Down Write Daily – December 23, 2009

by Mitchell Dyer

I started playing Ico a couple years ago because I’d heard nothing but good things about it. I hated it. Since the release of Shadow of the Colossus, Ico’s pseudo-sequel, critics, journalists and other enthusiasts have been trumpeting the wonder and beauty of Team Ico’s maiden voyage. Everyone I know, whether they’re smart forum-goers or friends in the press, keeps talking about how incredible it is. So I thought I’d take another stab at the renowned PS2 classic.

These people forgot to mention one thing: charm can be everlasting, it can also be overshadowed. I’m writing this having finished two hours and 35 minutes of Ico. And as I write, I’m wondering if I will ever go back to it. The adventure game has me at odds with myself, but I think that one side is outweighing the other.

On one hand, I have an immense adoration at the sheer magic of it – it’s absolutely gorgeous despite its aged graphics, masterfully designed and brilliantly presented. There is no heads-up display of any kind; the hero has no health and can’t die unless he falls; and the main theme of the game, protecting a frighteningly pale and supposedly wrongfully imprisoned girl called Yorda, is quite touching. That aspect of it makes the simplistic combat scenarios terribly tense. As shadowy, inky demon thugs pop out of portals, the tense music drops in as a haunting indicator that now, most of all, is the time to keep Yorda safe from these presumably evil kidnappers.

On the other hand, the little things about Ico are really getting on my nerves, and are severely impeding on my ability to tolerate and play the game. The camera is terrible, and what little control you have over it makes things worse, often disorienting; not having a HUD means that you’re on your own to figure things out – I had to hit up a walkthrough to find out that I even had the option to swing from chains, as there was never any indication; and the puzzles are incredibly complex. Because of the awful camera, objectives are often obscured either by poor positioning or objects in the area. Frequently, I’d be at a loss because what I needed to see was obstructed. Even when I learned I had to explore to find certain things, something would be missing.

Beautiful in every sense of the word... and I don't care.

I wonder how much of this is archaic design and how much of it is me not being able to read any subtle hints that may or may not even be there. Either way, I’m not enjoying myself playing Ico. I’m almost immediately frustrated by every new area because I have to stand in weird spots just to get a view on things. I’ve walked past my fair share of ladders and chains due to a poorly placed POVs.

I don’t have the patience for this kind of stuff anymore. Maybe Ico aged poorly. Maybe I’m not good enough to play it. Maybe people only think it’s good because Shadow of the Colossus is so incredible. I don’t know. And I don’t know if I ever want to return to this enchanting universe, despite knowing that there are some phenomenal story twists ahead.  All of these small nuisances pile up and make every second I play an agonizing experience.

Everyone tells me that it’s one of the best games of all time.

I think I’m playing the wrong game, because that doesn’t seem possible. And it depresses me to say that.