Played on Windows.
Also Available on PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, iOS, Android.
I received ICEY as part of a bundle with the Steam Link. Actually, I bought the Steam Link and got ICEY with it, but I was curious about why it was the game to be featured in the Steam Link Bundle, so I put it in my queue, though near the bottom. Well, it’s time to finally look at ICEY and figure out what’s so special about it.
The fact is, ICEY starts weak. When you start the game, there’s no narration, music, and has a rather weak tutorial that tells you what to do but disappears quickly. Once you get a grip on that, you move to the right and button mash through enemies until you reach a large boss who you can take down quite easily.
Then the game acts like it crashes and starts in a room asking you inane questions “Are you King Link? Did you remove the mask?” Umm, what? It then has you choose a difficulty from easy, medium or hard through questions and restart the game again. You’re back to the main menu but the game won’t start, though after failing to start the game multiple times you get the ability to start the game “with a narrator”. Suddenly you get an opening cutscene, and the game starts over at the same point, only this time, no tutorial appears and instead you get a narrator.
This is really a good example of the entire game in a microcosm. You can hear in my first look how confused I was and I was confused even on my second (post first look) playthrough, but after a while I started to understand ICEY.
ICEY tries very hard to subvert your expectations. It wants to be seen as a typical brawler, so that when it does something different like restart the game from the beginning and now gives you a narration, sound, and music, it feels different than the first time.
This is similar to how the Stanley Parable subverts the expectations of being a simple walking simulator, how Portal subverted the expectation of being a puzzle game, or even how Deadpool the movie appears to subvert the expectations of being a love movie, or a superhero movie. The thing is each of these pieces of media, the game starts in one genre and does something different and unique with it.
ICEY’s goal is to be talked about in that same rarified air as Stanley Parable and Portal, and it tries very hard. The problem with ICEY isn’t how it does this. It’s more that it doesn’t develop the game it’s trying to subvert. In fact, the worst thing one can do in ICEY is to follow the arrows completely and only see the game as it’s narrator intends. The fact is, if you do that, it’s one of the worst games I’ve played this year. Admittedly it’s not broken, but it’s also not fun. The combat is good, but there’s not a lot of reason for it. The story is weak, and the experience is underwhelming and frustrating.
Don’t listen to the narrator… But I wish the game was better if you do follow him.
What this means is that as a brawler/platformer, ICEY isn’t very good. It would be easy to leave it like that, however, that’s how the narrator intends the game to be played. I think it’s pretty clear the developer had a different opinion. ICEY isn’t made for the person who follows instructions well, instead, it expects the player to explore and ignore it when the game says to fall into a hole when instead the player can jump the gap and climb over an obstacle. While the gameplay doesn’t directly reference it, it’s doing things like this where ICEY opens up and starts to really play with the conventions it makes.
Suddenly, you can skip an entire level, or find a secret room, a hidden achievement, a new piece of the story. You’ll hear the narrator get frustrated with you, you might find a new level, and at times the arrows accept your alternate path, but other times the narrator will try to force you back on the original story path.
The game changes from a run of the mill brawler to rather something special. There are numerous interesting scenes, and experiences that are worth seeing and there are so many alternate endings, each with its own achievement. The fact is, ICEY is there so that when you break the game, it’ll wink at you knowingly and show you what it’s been hiding from you all along.
But there are problems here. If the brawler was better, fans might be able to believe it’s the real game and the alternate parts of the game would come as a real surprise. Instead, I tried playing through the game once without any side paths and found myself frightfully annoyed with it. This came after playing through all the side paths and seeing the joy of the game. The main game itself is weak.
The bosses here are quite inventive. In fact each enemy fits well with this game.
The real problem with ICEY’s game is varied. The characters in ICEY look good, but they repeat quite often til the point where you’re fighting the same enemies over and over. The bosses are inventive and quite interesting, but they feel a little flat, and they too repeat. ICEY, herself, is extremely two dimensional.
The combat itself really holds the game back, as it feels like you can just button mash the same combo and get the best results from it. ICEY is able to buy more combos and power them up but just using light or heavy attacks over and over are good enough. There’s no depth to the combat, enemies are just punching bags, so unlike games like the Batman Arkham series and the Spiderman series, there’s not a real reason to focus on anything other than what works for you.
In addition the secrets in the game are mixed. In my first look, I skipped the entire second level and didn’t realize it. What happens at the end of the second level? You go to the third, so basically I skipped a level in the game that would lead me to where I already was. Why was that level important? Sometimes you might find a funny joke, an interesting achievement or more, and sometimes you’ll just find a room with a little cash in it. The variety in this is good, but every time I found a simple cash room I was disappointed because the other secrets clearly got far more development time, and work better.
The story here is interesting. Judging the story based on just the main path is weak. You have to go kill Judah because the game tells you to, and tries to give you motivation but it doesn’t feel good enough. Just go kill the big bad guy because we said so.
Go kill Judah.. Follow the arrows. That’s what ICEY will tell you.
But again it’s those secrets that make the game worthwhile. There’s a number of secrets that feel like they are intended to be part of the canon story. These are what a lot of fans have pieced together to be “The story” of Icey and, while they aren’t hidden well, the story still isn’t the strongest part but I feel that’s more due to another piece.
That piece is the biggest crime of ICEY, it is the narrator. There’s excellent writing in this game for the secrets, and even the main story does have some good lines, but the English narrator feels out of place. His delivery is completely monotone and uninterested, and I feel that it could have been a programmer’s placeholder narration rather than a final cut that was accepted.
The narrator himself isn’t even credited in the game, and the one voice actress named in the game, Stefanie Joosten (of Metal Gear Solid V fame, coming soon to this site), only reads a small monologue at the end.
What makes this worse though is the Chinese (Mandarin) narrator is infinitely more enjoyable even though I can’t understand a word of what he’s saying. He has inflection, interest in the material, and is actually acting instead of just reading something off a page. Yet, I’m torn. While the Chinese narrator is far better, I can’t understand a word of what he says so I’m forced to only read the subtitles, but the English narrator is bad enough that I would consider the switch.
The combat here looks bland and while it feels better in game, it doesn’t photograph well.
Still, if you do get into the game, there’s a lot to do here. I spent about ten hours in the game, there’s a decent difficulty if you play on hard, and a reasonable one on medium, though I switched to easy when trying to find all the achievements due to the number of battles and a couple of bosses.
Really, ICEY has a big problem. Taken at face value, the core game of ICEY is weak. It has a number of flaws and not much to play. The secrets and side pieces are what makes ICEY enjoyable and if you’re willing to hunt those out it’s worth playing. But I feel the game is backward. The narration should be better, the core gameplay should be better, and it’s the secrets that should have been lacking.
When I think about ICEY I realize that it’s a good game, it just has a weaker game at its core, and that’s fine. Honestly, I’d love to see another game from the developer with a better localization to English, because there is something really inventive about ICEY as a game, and a second game from the publisher hopefully will improve on the flaws here, and may actually one day rival games like Pony Island, and Stanley Parable. But that’s not this game.
I give ICEY a
Final Thoughts: While the main game is weak, there’s good writing here for a large number of secrets, but the delivery still makes it a bit painful to play through. Still, it is enjoyable for quite a few hours.
Stats: 10 hours played. 34/34 achievements earned.