Time to ICE and dice some robots.
I’m very interested in games that subvert expectations. Games like Pony Island, Doki Doki Literature Club, and The Stanley Parable all begin in a very different way to how they end. I’ll avoid spoiling any of them if you haven’t played (or seen) them, but suffice to say, things are often not what they seem. This brings me to FantaBlade Network‘s ICEY, a PC game recently released on Switch. At first glance, it’s a 2D, anime-themed brawler featuring robots, but there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye.
As above, I’ll avoid spoiling anything plot-wise, but we begin with a short tutorial that introduces us to ICEY and the game’s basic mechanics. We learn that Y and X are used for light and heavy attacks, that A is used to finish weakened enemies, that B is jump and R is used to dash. All your attacks are melee focused, so careful use of your dash is important. After a few (satisfying!) combat encounters, we begin the game with a few questions to determine the difficulty level.
We are told that ICEY must confront and defeat a robot named Judas who apparently wants to destroy the world. The game gives very little detail at this point for a number of reasons (that I’ll get to shortly) and we push a button to begin.
ICEY finds herself back at the start of the tutorial area, but this time with the game’s narrator instructing her to follow the arrows on the screen to reach Judas. Doing so will progress ICEY through a number of areas, defeating enemies and bosses before confronting the robot himself for a final confrontation over the course of two to three hours, resulting in a slightly confusing ending.
But by doing this, you will miss out on what ICEY is all about. The key to finding out what’s happening in this game is by defying your ‘master’ and ignoring his instructions. For example, early on the narrator states that ICEY activates a bridge to cross a chasm, but if you ignore this and leap into the chasm repeatedly, you can find a completely different route onwards with an early ending that gives cryptic clues as to what’s really going on.
There’s a huge number of different endings (many hinted at in the game’s in-built trophy list) and should you find most of them, you can discover the truth about the events of ICEY. Some of the available routes have utterly bonkers events, whilst others get very dark.
All of this is excellent, but if the gameplay doesn’t hold up, you can end up with half a product. Thankfully this isn’t the case, as ICEY’s combat is mostly very entertaining, with lots of fast-paced confrontations with numerous enemies. You can unlock plenty of different combos by spending money earned through fighting and finding hidden chests. The battles themselves can be very tough on higher difficulties, with the possibility of you getting stun-locked and dying if you don’t keep moving and striking enemies when you see an opening. On easy, the combat is more manageable, but I still happened to die a few times!
The downside to playing sections multiple times to find different endings is that some of the combat encounters can get a little bit repetitive in spite of the combat itself being enjoyable. Whilst you can use a checkpoint system to start in the area you want, you’ll still find yourself fighting the same battle several times.
This is also an issue when paired with the narrator’s dialogue. Whilst I enjoyed the voice over (which is in English — the original PC release only came Chinese), hearing the same statements over and over got a little old. There are some sections that won’t progress until he has finished and there is no option to skip the dialogue which is quite irritating! Having said that, the voice work is fairly good, although a little stilted at times. This may be due to translating from the original Chinese. On the subject of audio, the music is very good, but there are few tracks, again resulting in the same thing being heard over and over.
Visually, ICEY is great. The colours of key players really pop off the screen and everything looks fantastic in motion, in both portable and docked modes. Enemies all look distinct and once you know their capabilities, you can pick out the most pressing threats quickly. Some of the visual effects that crop up look very… interesting, too (I’m saying no more). On the whole, this is a very good-looking game which plays smoothly.
There’s a lot to enjoy about ICEY. It has a great combat system with a very interesting story when you dig into. Moments of surprise abound as the game throws another curveball at you when you decide to find a different path to the one presented to you. Whilst there are a few issues with repetition, I found myself engaged throughout the five-or-so hours it took me to find all the different endings. I highly recommend this if you’re looking for something a bit out of the ordinary.
ICEY is available now for PS4, Nintendo Switch, PC and Mac. This review was based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game.