I won't go as far as to put ICO on a pedestal but as far as unique gaming experiences are concerned, it's a keeper
Ico is the titular horned protagonist whom players must guide within ancient catacombs after he is imprisoned for reasons unexplained. In the ruins, he rescues and befriends a ghastly girl, Yorda whom he must protect from strange shadow creatures.
For around five to eight hours, players must platform through the catacombs whilst beating shadow creatures with nothing but a stick and solving intermediate puzzles.
The game is simple in concept but a lot of thinking and looking is required. The platforming is not out in the open, players must look for ledges to grab or rocks to push or switches to keep pressed down throughout most of the game. It's great for players who like a challenge and have grown weary of the constant spoon-feeding most games of today have produced.
The combat can become redundant but they don't occur enough to wear players out and each shadow encounter gets more challenging.
It's the guiding of Yorda that really makes the game more challenging and unique. Players need to use Yorda to help them clear the catacombs as well as help her get through. And it's much tougher than it sounds.
Players cannot speak to Yorda, only communicate with her via a few hand signals so whatever is lost in translation, players must learn to figure out themselves. Yorda can't climb specific heights, she can't go through certain areas and can only see or hear Ico from a specific distance. This limitations are what set the difficulty bar a bit higher than most casual games.
Fans and critics alike have praised the game for making the relationship between Ico and Yorda endearing. But I totally missed why. The game was much too short for me to get attached to any character. Ico and Yorda do not talk to each other and much of the communication is either through a hand gesture for Yorda to come or for Yorda to stay.
I felt like Yorda was more of a pet dog than an actual person and no connection was deep enough for me to care after I put down the controller each night. Maybe I missed the point but I'm sure there are many others who didn't see any kind of sparks either.
The game was solid and a unique experience that is a must-play for most video game fanatics but don't expect much beyond a simple yet challenging game.