When I first saw ICEY I was intrigued. A fast-paced, 2D, side-scrolling, slashing action game with hints of FURI and a difficulty to match? Yes, please, I will play this until I cry before continuing the masochistic ritual of punishing myself, and loving every minute of it! That’s not weird, is it?
On the surface level this is a very, very slick game both mechanically and aesthetically. ICEY herself is best described as Hatsune Miku crossed with Mikasa Ackerman (Attack on Titan) in that she looks like a futuristic popstar that will slice you up without even a hint of emotion. Cold as ice.
Your first steps in the game sees you, or rather ICEY, make a few slashes with the sword and start to get to grips with how she moves. Even this simple test of what attacks feel like is satisfying. Animations feel great, controlling ICEY is smooth and flashy at the same time. You have a dash ability that lets you zip forward a short distance instantly, and when you discover this can be used in quick succession suddenly movement just got real. Now you’re getting the hang of this, a quick combo or two to see what ICEY can do, dart around and get used to the distance and timing of the dash, and a few enemies to fight. While these enemies aren’t too hectic it gives you a sense of perspective, because a moment ago you were whipping out a short combo feeling like a demigod. Now you’re waving a sword around hitting nothing but air and probably taking a couple of hits in the process, from an enemy that looks about as intimidating as a deflated balloon. That was my experience, at least, and it wouldn’t be the first time I was thoroughly humbled by the game.
A range of enemies will be thrown at you as if the factory making killer death robots has produced too many and they really need to cull their stocks a little. These enemies are varied in their strengths, weaknesses, and the ways that they will make your day a little less bright. Some shoot lasers, others leap like frogs, then there’s the big Megatron-like mechs that want to flatten you with their hammer, and there’s even some small flappy buggers that buzz around like the Snitch from a game of Quidditch – except they shoots lasers, because of course they must! You are going to lose count of how many times you grumble “Oooh, you little bastard” and go out of your way to hurt them.
Digging deeper into ICEY reveals a far more sophisticated story than you would expect – which left me pleasantly surprised. After what is essentially a tutorial mission, your monitor reboots and kicks you back to the menu, only this time to play the game with a narrator. This narrator is an attempt by the designers to bring levity to the overall story, with sarcastic little quips and a constant urging, while also allowing the game to provide a little bit of a traditional narrative and a sense of direction. Disobeying the narrator’s constant “Follow the arrow” mantra leads to fun voice lines that honestly I wouldn’t have expected, and sometimes gives us a glimpse into that thread of the story. He clearly has an agenda, but what that might be is up to you to uncover.
There are a fair number of combos that you can unlock within the game that allows for a diverse set of strategies, at least that’s what I initially thought. Upon reflection, this turned out to be one of its shortcomings as I found more and more I was gravitating toward a small set of combos and abilities to defeat enemies. By far the most effective way to avoid danger is dashing and remaining airborne, so anything that relied being firmly planted on the ground becomes an encumbrance that leaves you open to life-threatening damage. Many of the combos now feel a little arbitrary in retrospect, but I cannot deny that they look damn cool.
While dashing is a good way to stay high above enemies, it also serves the purpose of counterattacking. Dashing at the very last moment before receiving damage will give you a short – very short – window to counter with a powerful attack of your own, zooming right in and playing out a short animation of ICEY slashing this way and that before giving you control once more. This will take some practise with timing, but once mastered it’s almost as important as any combo at your disposal. Be warned, you’re going to get hit a hell of a lot before you get the timing just right.
ICEY isn’t your standard side-scrolling romp with a forgettable story and flimsy call to action like you’d expect at first glance. Stylish art mixed with immensely satisfying combat and pumping soundtrack of electronic music makes ICEY an incredibly fun experience. A lighthearted yet well-conceived narration and unpredictable turn of events make for a memorable game.
Fast, flashy, and incredibly fun
Surprisingly clever story
Combos stopped being useful