When I got a PS2 last Christmas, the one nearly unanimous game recommendation that I received from the crack dealers friends I know who play games was Ico. Over and over I heard “You gotta get Ico”. So I bought Ico. That was six months ago, and I finally got around to finishing it this weekend. For most of the this time, I’ve had a mixed relationship with Ico. As much as I wanted to love the game as a truly transformative experience, my brain would always get in the way, as illustrated by this inner dialog.
Me: What a beautiful cut scene. What an amazing sense of place. Wow, you can just soak up this atmosphere.
Brain: What the hell are we supposed to do? I’m completely lost. Why is the rendering all jaggy and shimmery? Let’s go play Ratchet and Clank and blow stuff up, or collect gay porn in Shadow Hearts.
Me: Wow, these environmental puzzles really make you explore every corner of the world.
Brain: Where is my shotgun? Where are the zombies? There is nothing here. Bored now.
Me: The game presents such a strong bond between the two main characters. This is a unique and immersive gameplay mechanic in addition to being an effective source of dramatic tension in the game’s narrative.
Brain: Why won’t the bitch follow me?? I get twenty feet away to explore some puzzle and what happens? She lets herself get dragged away by those black dust clouds and I have to replay half the game. Jesus christ on a stick.
Me: Of course, the control mechanics are perfectly tuned to the requirements of the exploration and puzzle solving. There is climbing, jumping, scaling walls, and so on.
Brain: Wait wait.. jump now, no no no don’t run off the cliff, JUMP. Oh jesus not again.
Me: I just can’t get enough of these environments. It’s astounding how many different moods the game captures.
Brain: Why can’t I tell if I can make that jump or not? Why is the camera behind me when I need to judge horizontal distances and above me when I need more perspective? Why do I have to replay this 20 minute section over and over again because he fell off the chain instead of jumping to that platform? Why aren’t there more save-points?
And so the inner battle raged on. But, in the end, the game delivered. The end game was as organic and moving as any gaming experience I have ever had. It was paced perfectly and evolved naturally from the gameplay elements established throughout the rest of the game. Even the end Boss did not offend, because the solution was clear from the environment and the setup. So, the last entry in the dialog is
Me: Wow, that was the most emotionally mature ending I’ve ever seen in a game.
Brain: Sniff, sniff, what a nice little girl, er, I mean, where the hell was the savepoint I needed halfway to the end boss?