29 Apr 2016

2010 - PS2

A short linear path around a quiet castle. Not much needs to be said about it, though the hipsters will insist otherwise.

Tell me this isn't a good set up for some interesting and intricate puzzles: bring your frail lady companion, who cannot climb or jump very far without your help, to the doors that only she can open. In fact, there are no puzzles to speak of, or at least no obstacles that could be described as puzzling. Pull a lever to open a door, cut a rope to drop a bridge, that sort of thing.

The designers want to create an attachment between you and the girl. This aspiration is supported by the animation and actions of the characters (the hand holding, the catching) and I appreciated that. You also have to save her from monsters on occasion, as she can't fight for herself, but that's as far as it goes. Nothing substantial actually happens to the characters throughout the whole game, save for one event towards the end involving a bridge. They just walk together. She never helps in the "puzzles". Had they been overcoming challenges together, as you and Agro did in Shadow of the Colossus, by way of difficult puzzles which you both contributed to, maybe I could have scraped some emotions together to care by the end of it all.

The game deserves some plaudits for preserving a simple drama of adventure — this is Udea’s craft. Some games can fail to engage even with violent battles against impressive titans, but Ico reaches higher with more mundane props. By showing me youthful characters that move with realistic human clumsiness, and allowing the atmosphere to permeate uninterrupted by any pushy narrative, Ico found tinges of turmoil, just occasionally, even when nothing more exciting is happening than a chandelier drops from the ceiling or the characters walk by a precipitous drop.

Alas... the whole boring castle is brown bricks after brown bricks and there is only one enemy and it’s a shadow. It’s not until one game later that Udea builds on the strong foundations but adds, sparingly and only when appropriate, the bombastic music, the narrative twists, and the violent battles against impressive titans — that is, the points of interest.

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