A boy and a girl are sitting on a stone bench. They don’t speak – how could they? They speak different languages and come from different worlds. Yet there is a connection between them. The young horned boy gets up and takes the princess’s hand. Together, they resume their Sisyphus odyssey across rutted bridges and crumbling towers, avoiding the invading shadows in their vain quest for freedom.
Ico is now 20 years old. To this day, it’s still the most underrated game ever made. Created by the inimitable Fumito Ueda – who pioneered his iconic “design by subtraction” approach to development here – this cult classic’s influence on the gaming industry in general is undeniable. Without Ico, there would be no Breath of the Wild. Without Ico, there would be no The Last of Us. Without Ico, there would be no Bloodborne. Essentially, without Ico the game would be worse. It’s remarkably ironic that despite low sales at launch, Ico has arguably had one of the most lasting impacts on the gaming industry in history.
For those of you who haven’t played Ico – well, first of all, go play Ico – here’s a quick rundown of what’s going on: Ico is banished from his village for being born with horns. . After being locked in a coffin as a sacrificial lamb, he wakes up in a mysterious castle and meets Yorda, a young princess who will soon die in order to extend her mother’s life expectancy. Your only task in the game is to prevent this by escaping together – that’s it. As I mentioned above, it was the genesis of the ‘design by subtraction’ principle that has since done a complete redefinition of how games are made and what they can be. There is a certain irrefutable beauty to this simplicity: it is unpretentious, phaseless by overabundance, and unmistakably artistic in the purest sense of the word. After all, Ueda himself painted the image of breathtaking beauty that we see on the game’s Japanese box art – it’s a shame the people behind the American version have so little faith in it. people who played games that painting was replaced by this monstrosity.
It might seem like overkill to anyone unfamiliar with Ueda and Team Ico’s work, but Ico’s influence is still clearly visible in contemporary games. In addition to inspiring people like Hidetaka Miyazaki and Neil druckmann, artists as diverse as Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood and Guillermo Del Toro spoke openly about Ico’s undeniable talent. It’s easy to discuss his glaring innovations in game design – he introduced keyframes and bloom lighting, and helped establish a non-dialogical narrative progression – although I think focusing on technical accomplishments comes down to reject Ico’s true value. Clearly, this is one of the purest examples of a game that is categorically that: a game. There is no pretext. There is no overbearing jargon. There is no pressure to be something that it is not. It is one of the less “gamey” video games ever created because to be “gamey” is to get noticed. At no point in Ico do you feel like you’re holding a controller. You are just Ico. You must save Yorda. That’s all.
Considering that Ico has been out for two decades, I’m not really worried about being valuable with spoilers. If you haven’t played it and you’re reading this article … well, it’s up to you, mate. You have had a fifth of a century. While Ico himself is able to dispel shadows and moving objects, Yorda is unable to do anything other than walk and sometimes jump. This type of story – where you’re tasked with escorting a companion through an increasingly difficult maze of puzzles – is the model for some of the most esteemed games ever made. God of the war? The last of us? Resident Evil 4? Ico, mate. They all depend on Ico. A world without Ico is a world where your favorite games don’t exist. Write a letter to Mr. Ueda to say thank you, right?
Ico also inspired Team Ico’s two subsequent games – Shadow of the Colossus and The Last Guardian – which, in turn, are also absurdly influential in themselves. If you told me Shadow of the Colossus was the best game ever, I’d give you the PC I’m typing this on. I’ll give you my car. I’ll give you my house, which I don’t even own. You, the reader, are a person of excellent taste. You know the difference between “good play” and “bad play.” Too bad Ico is better, innit.
I could write about Ico all day (don’t test me, really), from its origins as a simple ‘boy meets girl’ concept gone berserk to the fact that it was originally envisioned as a PlayStation title. before being delayed to launch on PS2, which at the time was not as prevalent in the modern gaming industry as it seems. However, The Last Guardian still has the upper hand – supposedly a PS2 game and it was released four years after the PS4 lifecycle. Savage.
The thing is, I won’t be writing about Ico all day, because, ironically enough, given that I am writing at the moment, to write about Ico is to do him a disservice. Ico is designed to be played, so you should be playing it. To be honest, I desperately want to discuss the magic of its ending, although I can’t bear the guilt of spoiling it for someone who hasn’t experienced it for themselves yet. This is perhaps the most touching scene in any video game ever – it even manages to top that sweet, lonely streak hidden in The Last Guardian’s finale. By the way, it’s from someone with a Trico tattoo. Ico is just so good.
Today, 20 years have passed since the launch of the most underrated game ever. You might not have played it – you might not have even heard of it. Believe me, the developers behind your favorite games? Yeah, they know about Ico. Without it, the gaming industry as we know it would be a different – and irrefutably worse – place.
To play. Ico.
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