ICO is considered one of the greatest games ever made among critics. Depending on who you talk to, many will find the game too frustrating, or not exciting enough to want to sit through. Those who do take the time to figure out the puzzles and help out the two heroines will find a game that takes the player to a magical place.
I am not here today to talk about what makes the game AMAZING because I feel that ICO has been talked about to death by critics and players alike. Instead, I want to discuss or point on what makes the game frustrating in the year 2012. Video games have come a long way since the release of ICO and it’s interesting to get on an old game’s case for being behind on the times. I am also not slamming the game, I enjoy it quite a bit, but I wanted to have a little fun in picking it apart.
Some history first, though, so you know a little more about the game. ICO was developed by the appropriately named, Team Ico, and the team was headed by Fumito Ueda. Ueda was in the video game headlines recently as his third Team Ico project, The Last Guardian, kept getting pushed backed. Ueda, for reasons I do not know, left the project and maybe the fate of the game in lesser hands. ICO was released in America on September 24th, 2001 with horrible, horrible box art. Look below!
Even with all its critical acclaim, the game undersold and did dismally in the States. It did well in Japan, but the big problem, as some assume, was the inability to market the game correctly and the ridiculous box art.
Fun little fact: The game was originally planned for the Playstation, but after a ton of delays (Team Ico was infamous for that already, it seems), the game was set to come out on the PS2 and take advantage of the new console’s hardware.
Now, the things I will list below are not problems the game had at its time of release, it has more to do with where games are now. Then again, these could be issues the game always had; it’s just hard to tell with over ten years passing by.
Frustration #5: Yorda
Yorda, the ethereal girl you find at the beginning of the game is usually pretty competent on her own. Well, if you call standing around until you figure out what to do next “competent” then I guess that’s what I mean. An escort mission in any game is always the worst part of the story. Why? Because it’s hard enough trying to deal with everything else the designers throw at you than to worry about protecting the president’s daughter (or whatever). So, Team Ico decided to make a game that was all about escorting, which by every means, should’ve been the worst experience ever, but it’s not. That doesn’t mean that Yorda is not a pain the ass sometimes, because she totally is.
Take for instance when you have to climb or descend a ladder, sometimes she follows you but most times she makes it halfway and decides to back the way she came. Also, when you are trying to get out of an area with shadow monsters in it, she just freezes up, causing you to enter combat that is always a task you never want to enter. AI has become increasingly smarter over the years, and they depend on themselves rather than you. Sure, Yorda’s inability to sneeze without you guiding her is part of her character, but geez, can’t you do anything by yourself?
Frustration #4: Shadow Monsters/Combat
Combat in ICO is the most useless and forced thing in the game. Every time I get surrounded by shadow monsters, I feel that there is no reason for it to happen. Sure, the shadow-bitch wants her kid back, but the main point of the story is about escaping the confines of the castle. Combat doesn’t make the game any better or increase the tension, it just ended up bugging the hell out of me. Ico can barely fight to begin with and his only moves are to swing whatever weapon he has. NOT TO MENTION that if he gets hit, it takes a least a few seconds to get up and the monsters have already taken off with Yorda because, you know, she can’t do anything without you. Every combat situation could have been removed from the game to make for a more enjoyable experience. Team Ico figured combat out with Shadow of the Colossus (well, for them), they were working out the kinks here.
Frustration #3: Camera
Nothing like having a fixed camera when you are entering into a combat situation! Seriously, though, I hate walking into a room and then being bombarded by twenty shadow creatures but being unable to see Ico or Yorda because a piece of castle architecture is in my line of sight. Then, of course, Yorda gets dragged off somewhere and I have to guess what shadow hole she is getting sucked into. Fixed cameras in third person games (or at least third person, action/adventure games) are a thing of the past and for good reason. Think about playing Uncharted with a fixed semi-isometric camera, wouldn’t that be the worst? ICO plays with the idea of the fixed camera, though, as you can move it around the position that it’s in so that you can see the environment. I don’t really have a problem with that, it mostly has to do with being in situations that require you to act fast (combat!). The same idea applies to older version of Metal Gear Solid, where the camera could be the enemy more than the enemies themselves. Lessons learned, y’all!
Frustration #2: Block Puzzles
If there is one thing that I don’t miss from last-gen gaming, it’s block puzzles. What a waste of game development in every aspect. “How can we make this room more challenging? Oh, I know, we’ll add blocks that the player has to push around to open doors and make ledges!” Nothing broke a game more for me than that business. ICO in particular is built on creating a world and developing characters with little dialogue. That all goes out the window when I see a block I need to push, I automatically realize I am playing a video game.
Frustration #1: Save Points
Over the last five years or so, the auto-save feature has become something we are too use to. Gone are the days of worrying about getting to the next save point, or remembering to hard save every few minutes. Games just save now after every little thing you do. Oh, you walked two feet? Save. You looked at your inventory? Save. Sure, it might sound a little ridiculous in that sense, but things have changed for the better.
ICO has a save point function where you sit on a couch and save your progress (you have to do it together). The problem is, is that if Yorda falls into the shadow-well or if you fall to your death, the game puts you back at the last couch. The save points are frequent enough in the beginning, which is odd because the first half of the game is not that challenging, but the latter half, things become more spare. This is a problem because Ico is forced to traverse high ledges and one wrong move means death. I have made audible sighs, groans, and expletives because death means you are forced to redo the puzzles. It’s the most frustrating aspect of replaying ICO, but the save features from any old console games are always the worst now.
ICO will remain a great game no matter how frustrating the mechanics seem at this point in gaming. We have become babied in our gaming experiences; we are told what to do, who to shoot, and where to go. I feel as if we have become a bit like Yorda in a sense, the developers have been forced to guide us through every little part of their game because if they don’t, we get cranky and decide Call of Duty is the only game, ever. ICO reminds us that games use to expect more from us, I mean, some still do, but a majority of them would rather shove us around instead of letting us figure it all out. As many times as I wanted to throw ICO out the window, I thought about how I haven’t been affected by a game like this in ages. It’s a nice feeling, but unfortunately I have to get back to the world of auto-saves and objective-points.