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Review By:  Christopher Coey
Developer:   Sony
Publisher:   Sony
# of Players:   1
Genre:   Adventure
ESRB:   Everyone
Date Posted:   10-17-01

The Japanese have recognized the emergence of digital graphics and sound as a form of art for years now. They even have specific award ceremonies that celebrate the best and most innovative in various fields of digital medium. The closest North America comes to this kind of recognition is when "The Matrix" receives the Best Special Effects Oscar at the Academy Awards. But let's face it, that's not grand recognition, that's a no brainer. The Japanese on the other hand go so far as to award "The Matrix" with countless accolades, and shelves of trophies. Of course, the US does have the SIGGRAPH awards, where the opening sequence of a Video Game, Onimushu, won the computer animation festival's Best of Show award at SIGGRAPH 2000. On the whole, however, North America is slow to recognize, or accept 'CG graphics' as art.

Ico IS a work of Art. If screen shots of this game were used as the basis for painters to reproduce on canvas, the paintings could be hung in museums. So much time and effort went into the environment that it blows the mind. The entire game is set in one HUGE, fully rendered, interactive castle that is as grand and magnificent as anything seen in any fantasy novel or movie. It's easy to forget, sometimes, that this is even a game. Players will often find themselves panning the camera angles around, simply looking, and marveling at the screen. Especially in the outdoor areas, as Ico hugs his body close to a wall, standing on a parapet far above the sea crashing at the rocks, thousands of feet below.

It's amazing, as you play, to think that each and every area is connected to another, in a working model of this incredible castle. Unlike many (indeed most) games these days, each area is part of a whole, massive environment. Not simply a separate, self-contained room. In most games, as you enter an area from the outside, the dimensions of the room you enter are not necessarily proportional to the view on the outside. In Ico, everything is proportional, even the massive tower you approach from far off as you walk along the stone bridge, and every room inside the tower.

Again, in most games, one would rightly believe that when a game's environments are sculpted and scrutinized in such agonizing detail, that the characters would take a back seat, and be somewhat lacking in depth. In Ico, this could not be further from the truth. These characters are as stylized, and have every bit as much depth as the environments themselves. The story is both beautiful and touching, and wraps seamlessly around the characters whose character development actually takes place AS you play. You can SEE the relationship between the tragic young hero Ico, and the waifish prisoner princess Yorda, develop throughout the game, within the framework of the gameplay.

Ico is a young boy who, in lands of lore, was born with horns on his head. Every generation, in a small coastal village, this same abomination has occurred. Each horned boy, upon reaching twelve years of age, is taken to the dark, abandoned castle to be sacrificed in hopes that the gods will be appeased, and prosperity will once again befall the land. As luck would have it, Ico manages to escape from the tomb he had been imprisoned within and attempts to find his way out of the evil castle. He soon stumbles upon Yorda, also imprisoned in her own cramped cage. Although from different worlds, and without a means of communication, Ico takes it upon himself to rescue, and save, the young girl. He soon finds, however, that an evil queen has other plans in mind for dear Yorda, as the queen summons her minions, in the form of evil shadows, to hunt down and return Yorda to her prison.

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