If you go to a Hawaiian or Chinese restaurant you can order something called the Pu Pu Platter, which serves as a big sample dish of everything available to eat there. In a way, ICEY is like a Pu Pu Platter. The game offers a fourth wall breaking storytelling device that other games made popular together with a 2D combat system that I've seen before. Will tying them together offer something unique, or does ICEY work better as a device to figure out what other games you'd enjoy instead.
ICEY puts you in the role of ICEY, a robot made with only one purpose: destroy a man named Judas. This is her only purpose, as the narrator will constantly remind you. If you just follow the game from start to finish doing what the narrator says then you're not going to get much out of it other than that. The real point of the game is to defy the narrator. If you're immediately reminded of The Stanly Parable then there's a good reason for that. Most of the fun in the plot is going to involve messing with the narrator and trying to figure out what he really wants.
While the whole meta-narrative idea isn't a bad one, it's just done better elsewhere. I already mentioned The Stanly Parable, but I also thought of Undertale. Both of those games use their meta elements to expand the story, where ICEY's use of the trope feels like an afterthought. Most of the dialogue variances are simply some form of complaining that you didn't follow the arrows, or that you're not going the right way. There are a few particularly funny ones, like one area where the Narrator became convinced that I was only disobeying him because I wasn't actually interested in action games. He then proceeded to desperately search for a different game for me to play, one that he thought I'd enjoy more.
There's also a strange second story running along side the main story threads. It involves a Lovecraftian horror known as The Yellow King that is possibly manipulating the game's events. This section of the story I didn't quite understand at all. There are some interesting clues here, and it seems like the kind of thing that feels like it's supposed to be dissected and speculated upon by the community of players, but that doesn't seem to have actually happened in my native language. I did notice there were a ton of conversations about the game in Chinese, where the developers are from, so maybe they've figured it out. Since I can't read this, however, this comes off like a half-baked side plot.
The game has you confined to a 2D plane, and you'll fight enemies using light and strong attacks. At its very core, ICEY is sort of like a 2D Devil May Cry. You'll be able to combo enemies, knocking them into the air and chaining together attacks to pull off impressive combos that flow quite well. As you damage enemies, you'll eventually be able to attack their cores directly, giving you an instant-kill option that also regenerates your health. You'll want to use this whenever possible, as enemies are rather tough and you'll likely be getting hit often. Some of the enemy design can get rather obnoxious, like a very small flying enemy that shoots lasers that stun you. At times it felt more like ICEY was trying to get on my nerves with unfair enemies rather than challenge me.
It also didn't help that, while ICEY is competent, it's still clunky at times. This especially holds true with the game's dash ability, which requires you to hold down one button while using the analog stick. At times I often was dashing in the wrong direction or had enough of a delay between dashes that I felt like I was getting hit by attacks that I shouldn't have been. Similar to how the story's meta elements felt like a weaker version of other games, the combat in ICEY feels like a weaker version of what could be found in The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile or Dust: An Elysian Tail.
At times the game clicked together in a way that proved to be really fun. Some fights (usually boss encounters) saw a lack of the bothersome enemies that halted the gameplay and let me really have fun. It was at these moments I was able to chain together attacks that looked and felt impressive. Sure, there are still some problems with the game's general clunky feel, but I was able to ignore that in favor of getting to smack someone into the air, jump up to finish him, and then absorb the remains to unleash a super attack.
ICEY's running time can vary wildly depending on how many secrets you try to pull out of it. A straight "start to finish" play through would probably put the game at around an hour long, but I spent about three hours by constantly trying to find new ways to break off the supplied path. A lot of these breaks don't actually lead anywhere interesting, but rather provide quick rewards like money that you can spend, new abilities to learn or buffs for your current abilities.
Much of ICEY's main hook relies upon the narrator, which makes it a shame that the voice acting for him is quite subpar. He sounds oddly out of place, rarely able to get the intended emotions across in a way that makes much sense and often like he was attached to the project as an afterthought. This is most likely an issue with the fact that the game was made in China, and so the narrator is most likely not the developer's original choice. Since it's available, I suggest sticking with the Chinese narrator instead of the English one. The game is at least nice to look at, and I was often delighted by the strange robot designs or by watching ICEY slice her way through enemies in cool and satisfying ways. The soundtrack is also good too, helping intensify the game's various action pieces with some well fitting music.
After finishing ICEY I still couldn't shake the feeling that it's just a lesser version of about three or four other games mashed up into one game. It certainly isn't bad, but it does feel like a lesser version of those games. Some more work needed to be done on both having it play better and in fleshing out the meta-narrative. Still, if you want to combine some fourth wall breaking elements with a fun 2D action game, ICEY should keep you entertained for a few hours.
Our ICEY review was conducted on PC via Steam using a copy purchased by the reviewer. The game is also available on PlayStation 4.
ICEY tries to combine a fourth wall breaking narrative to 2D action game play with mixed results. It has some good moments, but for the most part it feels like a lesser version of both elements.(Review Policy)
- Fourth Wall Breaking Has Some Good Moments
- Fun Boss Fights
- Good Art Style, Soundtrack
- Most Story Elements Don't Work
- Clunky Combat and Controls
- Bad English Voice Acting