Review: ICEY

ICEY is a traditional 2D side-scrolling action brawler with a player-controlled narrative twist. Players control ICEY, a cyborg born from a genetic lab, with one goal programmed into her mind: killing. ICEY wakes up in a deserted military compound greeted by a snarky narrator insisting that she follow a path to take out the evil Judas. What sets the game apart from many other brawlers is the player’s agency within the game. Even though the narrator may state which direction ICEY should go, players have free reign on whether or not to actually follow the narration. While the game isn’t as challenging as something like Devil May Cry or Bayonetta, ICEY offers players solid combo driven action along with some levity toward many modern gaming conventions.

Players take control of ICEY with a sort of onscreen tutorial prompting for basic moves. Then the meta game begins to kick in. A splash of error screens pop up before the game boots back to a command prompt-type interface where a clacking of keyboard enters command codes, tripping the game into a proper introduction of the narrator. I’m at odds with the performance of the narrator throughout the game. While the acting isn’t as seasoned as, say, anything Nolan North would give, there is still a passionate intent behind the performance that helps it stand out. Yet at the same time, there is such a high level of snark and fourth wall breaking that you can almost hear the narrator trying not to giggle as some of the lines are delivered. At times it’s jarring, while at other times it’s charming.

ICEY has the usual combination of normal and heavy attacks. Defeating enemies earns currency which can be spent to unlock additional moves (which are variations of normal and heavy attacks), as well as increase the damage done by moves that have already been learned. ICEY has a satisfying air dash move that works both as a dodge mechanic, as well as a means for traversal into higher areas on any given location of the active screen. This air dash offers players a chance to explore and discover new areas that aren’t tied directly to the main narrative. While most areas have an ATM to smash or deeper dive into the lore of the game world, some locales are used to give the developers a chance to break the fourth wall and offer a slightly tongue-in-cheek critique about the inclusion of trophies and the lengths that many players (myself included) will go to in order to obtain the shiny baubles that enhance a gamer’s measure of worth.

Stages for the game lead players through grimy sewers, deserted houses, desolate city streets, and the aforementioned military base. Checkpoints are marked throughout each area, affording players the ability to not only auto-save their progress, but also buy upgrades so long as enough currency has been earned. At times players may choose to deviate from the narrator’s story and find themselves moving down a branch in the gameplay which ends in a sort of conclusion to the story. Fortunately, any currency earned during that branch remains when the game returns players to the command prompt-like main menu, allowing players to start over at the last major checkpoint. The upside to this repetitive gameplay is the opportunity to farm currency and make ICEY even more powerful.

As the game progresses, the enemy variety grows to encompass a wide range of creatures to pound on, from small, laser-blasting flying pests and peashooters mounted to robotic dogs, to hulking, lance-wielding centaurs or even larger goliaths swinging around war hammers. Each enemy type requires a new strategy, which in turn forces players to learn the various combos that can be unlocked.  After a few story loops, I found myself quite enjoying the combat as I commanded ICEY to quickly dominate even the biggest bruisers. The final encounter is challenging, and I found myself having to rethink my strategy after each death by Judas. What I truly appreciate about the game overall, though, is how skillfully the enemy encounters ratchet up the tension and challenge without feeling completely unfair.

ICEY‘s fun brawling is complemented by some pretty great background parallax artwork, and since the environments change enough, the palette doesn’t get stale. The electronic, synth-style music in ICEY is also noteworthy. Several times I caught myself just holding still in an area to let the music loop through before moving on to the next encounter. The soundtrack is available as free DLC on Steam with purchase of the game, so you’ll want to jump all over that offer if the choice is available, especially since the Steam version is also cheaper than PS4.

Players experienced in combo based action brawlers may find the game to be fairly short to beat, but I would strongly suggest playing through an extra time or two to make sure that all of the hidden story areas and meta commentary are found. The game is challenging without being too “button mashy” or frustrating. ICEY also is great in that the developers didn’t pad the gameplay just for the sake of being able to say the game is 20 hours long.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Skillfully executed challenge ramp up
+ End game combo unlocks look and feel awesome to pull off
+ Good background music makes you stop and listen

Cons:
– The narrator can be a bit grating at times

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS4, also available on Steam
Publisher: X.D. Network Inc.
Developer: FantaBlade Network
Release Date: PS4 — 8/8/2017, PC — 11/17/2016
Genre: Action Side-Scroller
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1

Source: Review code provided by publisher

Buy From: PlayStation Store for $14.99 or Steam for $10.99.

About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.