Broccoli, eh? Whether you’re talking the ordinary run of the mill stuff, or more exotic varieties like purple-sprouting and tenderstem, the miniature-tree-resembling veg is rich in Vitamin C, nutritious and tasty, and as such should be celebrated. Spaniards Dolores Entertainment disagree, however: an anthropomorphic brassica complete with a Hitler facial adornment is the evil vegetable core of Ice Cream Surfer, a re-jigged Wii U indie shooter that eschews healthy eating and promotes the sickly sugary rush of confectionery as its saccharine motif.
In its former guise as a mobile app, Ice Cream Surfer featured perma-autofire, some dodgy ad placements, and wasn’t particularly well received. Thanks to some crowd funding and a bit more time in development, the updated version is certainly much better. It’s still a flawed experience – albeit one that does have some sweet positives.
Anyone who has played Konami’s brilliant Parodius series will instantly recognise the debt that Ice Cream Surfer owes to the gloriously silly bastardization of the Gradius universe. Enemy formations, daft speech, multiple characters each with different attack types, boss hit points and the way downed enemies drop multi-coloured ices and weapon upgrades the same way that bells and powerups litter the screen… someone over in Barcelona has spent some time playing Parodius Deluxe Pack in their youth. To its credit, the slick 16-bit pixel art style, entertaining character designs and chiptune music all lend this an identity of its own, even if the core mechanic is a watered down version of the tried and trusted Vic Viper signature gameplay.
And there lies the problem: the way Ice Cream Surfer is designed means it falls into the time-honoured trap of Western developers just not getting it right where shmups are concerned. The power-up system lacks the element of choice and risk/reward that is present with Gradius, and is simply too random in nature. The fact that all enemies drop floating popsicles that rush towards you, filling the screen, is unnecessary in what is a fairly unsophisticated, non-bullet hell scenario.
There is an amusing selection of smart bomb attacks at the disposal of the menagerie of playable heroes, and a system of collecting letters that appear on the playing field, spelling out the words ICE CREAM and unlocking additional powerful attack states, which adds a nice extra layer to the game mechanics. There are unfortunately some sharp difficulty spikes – the third boss encounter in particular sees a sudden incline in terms of near-impossible to avoid attack patterns – and the overall solidity of the whole system means it is sorely lacking as a hori scroller and far inferior to other recent downloadable fare such as the stellar Sine Mora.
With options to play on or off screen, and support for the whole variety of Wii U control methods, Dolores have made good use of the console, and the title is an undoubted aesthetic treat with a likeable art style and some funny and diverse characters. There are some unlockable bits and bobs, but it won’t take long to traverse the six nice-looking yet short stages on offer.
VERDICT: Ice Cream Surfer tells the story of a maniacal vegetable hell bent on destroying the sugary world of the flying gelato-influenced heroes, but just as fast food and candy treats are light on essential nutrients and likely to do you more harm than good, this is a game that is probably best left on the shelf, with other far more healthy options available to the discerning shooter fan.
AVERAGE. The epitome of a 50/50 game, this title will be unspectacular but inoffensive, charmless but amiable. We aren’t condemning a game by scoring it a 5, but we certainly aren’t championing it, either.
Review code provided by publisher.