To call Ico a sleep hit would be an understatement, nay, a gross misunderstanding of the word itself. Ico was released in 2001 to little fanfare, and it's commercial success would make any film with Pauly Shore look startling in comparison. But despite it's poor sales, the game spun off a sequel (a prequel to be precise; Shadow of the Colossus) and is slated for a third title called "The Last Guardian". Once every generation, a child is born with horns to a small village. Believed to be possessed by evil spirits, the child is eventually taken to a castle located near the ocean when they come of age to be sacrificed. Locked in a coffin, Ico faces certain doom. However, either by divine intervention, or the most strangest of stroke of luck, he escapes, and the adventure begins. Befriending a strange girl named Yorda, the two forge a bond as they try to escape their fates. What sets Ico apart from your typical adventure title is it's presentation, atmosphere, and the way it tells it's story. Forget Heads-up-display, Ico doesn't need one. Forget blaring sythezized music, Ico relies on the ambient sounds of crashing waves and howling winds. Forget overly drawn out cutscenes, Ico's barely compilate into even ten minutes. The control scheme, while a little sticky, is well made and serves the purpose of making you're really holding hands as you traverse a hauntingly well rendered castle. Combat can be a bit frustrating, but ultimately works as Ico is meant to a 12 year old fighting off demonic forces, not Duke Nukem's nephew. It's these elements that help define Ico as something more than your average game. It's sparse storytelling and simple control set up actually mangages to make you care about it's two lonely protagonists; Ico and Yorda, the game captures the essense of classic fairy tale, leaving the player to ultimately decide what is truly going on. Finally, the game's ending theme "You were There" presents a haunting melody that sums up the experience as a whole. From the ethereal singing, to the dream like tune, it captures the essence of a friendship forged in a castle on a misty island. It may not be a flawless gem like Ocarina of Time, but what it lacks in extensive content it makes up with a bold gameplay design and story that flawlessly blend together into something truly magical.
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