Ico is an adventure game for the Playstation2. If there was any doubt about the PS2 being the most fantastic piece of gaming hardware ever built, you can settle that doubt with games like Metal Gear Solid 2, Gran Turismo 3, and Ico.

Ico is the name of the protagonist, a young, somewhat awkward boy who happened to be born with horns. Evidently the villagers in the town where he lived were frightened by his visage and locked him in a castle, where the action of the story takes place. As you play the demo, the smooth, crisp graphics, the detailed textures, and the wholly believable environments immerse you in the game - and without any sort of interface in the way (numbers, health bars, lives, menus), you become more involved with the characters themselves. Ico has the help of a blind, almost ethereal princess named Jorda. The two characters speak different languages, although Ico, you, have subtitles. There is also report of a devious villain who happens to conveniently speak both languages, and that if you beat the game, Jorda's lines are subtitled as well.

Ico and Jorda's motions are superb, and the physics are somewhat realistic. Standard gaming physics like the ability to change direction in mid-jump don't work, for instance, and if Ico picks up something heavy, he staggers and sometimes stumbles under its weight.

The demo had some simple but curious puzzles, and some black-smog bad guys you have to beat with your stick. The most cool part was the impressive windmill in the one scene where you're outdoors in the demo, outside the sun is shining, the grass is green, and birds flit about, which belies the dark gritty castle interior.

All in all, the game's originality, intrigue, and astounding visuals make it one I'm looking forward to playing as soon as it comes out.
Ico is developed by a new team of programmers internally at Sony Computer Entertainment, and is due to be released September 25th, 2001.

This is not a video game review, this is a tribute to a perfectly realized work of art.

It just doesn't get any better than this. I remember the first time I saw Myst -- issues with the gameplay aside, the look of the game was just like the places I visit in my dreams. Mysterious, foggy, ineffably beautiful.

But Myst didn't move. You clicked through the hypercard stack, finished the game, saw a few postage stamp-sized Quicktime Movies, and that was it.

Having finished Ico, I can confidently say that this must have been what the creators of Myst dreamed of. A huge, detailed puzzle-castle, triumphantly realized using the power of the Playstation 2. It's like Myst, but it moves -- my god, it's alive. Its environments are huge, light filters in through the dusty halls and broken walls, every room is awash with foreboding, every courtyard tinged with nostalgia.

Then, there are the characters. Ico, a 12-year-old boy that must be the archetype of all 12-year-old boys. He scrambles around, nattily finding his way past the obstacles in the castle. When his princess is attacked, he flails desperately away at her assailants, not with the digital precision of a videogame fighter, but with the naive determination of the boy-child. As the only directly controllable character in the game, he's never boring or tedious to control, and the controls are intuitive. A glance at the instruction manual is all you'll ever need to navigate the treacherous castle -- that, and your wits and observation.

The girl is Yorda. She's not blind, and not completely helpless per se, but she. . . she's somewhere else. It's never quite clear whether she's glowing, or just very fair-skinned, but in either case, she belongs to another place and time. Like The Shining Prince, we fear she is far too precious to last long in this world. Her every movement conveys innocence and wonder: she looks down at Ico, her protector, with a serene trust that implores the player not to fail. She startles at sudden noises, chases birds, and sometimes provides clues to solutions of puzzles. Watch her. I feel that this sort of characterization must be what the designers of the Playstation 2 had in mind when they named its CPU the Emotion Engine.

This game terrified me in a way no other game has. It succeeded in making me want to protect the girl, and then conjured up some of the most evil creatures I've seen. They're seemingly made of darkness, and they're bent on dragging Yorda down into their world of shadows. If they succeed, it is heartbreaking.

I beat this game in the course of two days -- I estimate 8 to 10 hours of total gameplay, which is not enough. But the sheer aesthetic and emotional intensity of those hours is unmatched, for my money, in all of video gaming. Its half-plot answers a few questions and asks many more. I desperately hope that the talented Sony team that brought us this game stays together, because there is magic there.

This is a video game review.

Name: Ico
Developer: Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 2

If someone told you that a game with no music, only one overall area, only one type of enemy, only three weapons, and none of this leveling or micromanagement nonesense were to be released for the PS2 this year, you'd probably be somewhat confused. Isn't it missing that which makes it a video game in the first place?

But simplicity and innovation are where Ico excels. There are exactly two characters: Ico, the game's namesake, is a boy with horns whose village considers him an evil omen. On his 12th birthday, he is taken to a deserted, haunted castle to be left alone to die in sacrifice. Of course, being the ingenious young man he is, he escapes from his crypt. Before long, he stumbles on a pale, frail, young girl named Yorda suspeded from the ceiling in a cage. Once the cage is lowered, Ico and Yorda begin their collabortive effort to escape the castle.

The Ico development team had a novel idea: Ico doesn't speak English. Or Japanese. He speaks a fictional language. His speech is subtitled in English (or Japanese, I suppose, or whatever the vernacular is where the game is released). As one would imagine, Yorda does not speak the same language as Ico. Her speech is subtitled in bizarre hieroglyphics. So, in effect, we have no idea at all what Yorda is saying. But she speaks very infrequently, and when she does, it's hardly more than what could be considered a sentence. Thus, the relationship between Ico and Yorda is non-verbal. It's a primal one, based on their seemingly common goal: escape. The castle is presided over by a rather malicious queen who wants to see to it that Yorda does not leave. Apparently, she cares not about Ico, but I'll bet he wants to leave, too.

The actual gameplay is rather well done, as well. There is, as mentioned, only one type of enemy. The shadowy, whispy apparitions that emerge from black portals and try to capture Yorda. Armed either a stick, a sword, or a mace, Ico must bludegon the spirits to death (or whatever they happen to experience in its place) in order to protect Yorda. The whole concept of the game is kind of like Myst meets The Legend of Zelda in deftly executed 3D. The puzzles are not difficult, really, but they're not a walk in the park either. The game is simple, but there is depth within its simplicity. Very well done.

Most of the game is silent. What music there is generally a nice interlude, and it is given out judiciously enough that it really enhances the mood when it shows up. There is no ambient music at all in Ico, though. That basically follows in the tradition of Myst. There are ambient sound effects such as wind or water lapping. Graphically, Ico is quite a sight. Lighting and mist effects are used very well, and do not affect the framerate at all. The symbolic use of light/dark is also very potent in the portrayal of this game.

Ico is unfortunately short; 8 to 10 hours of play, for most people. Should you fork over the $50 for this game? That depends. You can probably rent it and beat it in a weekend, if that's your thing. There are those who will want to own this game, though, just because it's such a well-executed piece of work. All in all, I think Square and company would really do well to take a lesson on subtlety from this game.

Ico is the most free-spirited video game I have ever experienced. Sonic The Hedgehog, the first video game I ever owned, portrayed lush forests and canyons in the background but I was unable to escape the constraints of 2D to visit those distant locations. Ico achieves the amount of detail held in 2D games like Tomba!, Klonoa: Door to Phantomile and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night but in a unique 3D world. It is obvious that a lot of care and creativity went into the design for this game; it retains the minimalist style of 2D graphics but ditches the glaring limitations.

Rather than restricting you from exploring the world beyond, Ico wraps you up in it and makes available everything within your line of sight. There are limitations, of course, but the illusion of freedom is all-encompassing. Sometimes the urge will come over to me to rush out into the light outside the castle. I'll grab Yorda's hand and head for an exit. The areas both indoors and outdoors are gorgeous. The Windmill is my favorite. Occasionally I'll call to Yorda and try to run from her, jumping through the thick grass without even thinking of my next objective.

What makes the world feel real as well as picturesque is the ability the player has to alter it. The puzzles in Ico aren't extremely challenging but are brilliantly set up to encourage smooth play. There is something so satisfying about blowing up a water tower with a bomb to create a bridge for Yorda to cross. I almost want to run up and take her by the hand to show her: "Look! Look what I've done!".

Aside from the aesthetic beauty of the game, the desire to escape to the horizon is the primary driving force to explore the castle. This very basic goal creates an atmosphere in which the player has a definite purpose but is also encouraged to enjoy the incredible environment. Altogether, Ico is a quick play and a great game and I encourage anyone who is interested in any aspects of gaming or art to take a look into it. Three years after its release, it still packs a great punch in all aspects and goes for about $15 USD.

I do not know where my family are.

This is not my home. I was abandoned here.

The man said "I'm sorry," as he shackled my wrists. I didn't believe him.

"Why?" I pleaded. "What did I do wrong?"

"It has to be this way," he replied without emotion.

My parents stood before me, silent, eyes averted. My little brother was crying and struggling against my father's hands. "No! Don't go! Please don't!"

"I'm sorry, Alto. I don't understand why this is happening." I stretched my arms out to him but the man led me firmly away and I couldn't reach.

"Do not be angry with us," the man said. "This is for the good of the village." I was walked outside to where several horses with hooded riders were waiting.

It was a beautiful day. Birds were singing.

"No!" Alto broke free from my Father's grasp and took a few unsteady strides before being pulled back again. "Come back!"

The man holding the reins of the nearest horse lifted me onto its back, sitting in front of him. "I have to go," I said unevenly.

"Why? Where are you going?" Alto's face was reddening; his distress was turning to anger.

"I don't know," I whispered, frowning as I struggled to keep the mist in my eyes from condensing into tears. I looked at my captor but he offered nothing. His hood was backlit by the sun; I could only see a silhouette within.

The man flicked the reins of the horse. As it turned away I looked back; my father knelt and clutched my sobbing brother to his chest. He looked up at me with glistening eyes: "I'm sorry. Please forgive me, my son."

Mother took a step towards me as we started away, but my father placed a hand on her sleeve and she stopped. Her mouth opened slightly and she inhaled sharply, staring, then they were gone. I squinted, but they had drowned in the glare of the morning sun.

I buried my face in the horse's mane and wept quietly. The breeze danced around my ears, carrying the sounds of twittering creatures and the fall of hooves on the forest floor.

I don't know how long we were riding. I remember trees, dandelion seeds sailing on the wind like fireflies, flat stone walls, sentinel columns and a sea, green with ambiguity. I was taken down a cliff to a small boat and rowed to a cave. It opened out into a building, where at length I was led to a small, upright stone coffin.

One of my captors locked me in as the others, still wordless and anonymous, surrounded me. He stepped back, muttered "it is done," and without further ceremony they all turned and left.

After their footsteps faded, it was quiet for a long time. Nothing but distant whispers of ocean, and walls remembering trampled futures.

Hours later, something shifted and my coffin toppled over, releasing me. I woke on a tiled floor, surrounded by stone walls rising to a vaulted ceiling. The walls were full of coffins, just like mine. Empty, just like mine. The air was dry, cool and old. I couldn't see the sun. The wind fluted over broken windows.

I ran for a long time, but I couldn't find a way out. I don't know who lives here but I know I'm not welcome. I can feel them watching.

You know where I found you. I freed you, and now we share a prison of stone, wood and decay. This place has trapped us for an age.

I do not understand your power, your words, or why you are here. I do feel that you are as alone as I, and I know that we cannot escape alone. We are our family now.

Please. Take my hand.

This was a 1000-word-limit writing exercise, loosely-themed 'House', but really is a small tribute to this beautiful little game.

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