The narrator of ICEY hates me with a passion. From the moment the story started, I disobeyed every single suggestion, order, or nudge he gave me, and proceeded through the whole game as I saw fit. Objectives were sidestepped, direction arrows were ignored, even whole boss battles were skipped, and I watched perplexed - and extremely amused - as almost every action I took was not only possible, but also had a feedback from the omnipresent narrator. He patiently opened doors I couldn’t open on my own, grew frustrated as I purposefully fell down a sewer pit thrice in a row, and screamed at me for ignoring the objective arrows and bypassing a whole 20 minute level in under two minutes. By the middle of the game he was throwing tantrums at me and I actually expected the application to just force quit at any moment, but it never did. Instead, ICEY just kept getting better and better, maintaining its brilliant tone until completion and making me enjoy a genre that absolutely bores me to death. ICEY, ladies and gentlemen, is a gem.
A 2D action sidescroller that puts you in the shoes of the eponymous heroine, the game tasks you with swiftly moving through several levels and murdering everything in your way. Throughout your journey, you’re accompanied by an omnipotent narrator that explains what happens and points you towards your next objective, leading ICEY to the truth about her existence, but that only represents about 25% of the title. The other 75% consists of challenging the narrator and ignoring him completely.
You are implicitly given the choice to not follow the story, by taking a different course of action on hundreds of opportunities that appear during the game. Go left when the arrow points right, dash through an open door before it closes instead of battling a boss for the key, or simply jump your way over a gigantic chasm instead of activating a photon bridge -- each level has dozens of opportunities to choose your course of action, and the best part is that each of them usually matters. The narrator addresses each and every one of your actions, be them compliant or not, and as you constantly disobey him and break the rules of his own game, he grows more and more disheartened. The voice acting and dialogues are brilliantly performed, conveying different degrees of frustration, anger, and sadness -- even though ICEY is fully voiced in Japanese at the moment of this review, the emotions and performance come across beautifully.
The actual combat gameplay is where it almost lost me. The tutorial was not special, with its generic 2D action and extremely boring combat that seemed to just devolve into button mashing. However, ICEY is not wholly to blame -- that is a staple of the genre, and I personally feel it grown completely outdated in today’s era of Assassin’s Creed and Batman Arkham rhythmic 3D combat. That being said, enthusiasts of 2D action are going to love it, as there is a huge array of attack combinations and the movements are quite responsive, making for an engaging -- if in my opinion, somewhat bland-- experience.
The battles are made more enticing by the superbly drawn art and wonderful animations, giving life to the characters and turning fights into a dynamic and fast paced affair. The quality of the sprites and overall graphics is very good, and the audio and music match the high standard of quality. It is refreshing to see good production values in an indie, as nowadays that label is often used as an excuse for terrible top down 2D titles, but ICEY is not one of them. Even better, the game supports keyboards as well as Xbox and Playstation controllers without any additional fussing, and while it doesn’t change prompts on the fly, it does automatically detect what input method is being used upon launch.
Overall, ICEY is one of the best indie titles I have ever reviewed. Within an hour of playing it, I managed to unlock about eight different endings -- and none of them were the actual ending of the game (or even close to the final level, for that matter). During that time, I pissed off the narrator of the story more times than I could count, and had a shamefully absurd amount of fun doing it. I never grew bored once I understood how to break the rules, and while the title is much more enjoyable if you like 2D action, even non-enthusiasts are sure to get a kick -- with its unique blend of fighting and The Stanley Parable‘s self-conscience, ICEY is a game that easily earns a recommendation.
ICEY (Reviewed on Windows)
This game is great, with minimal or no negatives.
Brilliant art design, lovely script, and great production values make ICEY one of the best indie titles I have ever reviewed.