After we received a review code for ICEY on the Nintendo Switch, I played through this side-scrolling action game to see what it’s all about.
On the surface, ICEY is a 2D action game with light RPG elements. You’ll mix light and heavy attacks together to pull off stylish combos, along with a few other moves. Winning battles rewards you with money you can use at the many upgrade stations to power-up your skills, giving you a decent array of abilities with which to crush your robotic enemies as you fight toward your ultimate goal: defeating an enemy known as Judas.
Arrows guide you through each level and the Narrator urges you onward… but if you go in a different direction and ignore the Narrator’s instructions, you’ll quickly realize there’s much more to ICEY than hack-and-slash action. Disobeying the Narrator frustrates him and leads to a variety of branching endings. It can feel a little repetitive at times, but the level-select menu makes it pretty easy to backtrack and look for new paths.
ICEY clearly draws heavy inspiration from the earlier indie hit The Stanley Parable, with a good dose of H.P. Lovecraft added in. On one level, the story is a simple tale of ICEY fighting her way to defeat her nemesis Judas. On another level, it’s a metagame that pits you against the Narrator, who can’t understand why you won’t just enjoy the game planned for you. And on a third level, it has an overarching narrative that draws on themes from Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos and The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers.
The metagame story is more overt, while the Lovecraftian story is ambiguous and leaves the player with bits and pieces to connect and interpret. Some of these pieces come through messages found in the game, but a lot comes from sections of text revealed after each ending, all of which you need to see to unlock the true ending. Knowledge of ICEY’s inspirations might help you analyze what’s going on in the game’s wider world, but it’s still intriguing and thought-provoking even if you’re unfamiliar with The King in Yellow.
ICEY is a difficult game to talk about. If you’re looking for a straight-up action game, it might seem too simple. If you’re interested in a metagame, it’s entertaining but not groundbreaking. And if you’re hoping for Lovecraftian horror, it’s left as hints in the text and suggestions of madness.
But if you want some combination of the three, a metagame with action combat and Lovecraftian overtones? Then ICEY is sublime.