Tuesday, January 01, 2013

ICO nic

My awesome brother gave me an awesome game for Christmas. Actually, two awesome games: Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, both of which have been upgraded for the PS3 and modern HDTVs. Ico is one of my all-time favorite games; if I made a Top Ten list, it would probably wind up somewhere on there. I haven't played it in ages, though, and I've wanted to play Shadow of the Colossus for years, so I'm very excited about that.

I've been interested in the upgraded Ico for a while, but it wasn't until I got the disc and started playing that I made a crucial discovery: not only has this game been redone with higher-resolution textures and other visual upgrades, but it's also been redesigned in 3D! That's huge. I've played demos of 3D games before, and watched a handful of 3D movies on my TV, but this is the first full-length 3D game I've ever played. It's been great, and also illuminating, since I can mentally contrast this experience to my original playthrough.

I think I've mentioned this before, but at least on my home screen, 3D doesn't "pop" for me too much; I do get a sense of depth and emergence, but it tends to be fairly subdued. That was mostly the case for Ico as well: most rooms had extra richness due to the 3D, but it didn't feel transformative. There were a handful of scenes, generally when the corners of buildings were near the edge of the screen, where it did sort of feel like the structures were floating out of the screen towards me.

Eventually, I started sitting much closer to the TV than I typically do when gaming or watching, and I think that helps the immersion a bit. Since it is an HDTV, I can sit just a few feet away and not see individual pixels; plus that way the screen fills more of my field of vision. I do wear regular glasses under my 3D glasses, and while the fit is fine (the 3D glasses easily slide over my regular ones without touching), in some lighting situations I would get a weird small internal glare, where I think my normal glasses were reflecting some light back that struck the 3D glasses. I could ignore it after a couple of minutes, though.

At least with Ico, I can really only play at night after the sun goes does. During the day, even if there isn't any direct light on the screen, it gets washed out and muddied. In the darker rooms in Ico, it gets impossible to see the environment, even though the same room will look crystal-clear at night. The darkness caused by 3D is actually a really interesting effect - if you slip your glasses off while playing, you'll notice that the screen seems to suddenly double in brightness. This is likely because of how the 3D active shutters work: at any given instant, only one of the two glasses are letting light through, so you only receive half as much brightness as you would if both were clear. There's also a really interesting effect that may or may not be related: if you tilt your head, say, 20 degrees in either direction, the screen starts noticeably brightening.

Ico has several sections with platforming-style gameplay. Interestingly enough, I didn't feel like the 3D made this any more or less easy than normal; I missed as many jumps as I ordinarily would have. So, while 3D feels more immersive, it doesn't provide a more "accurate" mode of play.

On the whole, I love playing in 3D, but I find it hard to do for much more than an hour at a time. I think that's mostly due to the physical weight of the glasses - they definitely aren't painful, but I do feel their weight on the bridge of my nose after a while. One limitation of 3D TVs is that you have a relatively narrow field of vision that gets the 3D effect. If you're at too severe an angle to the screen, then items start blurring a bit. So, I can't revert to my typical late-night posture on the couch, and instead need to sit upright (UGH!) for as long as I want to play or watch.

Ico itself is wonderful. It's been years since I've played, and while I vividly remember the setting and the characters, I've been pleasantly surprised at how much I've managed to forget about the puzzles. So, I could once again experience the fun of figuring them out, instead of just running through the game. (Not that one runs - one of the most wonderful things about this game is the way it subtly primes your emotions to be gentle, and patient, rather than rush through levels like one ordinarily does.) I would often have vague recollections of a puzzle - "Oh, yeah, I think I need to somehow get that box down to the floor so I can reach that ladder" - but still need some time to figure out how to accomplish it.


Yorda is such an incredibly affecting game character. She's graceful, and ethereal, mysterious and vulnerable all at once. When we aren't walking somewhere she will stand calmly and look around; sometimes, she likes to walk into the sun, her bare feet on the grass, and look at the birds flying around. Sometimes she holds a graceful arm up and examines her elbow. It breaks my heart a little to think that I may have tugged too hard on our way there, and I resolve to be more careful with her in the future.

There are a few changes from the original version that I had played; apparently this edition of Ico is based on the European version, which adds a little bit of content and changes some parts of the game. I'm not sure if this is a new addition, or just something I'd forgotten, but a pretty adorable part of the game is when you're in a large environment and stuck on a puzzle. Ico and Yorda will glance around their environments naturalistically, and if you don't seem to be making progress, Yorda will try to figure out the puzzle. She will eventually point at something and make exclamations in her strange language. It's utterly sweet, even if not terribly useful - in the aforementioned example, she would be pointing at the box, instead of where I need to go to reach the box.

In one case, though, the change made it much more frustrating. When you're in the tower near the waterfall top, the original version of the game had you shimmy along a pipe to reach an objective. In the "improved" version, the pipe is broken. Instead, you need to flip a switch, which starts a mechanical platform jerking up and down. I spent almost half an hour trying to figure out what to do here, only to eventually give up and had to admit defeat by looking up the solution online. It turned out that I was supposed to do what I'd been trying to do - time my jumps so it would launch me high up into the tower - but the positioning and timing of the jumps are very tricky to get right. That was frustrating, as was another timing-and-jumping puzzle shortly after around the waterwheel. Puzzle games are fun when they make you figure out the solution to a challenge; they are not fun when you know what you have to do but the mechanics make it difficult to accomplish.

One advantage of getting stuck, though, is that I stumbled across information on how to get the game's "secret weapon". It's in that same tower: there's a secret passage you can open by pushing a wall, and a secret ball you can get by whacking a tree outside. If you launch the ball into a basket (and, yes, it does kind of bounce and ricochet like a basket ball), then a spiked mace comes magically flying in through the window. I wonder now if maybe that's why they made the tower puzzle so much harder and more frustrating: maybe they were hoping that people would get annoyed and run around and smash into walls and thus find the secret room on their own.


Ico is as haunting and beautiful as always. I'm cherishing my time re-experiencing this game, and can definitely see this as the sort of game I want to re-visit every five years or so. I also can't wait to plunge into Shadow of the Colossus and see what I've been missing all these years. As my brother wrote on the gift tag, "If killing gigantic statues is wrong, I don't want to be right!"


  1. I can't wait to see your comments on Shadows of the Colossus. I have it for the PS2, and I'm halfway through, but I haven't finished the game. In part I think this is because the game suffers from frame-rate issues that left me feeling less than immersed. I would imagine it would be very smooth on the PS3, though.

  2. Yeah, I'll definitely devote a future post to Shadow of the Colossus. Even with the higher-resolution textures and 3D support, I suspect that it will run smooth as butter on the PS3.