When 2D side-scrolling action game Icey was originally released in 2016 it was met with praise not only for its strong combat system, but more importantly for its meta-commentary of the gaming industry that comes in the form of a narrator reminiscent of The Stanley Parable. It’s now Icey’s turn to join the ranks of indie games that are seeing a fresh release on the Nintendo Switch. There are no real differences to be found in this version but coming off the back of E3 the games cynical, and often snarky commentary is a poignant reminder of the trials and tribulations involved with creating a game.
The game sees you controlling Icey, some sort of lab-grown humanoid machine hybrid, with the aim of travelling from a research facility to the top of a tower to defeat Judas, the leader of an evil organisation. This is achieved by progressing through different locations while fighting mechanical enemies, levelling up your abilities, dashing through the occasional platforming sections and more importantly, interacting with the narrator.
Throughout the adventure the narrator will guide Icey, although sometimes he will make direct reference to the player. If you do as he often advises and follow the arrows through the game, his role will seem very lacklustre. But the developers seem to have recognised the fact that most players, myself included, will purposefully go off the beaten path. Maybe this has been hardcoded into us since usually this is how collectibles are found, or maybe it’s just an innate urge to disobey an authoritative voice.
Regardless, it’s the moments that come from disobeying the narrator that make Icey shine. By exploring, the game treats you to the processes involved in making a game. One such section sees the narrator explaining to you alternate versions of the games combat, while one lets you read mock emails between the narrator and different members of the development team, who are at loggerheads due to his management style. There’s even the opportunity to play a different game all together, a platformer that involves travelling up a building while avoiding hazards.
Towards the end of Icey the shine of disobeying the narrator wore off as it became apparent to me that by not following the arrows, I was really doing exactly what I was supposed to do. Often when there was something worth seeing that involved going against the wishes of the narrator, he would prompt you by saying something along the lines of “as long as Icey follows the arrows”.
At times it felt like the basic storyline isn’t really important, as such I didn’t make any attempt to dig any deeper into the Judas plot or the characters within and it didn’t really seem relevant to the game. Instead it felt like the Narrator and the way you interact with him was more crucial than any of the characters you are tasked with killing.
Other than the light exploring elements, you will spend most of your time in Icey fighting mechanical monsters. Icey uses an electric/plasma style sword and has two basic attacks, light and heavy. Killing enemies nets you money that you can spend on unlocking and upgrading combos, as well as upgrading your health and defences.
Unfortunately all of this is very familiar, the types of combos you can achieve are basic and it’s unlikely you haven’t seen them all before – such as knocking an enemy into the air and completing a combo before whacking them back to the earth. There’s a counter-attack mechanic that involves dodging just as you’re being attacked and then pressing A, as well as shadow moves where pressing L after a combo allows for an add-on attack performed by a ghostly looking apparition. Some of the enemy designs are quite interesting, such as a gross looking large robot that has spider legs, and bosses are well thought out. Unfortunately there isn’t enough to make the fighting sections anything more than adequate.
To make matters worse the game is just too easy. I played through the game on the hardest difficulty and only the final boss gave me anything close to trouble, other than that I breezed through all the fights even without the need to grind money for upgrades. If you’re new to this style of game it may be trickier but anyone use to using dodges will have no problem here.
Icey starts off feeling unique and fresh. Although the meta-narrative often over-shadows the plot, it added a dimension to what would otherwise be a rather familiar side-scrolling action game. By the last section of the rather short experience, which clocks in around 2 hours, the combat started to feel repetitive and the unique narration started to come across as more of a gimmick. If you’ve never had the chance to experience Icey before it’s worth the small price just for the narration elements alone, otherwise there’s nothing new here to tempt repeat buyers.