Ico is amazing, at times it sort of lulls you into a trance, you just become controlled by its magic. In the day and age of endless sequels this shines as an original piece of genius, more of a work of art than a game, it feels like someone’s private project that has been put together through a labour of love, I just can’t fault it.
Its not too long, or too short, its got exactly the right difficulty level and everything is perfect. When you do finish the game after the credits role you get the moment that makes the game a true grade A title, what that is you’ll just have to find out for yourself.A pure perfection, a master class in games programming