Is Ninja Theory this generation’s Team ICO?

Blasphemy is probably the best word to describe the title of this article, but regardless of that, we recommend reading it anyways. After all, what do you have to lose? You’re killing time at work right now anyways, aren’t you?

Almost ten years ago, a small development team from Japan named Team Ico made its debut within the gaming industry with its first title, Ico. At the time, gamers didn’t truly know who these developers were and the internet wasn’t as mainstreamed as it happens to be now when it comes to looking up information or rather finding information about the latest game coming out. Sure, the Japanese knew that Team Ico was releasing Ico, but Sony never put together a strong advertising platform for it in North America and due to that, the game was received poorly by gamers in terms of sales figures.

However, Ico had one thing going for it and that was critical acclaim. Most publications praised Ico for its unique gameplay, the ability to engage the user and pull him into a brand new world, but most importantly, for its sheer brilliance of demonstrating games as an art form. In fact, has games like Halo and Grand Theft Auto III not released in the same year, there is a strong chance that Ico would have been the runaway favorite for Game of the Year and thus bringing more media attention to it.

Today, Ico is revered as a diamond in the rough. It’s a cult classic that gamers played years upon years after it released – many after a new generation of consoles had already been manufactured and retailed to the general public. It’s quite obvious that this new found love helped sky rocket Team Ico into a beloved studio outside of the small cult niche it was once known for.

This growth was spurred not only by gamers finally finding out about Ico as the internet grew, but by Team Ico’s second foray into the industry with its second classic hit, Shadow of the Colossus. Fortunately, Team Ico received a ton of financial support from Sony with SotC and because of that, gamers worldwide were made aware of the fact that the game was coming and that everyone should play it. As expected, the game released to critical success, the industry’s reviewers praised it on a majority level and many gave it Game of the Year honors. Due to Sony’s advertising, SotC managed to sell a respectable amount of units for its genre and style of play.

In the end, both of Team Ico’s titles managed to receive Greatest Hits status from Sony Computer Entertainment and that was quite the achievement for the developer and with The Last Guardian just around the corner, many gamers worldwide expect the PlayStation 3 exclusive to continue down the path of art and masterpiece that the two original titles created – after all, it’s what you’ve come to expect.

By now, you’re caught up in regards to how Team Ico caught the industry by storm, but not immediately, however, down the road once the dust had already settled. That leaves the question: How does Ninja Theory manage to fit into all of this and how are they this generation’s Team Ico?

First off, I’d like to point out that it’s no secret that I’ve given Ninja Theory a ton of shit for all of the cry babying they’ve done over the years in their bitter partnership with Sony and how they eventually went multiplatform with a chip on its shoulder. That’s not secret, right? However, I can’t deny that Ninja Theory delivered two brilliant titles in Heavenly Sword and Enslaved: Odyssey to the West that were engaging to play and more than enough to capture your mind for hours on end.

While some may point out that SotC and Ico both received 90+ averages from Metacritic, it should be known that there were much less competition frequently delivered in 2001 and 2005 when compared to the slaughter of top quality games being pushed to market this generation. On top of that, review scales have changed dramatically and I believe that a lot of “90” potential games from earlier this millennium, wouldn’t score as well now as they did then (without nostalgia).

Moving forward: Ninja Theory first delivered to gamers on the PlayStation 3 exclusively, Heavenly Sword, and immediately, the game was well received by critics and praised for some of the same things Ico was praised for as well. Critics enjoyed the visuals, its combat system, and the game only hindered itself due to length and a lack of multiplayer function (something not widely considered important like when Ico was originally reviewed). Overall, Heavenly Sword was given nothing but solid feedback and it featured a strong cast of voice actors as well as two memorable characters to play the game with.

Nariko, the main protagonist in Heavenly Sword, has been featured alongside the likes of Lara Croft when it comes to the amount of ass she can kick while looking good doing it. To be honest, that in of itself is a great achievement and one that I believe shouldn’t be overlooked. Her character was memorable, her reasoning for fighting was honorable, and gamers could enjoy the plethora of maneuvers she could pull off. Kai, although not the same, had her perks as well.

Anyone who has played Heavenly Sword has immediately fallen in love with the quirky “little sister,” Kai. After all, who doesn’t like the chick on the edge of insanity that finds enjoyment and amusement from dancing around dead bodies on the ground. Not to mention, Kai was probably the best original use of the SIXAXIS controller from Sony. Controlling Kai’s arrows through the air via motion control was a fun tactic and everyone always went for the hilarious nut shot or headshot to finish a bad guy off. Kai was an exciting character to play with and she is definitely one of the most memorable from this generation.

Readers Comments (14)

  1. i couldent hawe wrote this better myself
    i hawe the same wiew on these 2 dewelopers
    great games, such interaction, touching story and that without a ff sized script,
    but are barely known compared to less capable dewelopers such as infinity w and rockstar…

  2. Great read & right on the money. Ninja Theory did a phenomenal job on Heavenly Sword & Enslaved, which both have quickly become my favorite games ever. Note that I’ve been gaming since 6 yo on the NES, so that says alot on how I feel about these games.

    Everybody will be looking for Enslaved once they get tired of playing the whacked-ass Call of Duty games. I blame Enslaved’s poor sales on not only CoD but bad marketing & timing for this great game. Word of mouth & articles like yours help a soon-to-be cult classic like Enslaved & Heavenly Sword get some additional sales. Sadly however, cheap ass gamers will buy these games used & Ninja Theory won’t see a dime on them.


  3. No. Just no. Team Ico created art that melts with passion and purpose. Their games come alive with a sense of satisfaction and enlightenment upon completion. There’s depth in isolation. Their games talks to the players without saying a word. It grabs you, pulls you in, whispers its messages, and then lets you go.

    Ninja Theory games doesn’t do any of that. They’re phenomenal games, but they’re nowhere close to being on the same level. At the end of Enslaved and Heavenly Sword, you can ask “so what?” and get nothing. The game doesn’t serve any purpose. There’s no real goal that the designer is trying to convey. It’s just a fun time in a blockbuster styled game. And that’s great. They’re both great games, but they lack the depth of carrying a meaningful take-away for the player. At the end, what were the point of spending all that time in those games? Nothing. Just to have some fun I suppose. Great characters, interesting worlds, but there’s no purpose in the narrative or the game. There’s no enlightenment to them, there’s really no point to them.

  4. I’ve only played SotC, and it is for that reason I’m going to agree with Robert completely on what he’s said about the games. The developers, Team Ico’s humble, quiet, and generally good natured. Ninja Theory is filled with a bunch of whiney devs who’s second outing, Enslaved was both worse graphically and glitchier. And all that time leading up to release they told everybody how much better it was to be a multiplatform dev. That Sony was the reason Heavenly Sword didn’t sell way more than 2 million copies. Then without Sony, they sell less than 500,000. I have no respect for these guys, I bought both their games, and their games have no right to be held up with the Ico’s artistic debuts in the medium. As developers, those two shouldn’t be mentioned in the same sentence without mentioning that Team Ico is in some way better than Ninja Theory.
    Ninja Theory try and try and think they’ve made something like Ico or SotC. And think that they give the world something to be remembered, like Ico, in 10 years. Then they whine about how millions didn’t get to experience their vision. Which I can tell you without a doubt in my mind, was no where near as spectacular as what Team Ico have delivered in their two games.

  5. I think you miss understood the article Robert.

  6. What are you guys nuts? Ninja Theory?! They are talentless hacks compared to the amazing people at Team Ico. Personally I don’t think they have much talent at all, Enslaved was a so-so game to me and they are ruining Devil May Cry. Not sure what your really basing this on but a 3rd party team using another company’s middle ware who has produced titles of questionable quality can’t hold a candle to Team Ico and they never will. From where I sit Ninja Theory is the new Rare and destined to the same fate.

  7. I honestly have not read a sillier gaming article this month. You people are crazy, you know. It’s no where close, no where near close. You aren’t even gamers, are you?

  8. Heavenly Sword is next to Metal Gear 4 as games that needed a trophy update…

  9. they are closer to Double Fine than Team Ico… they make GOOD games not great.

  10. Excellent article; I couldn’t agree more with it. I haven’t seen such passion in games, such as NT shows, in a long time and I’m glad more people are picking up on it.

    “No. Just no. Team Ico created art that melts with passion and purpose. Their games come alive with a sense of satisfaction and enlightenment upon completion.

    Ninja Theory games doesn’t do any of that.

    They’re phenomenal games, but they’re nowhere close to being on the same level. At the end of Enslaved and Heavenly Sword, you can ask “so what?” and get nothing. The game doesn’t serve any purpose. There’s no real goal that the designer is trying to convey.”

    Of course there is. I think you should give them another chance; go back and play them again and this time really listen.

    ” That Sony was the reason Heavenly Sword didn’t sell way more than 2 million copies.”

    I think you’re making that up. I don’t remember them ever putting the blame on anyone for HS sales numbers.

  11. Im sorry, Ninja Theory while great, is nowhere near on the same level as Team Ico. When you play Ico or SoTC you feel like your looking into a modern art masterpeice. Every corner of them exudes quality and attention to detail. These games have soul and character and they leave you thinking well after you finish them. HS and Enslaved were great but they were just impulse buys. There was no lingering thoughts on what will or could have happened. Just one and done. I can’t compare the two companies on anything other then sales figures and even then its a stretch cause enslaved bombed terribly on 2 platforms, while sotc sold solidly.

  12. LOL at this article.

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