Ico Cover
Platform PlayStation 2
Genre Engrossing Grandiose Adventure
MtAMinutes to Action 6
Score 8  Clock score of 8Gameplay: 8
Fun Factor: 6
Gfx/Sound: 8
Story: 7
Buy from Amazon

Ico is a Playstation 2 video game released in 2001. It's honestly hard for me to believe that this game is seven years old already, but it is, and I still think it plays great. I discovered Ico in 2005 after I had finished the great game, Shadow of the Colossus, which serves as sort of a distant prequel to Ico. Anyways, Ico is an action-adventure game similar to Zelda but without an interface, text-driven story, or large cast of characters. Ico is minimalist in many senses of the word.

I feel like I'm drawn to these cult hit games recently as I enjoy exposing them and also trying out a game I would never play if it weren't for this site. I've owned Ico for three years and I've barely ever played it. Well, that's enough introduction, let's get to the review!

For my review on the entire game, please see my Ico review at Beyond the First Hour.

Minute by Minute

(minutes are in bold)
00 - I select New Game and the first hour of Ico begins. The opening cutscene begins, we're looking at some cliffs towering over an ocean. Some men are rowing a small boat to a large fortress castle out in the sea. The camera pans up to the fortress, it's huge!

01 - The men lower a door and row further underneath the fortress. A man says, "Get the sword," in no language I recognize. Another man enters and holds the sword up to an altar and some lightning flashes between sword and altar and a door opens.

02 - The group is now heading up on an elevator. With them looks like a small boy with horns. We're inside now, the camera pans around the area. Something on the wall glows and then opens up and the men put the boy inside of it.

Ico Horns Main Character

03 - The object closes and the men ask for forgiveness. They leave. The boy is in stocks inside the small statue. Suddenly the whole palace starts shaking and the boy's container tumbles over and sets him free.

04 - Yes, the boy really does have horns, with some bandages around them. Wonder if someone tried to rip them off, or were they even surgically added? The cutscene continues. It is storming outside and the wind is whipping around the castle. The boy is circling a large tower and then looks to the sky.

05 - There's some cage at the top of the tower, with a shadowy creature inside of it. Another shadow has sucked the boy into the wall! He stands up in the middle of a new room and I gain control.

Ico Horns Talking

06 - I can run around and poke the camera around with the other thumbstick. Gameplay seems pretty down to earth, the boy can jump but not very high. I'm not sure what all the buttons do yet, but thankfully no tutorial. I can figure things out.

09 - The game has given me no clues on what to do or where to go. I wander around for a few minutes and finally find a lever to pull. Circle pulls it down and it opens up a door directly below, I head down the stairs and through the door.

10 - The next room is much smaller but filled with some crates and a chain hanging from the ceiling. I climb the chain to the next level and the scurry out one of the windows.

Ico Swinging On Chain

12 - I've been exploring another very large room. There seem to be four objects guarding a door. So far I really like the game's graphics, they're gray and green but they work perfectly and allow the castle to have an ominously large presence.

13 - Little puffs of dust appear when I jump, cool effect.

14 - Just realized I'm climbing that tower with the cage hanging from the top. Though right now I'm about 10 stories below it and slowly circling my way up!

Ico Yorda Princess Cage

15 - As I approach the cage, a cutscene begins seamlessly. There's some white figure in the cage instead of the shadow before. The boy says he'll get the person down.

16 - To get near the cage I have to go outside through one of the windows and circle up the tower from the outside! Scary! Okay it actually appears pretty safe.

18 - I'm back inside, I wonder who is in the cage? I pull a lever and the cage slowly unwinds down a chain almost to the bottom of the tower!

Ico Yorda Princess Girl Closeup

19 - Instead of going back outside I make a flying leap across the gap, I can make it going this direction, but barely! Phew! Wish I could slide down the chain...

21 - The cage is hanging about 10 feet above the ground, it looks like a woman inside. Garbed all in white. The only thing I can do is jump onto the cage from above!

22 - Well, that was enough to break the chain and drop it to the floor! The door opens and the young woman walks out, she's speaking in some mysterious language, the boy responds by saying he was brought here to be sacrificed because of his horns. They're not speaking the same language though.

Ico Yorda Princess Foreign Language

23 - Oh, here we go! As we're talking, a shadow creature walks up behind the woman and grabs her! Time to fight back. There's a torch laying nearby, I grab it.

24 - Wow! She got sucked into the floor so I reach down and pull her out. That was freaky! The boy says we need to get out of here. I'm holding her hand now and leading her around. We run up to the four statues guarding the door and someone she is able to zap them and they move aside. The boy has no idea what happened.

25 - Pressing R1 grabs her hand, definitely useful to know. Wow, that was cool, I jumped up a six foot ledge myself and then pulled her up. Great teamwork.

Ico Couch Bench Save Point

26 - We run outside, there's a glowing couch just sitting there, ah, it's a save point. No time to waste though. I start leading her across a very long bridge to somewhere unknown...

28 - The bridge collapses under us at one point but I'm able to pull her up. She uses her power again to open another door. Wow, this guy can multitask: I'm holding the girl's hand, holding the stick, and now carrying a keg.

29 - The shadow monsters are back!

Ico Shadow Battle

30 - They don't seem very aggressive though as I fend them off with my stick as I search around on how to get out of this room. Turns out I had to push a large block Zelda-style off a switch which triggered a staircase to appear.

32 - Interesting, I could have also gone outside in a very obvious door, oh well. Choices are choices. We're outside in the foggy mist for a moment and then it's back inside.

33 - Crap, I just fell down to a place where I don't think the girl can follow...

Ico Zelda Push Block Switch

35 - We're really separated now, geez, I don't know how to get back to her! Or if she's even still there? Pressing R1 calls to her, actually holding it zooms the camera in on her, she's safe and sound for the time being.

36 - Awesome! I found a switch that opens the door to the balcony she was stuck at, I call to her and she runs down the stairs to me. On with the adventure!

38 - The shadows are back! I get knocked down and they take advantage of this moment and grab her, but I'm right there and knocking them away. This is pretty fun, but they just keep coming.

Ico Yorda Tower Girl Hand Holding

39 - Well, there were only a few of them. Let's see if she'll climb a chain... nope.

41 - She's being pretty stubborn so I'll move on without her for a bit.

43 - It feels really weird not having her with me, I don't think I'm doing this right. I do find a pretty awesome overlook of what appears to be all the grounds. Yeah... just found a couch, don't think I'm supposed to be here without her! Whoops! I jumped off a ledge and died.

Ico Awesome Overlook

44 - We're back to entering that zapped door together again, about 15 minutes back. Ouch! This time I head straight out the door. Oh, no wonder! Dead end!

46 - There's these little shadow creatures that don't seem to do anything, good to know.

49 - Defeated the trio of shadows again... and now I'm stuck again! Oh dang, I feel stupid! I pushed this box down thinking she would use it to jump and climb on the chain, but I had to push it against the wall, climb the chain myself, and then help her climb up just up the wall. Makes total sense now.

Ico Aerial Flying Shadow Battle

50 - We're on top of the building now, near where the save couch I found before was, but then the shadows appear!

51 - Wow, these aren't the simple zombie shadows I was fighting before, two of them could fly and another one was huge! One of the flyers picked up our girl and carried her to the shadow pit, but I managed to rescue her and then beat them all down.

52 - Save time. I quickly climb down a ladder and she slowly follows. We're next to some kind of track, like for a mine.

Ico Girl Mine Cart Tracks

53 - WTF! She just slowly climbed back up the ladder on her own so then I had to call her back down again. This time I grab her hand.

54 - We run down one direction of the tracks and find a cart! Oh neat! This cart requires me to constantly push in one direction to move it while holding circle. That's kind of a cool trick instead of just letting it run like most video game carts do.

56 - We careen down the tracks and find another couch.

Ico Girl Chilling On Save Point Couch

57 - I just jumped across a huge pit and we get her across together using some nifty teamwork.

58 - Now I'm hand shimmying around a corner... I hate shimmying. Plus I don't think she can do this. Nope, I call and call and she won't come. Luckily there's a convenient lever that swings a giant crate over to her so she can jump on it.

59 - But she won't jump to it herself... shimmy back over...

60 - I help her onto the crate and then pull the switch again to swing her to where I want her. Everything takes a bit longer with her in tow. Well, that's the end of the first hour of Ico!

Time for some scores out of 10.

Ico Epic View

First Hour Scores

Minutes to Action: 6

Gameplay: 8
There are very few, if any games to compare Ico's gameplay to. I guess I could go out on a limb and compare it to the original Prince of Persia, but that's about it. Ico tosses you into this world with no clues on what to do and where to go. It's simple, and it puts you into the shoes of the character who is also in that situation. You have to figure out what all the buttons do yourself while exploring the limits of the character's movements. Ico does control a bit floaty or even laggy, but it's almost as if the character is being controlled by strings and you're the puppet master. It just works.

Fun Factor: 6
I love exploring giant environments and scaling them vertically, it gives me a great sense of accomplishment (see Assassin's Creed). Ico rewarded me with that a few times and it was very fun. Entire rooms are giant puzzles that need to be worked out, but it seemed like most of the time the solution degenerated to a switch on the wall. Disappointing there. Also combat was rather limited, whack the bad guy, wait for them to get back up and whack them again. It was pretty heart pumping though when the girl would get grabbed. Plus playing hand holding with her isn't as bad as it seems, she's pretty smart in most cases.

Graphics and Sound: 8
Another uniquely Ico experience here. I don't know how to explain the graphics but various sources say that the game uses bloom lighting and was one of the first to do so. The effect will always be associated with Ico and Shadow of the Colossus in my mind. Textures are well detailed but the characters are kind of blobbish. I enjoyed the musical tracks that played and loved the idea of the two speaking roles, the boy and the girl. We can understand what the boy is saying through subtitles but neither we nor the boy have any idea what the girl is saying. Great concept.

Story: 7
In a game where every category is putting forth something unique, it's pretty surprising that its story might be the most intriguing. Like I said in the introduction, the game is very minimalist, and its story might be the best example of that. When I say minimalist, I don't mean it has no story or that it takes the backseat, but that the story is essential but presented so lightly and with such careful care, that there is nothing else like it. Ico's first hour features just two speaking characters, and they can't even speak the same language as each other. We also have basically no idea why either of these characters is even here, except maybe to be sacrificed. That's all we know and from there are imaginations are let loose, something few games allow us to do anymore.

Overall: 8
I said in my Another World review that it influenced Ico's gameplay and presentation. I tried to pay attention to this while playing its first hour and I could definitely see the connections. No user interface and minimal dialog are the most obvious, but maybe Ico's cinematic like experience was also influenced. There's no doubt it my mind though that Ico's first hour is better than Another World's. I love the way the game slowly unfolds and gives you no direction. Putting everything else together, Ico gets a great score.

Ico Windmill Art
This game likes windmills, but unfortunately we didn't get to see any.