It's a hard knock life. Never give up, never surrender!
In ICO, you play as the troubled boy named, coincidentally, Ico. Unfortunately, the people in Ico's village loathe him. Droughts, bad harvests, destructive storms; they blame it all on the boy Ico. Why? Because Ico was born with horns. Once every generation in his village, there is a cursed birth that brings misfortune to the village. Ico, unfortunately, was this cursed child.
The elders decided that it was time to get rid of Ico when his horns grew larger, sadly, the day of his twelve birthday. The elders tied up Ico and brought him to a vast castle. Deep inside the castle the elders locked up Ico in a strange coffin-like chamber, in a room full of many other small chambers.
Out of fate, an earthquake dislodges Ico's chamber out of the wall and is set free. While exploring, Ico finds a strange, young girl named Yorda locked up in a cage by a dying Queen. (Spoiler in the next phrase: highlight the black space if you want to read!) In fact, Yorda is her daughter, and plans to enter Yorda's body before she dies. Ico saves the young girl and they help each other to get out of the large castle.
ICO has been in and out of development for the past few years for Playstation but never really got started because of hardware limitations. But with the much more powerful Playstation 2, Sony was able to continue on and finish development on the game. Before it's release, people were speculating whether or not ICO would have the potential to be a "Zelda killer." Although it's hard to decide since the two games are so different, I'll leave it up to you to decide, so please read on...
Ico displays most likely the most unique and innovative gameplay ever in a videogame, and not only that, it's very addictive. The gameplay mainly consists of solving puzzles that range from simple to mindnumbing. It's amazing at how well thought out and worthwhile most of the puzzles are. Unlike in some games like Resident Evil that has you going, "I went out of the way just for that?", most of the time you will have to take Yorda along with you by grabbing her hand and bringing her around and about to open special doors for you. The doors I mentioned before are special doors that only Yorda can open with her powers by having her stand in front of it. You will have to solve a lot of little brainteasers just to get her to these doors too. For example: in one area you have to climb up a windmill and hang on the fan to get up to the top. Then walk along a few platforms, pull a switch to extend a bridge a little, and help Yorda jump across the gap between the bridge and the side of the cliff. The game is full of little puzzles and objectives such as what I've just explained that keeps you going and keeps the game from getting dull all at the same time.
You thought that the game consisted of only puzzles, right? Well, that would be pretty boring. Sometimes while advancing through the game, spirits will come out of portals in the floor and try to take Yorda away from you. If you don't protect Yorda well enough, one of the spirits will throw her over its shoulder and take her through one of the portals, resulting in game over. So you will have to protect Yorda by killing the spirits with a stick, yes, you heard me, a stick. But eventually Ico will obtain a sword, and if your good enough, a mace. There are different kinds of spirits too, like little spider-like spirits, sentry spirits that try to take Yorda away, and then there are the most frustrating spirits of them all that can actually fly. So if they get ahold of Yorda, you better hurry up and pull Yorda out of that portal because those suckers can fly pretty fast.
The spirits AI (Artificial Intelligence) is pretty smart as well. If you don't give tem a chance to get ahold of Yorda, they will hit you and take away Yorda. And if there's a lot of spirits around, they will crowd around you to keep you away from Yorda while one of them takes away Yorda.
The controls in ICO are very responsive and easy to get a grip on. You can use the D-Pad or analog stick to move Ico around, but I prefer the analog stick myself for a full range of movement. Square swings your weapon, circle is the action button that performs quite a few tasks itself, and triangle is for jumping. Lastly, the R1 button is used for calling Yorda, grabbing her hand, and releasing her hand. It only takes those four buttons to do every one of Ico's numerous actions. Not only that, menus are a breeze to navigate and there is only a few of them.
If there is anything wrong with the gameplay in ICO, is that the game is only about ten hours long for some and the gameplay mechanics might not appeal to all. But for those that will get into the game, you'll love it to death.