I can't even remember how I came about Fumito Ueda and Team Ico's seminal platformer Ico. It's like I came to learn about it via a dream of some sort. I guess I more than likely read about it in one of those PlayStation magazines I loved so much, or came across it online somewhere. Or it was passed onto me via a kiss from a mute deity one night when I was lingering between sleep and awake. Yeah, that's the ticket.
But, despite how important the game is to me, for some reason it doesn't stand out as much as adventures with Ocarinas or Solid Snakes. What I do remember however is getting my hands on it for the first time.
Back on my native island of the United Kingdom, a buddy and I had returned from seeing a friend who had moved away to pastures new for college-related activities. It was great: we drank, danced, laughed, threw up – everything you imagine an 18 year old getting up to away from home at that age... in Europe at least.
But when I returned, suitably broken from the weekend's frivolities, I had £20 left over to spend on what probably should have been food. But instead, we shuffled into the nearest Gamestation we could find and came across Ico's limited edition – the one with the beautiful postcards – on sale for a cool £17.
Who in their right mind would let go of this near mint-condition copy of one of the greatest action/adventure games ever consigned to disc? Someone who evidently didn't know much about of the beauty of Ueda's unique eye for puzzles, dilapidation and the awe of nature reclaiming its throne.
You see it was 2003 and next to no-one had heard of the man and his fantastically beautiful and sparse video games. He had worked as an animator on two titles prior to Ico's release – Warp's D and Enemy Zero respectively. And whilst both games were critically well received, it wasn't until the aforementioned adventure through an ancient castle with a boy with horns and a mysterious girl that Ueda began receiving the admiration he so deserves.
How Does An Ico Come To Pass?
When you think of Ico, do titles like Flashback, Prince of Persia and PaRappa the Rapper spring to mind? Not right from the get go, right? But Ueda, the video game auteur and former art student, wanted to pool these influences together in order to homage movies, another art form he admires so dearly.
No pressure, right?
Being such an avid fan of cinema, Ueda got in contact with Sony and created a pilot movie that was impressive enough for the gaming giants to offer him the chance to create his own game:
"...I wanted to do something to really challenge myself—I wanted to create and direct my own movie scene. So I told Sony, 'There’s something I want to do on my own. Would you mind waiting three months?' To my surprise, they invited me to come now, and said that they would let me create the movie I wanted to while I worked for them."
Though it would have been fitting for the movie to have become Ico, it didn't. But the foundations for the title were fortunately *clears throat* set in stone. Had to. Sorry:
"Yeah, we did have a master planning document. It said how I wanted to do something novel, to make “a brand new kind of game, something unlike existing games.” Easier said than done, right? That’s how it seems to me when I look back on it now."
So how would he go about crafting something so brand new?
"For some reason, I was really keen to make a game that featured AI. At the time, there were a number of games with AI characters, like Wonder Project J and Hello Pac-man. But I wanted to make an AI that responded more directly to the player, not something mediated by the screen, like the 'point-and-click' style interfaces of those adventure games. I thought one way to do that would be to put the player in the game directly, and make them work together with the AI character."
And that idea of an AI character turned into Yorda, the awkward second piece of a beautiful two part puzzle that paved the way for AI companions such as The Last of Us' Ellie and the wonderful twin-stick action of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons amongst numerous other titles.
Man, the game even managed to inspire Naughty Dog and Nintendo to get the best out of Uncharted 3 and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess along the way. And that's no mean feat. That's how important this game is, and is testament to its magical methods of shifting my reckoning of video games as mere time passers to literal art forms.
And the game is magic. From its soundtrack, its misty, dust addled locales to the honest longing you feel when contemplating growing up with your closest childhood friend, and how the both of you tackled the tallest hills together, fell from bikes, fought bullies and boredom at school together. And grew so inseparable, you felt like you could take on the world – but only together.
If video games are an art form -- and who could disagree in the presence of Ico's painterly landscapes -- then Ueda and his team showed the world how skilfully they wielded their brush.