Every now and again an article gets published asking the age old question: Are video games art? It’s something I have talked about before when I played Journey and I find myself coming to this question yet again with Ico.
For the record, I am very much on the side ‘video games being art’ in the same way as music and cinema. Games like Ico just make the argument a lot easier to make than something like Naughty Bear or anything Barbie.
There is so much good in this game that makes this an exemplar of games as art. The way that Team Ico used a ‘subtractive design’ method to make this game just helps it to stand out. The villains are just shadows, the dialogue is at a minimum and the lighting is between soft and darkness (it’s a bitch to play if your television has even a slight glare on it). This method was done to help with the immersion and it really works.
At its core Ico is a game about ‘boy-meets-girl’. The way that they call out to each other, rescue each other and run through this old castle holding hands helps to build this relationship between you as a gamer and them as your avatars. Sure, there are times you want to scream at the girl (the pathfinding in Ico is far from perfect), but ultimately you need her and you want to protect her. So mission accomplished.
However, being an ‘art game’ doesn’t allow you to escape from some criticism. Ico ends up playing as an incredibly long escort mission… and I don’t think there is anybody that enjoys those too much. Also there’s the combat.
On some level I appreciate that the focus is on the puzzles and how to navigate this beautiful castle in a one-person co-op game, but the combat (and the lack of variety in the combat) just added unneeded pieces of frustration in an otherwise atmospheric and mysterious world. The worst part of this were the times the enemies would spawn to kidnap your companion whilst you are separated – it just felt cheap to get a game over because you didn’t memorise the route.
Still, there is no denying the importance of Ico. There’s a reviewer that said (and I am paraphrasing here) that whilst Ico is by no means a perfect game, it is a game of perfect moments. It’s hard to disagree with that as you find your characters running hand in hand in the grass towards the iconic windmill.