Ico is the most free-spirited video game I have ever experienced. Sonic The Hedgehog, the first video game I ever owned, portrayed lush forests and canyons in the background but I was unable to escape the constraints of 2D to visit those distant locations. Ico achieves the amount of detail held in 2D games like Tomba!, Klonoa: Door to Phantomile and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night but in a unique 3D world. It is obvious that a lot of care and creativity went into the design for this game; it retains the minimalist style of 2D graphics but ditches the glaring limitations.
Rather than restricting you from exploring the world beyond, Ico wraps you up in it and makes available everything within your line of sight. There are limitations, of course, but the illusion of freedom is all-encompassing. Sometimes the urge will come over to me to rush out into the light outside the castle. I'll grab Yorda's hand and head for an exit. The areas both indoors and outdoors are gorgeous. The Windmill is my favorite. Occasionally I'll call to Yorda and try to run from her, jumping through the thick grass without even thinking of my next objective.
What makes the world feel real as well as picturesque is the ability the player has to alter it. The puzzles in Ico aren't extremely challenging but are brilliantly set up to encourage smooth play. There is something so satisfying about blowing up a water tower with a bomb to create a bridge for Yorda to cross. I almost want to run up and take her by the hand to show her: "Look! Look what I've done!".
Aside from the aesthetic beauty of the game, the desire to escape to the horizon is the primary driving force to explore the castle. This very basic goal creates an atmosphere in which the player has a definite purpose but is also encouraged to enjoy the incredible environment. Altogether, Ico is a quick play and a great game and I encourage anyone who is interested in any aspects of gaming or art to take a look into it. Three years after its release, it still packs a great punch in all aspects and goes for about $15 USD.