ICEY is complicated to explain. As a linear 2D game with decent hack-and-slash combat, ICEY’s real draw lies within its strange and compelling metanarrative. ICEY is over very quickly. The game can be completed in an hour, and all of the additional endings can be experienced within three hours total. In that time, however, ICEY leaves its mark with an unusual story that raises myriad questions amidst numerous fourth-wall breaks.
The game begins with the protagonist, Icey, waking up in a dark room. Soon after, a narrator introduces himself with two simple instructions: follow the arrow on the screen, and kill Judas. According to the narrator, Judas’s identity is not important. All that matters is that Icey completes her task without asking questions or straying off the predetermined path. There is almost no thought required on the player’s part. The narrator–who is very clearly the game’s developer–will frequently intervene when something does not appear correct (for example, if a bridge is missing). When this happens, the screen darkens and programming code appears as if typed in real time. The game then returns to normal with whatever fix the narrator wished to implement. All the player has to do is follow the arrow.
You can do just that, but the game will end quickly and will leave you with several lingering questions. If you are vigilant, however, you will see several opportunities to defy the narrator’s wishes and stray off the beaten path. Exploring hidden areas has a multitude of possible outcomes spanning across optional boss fights, extra cash for combat upgrades, and, most interestingly, insight into the narrator’s identity and motivations.
Subverting the almighty arrow draws noticeable confusion, disappointment, and even anger from the narrator. Passing through a secret door triggers exasperated narration such as, “Icey ignores her objective with no concern for Judas. Sensing immense danger, Icey turns around to follow the arrow.”
By exploring every possible outlet, you can learn about the game’s development and the mysterious narrator. ICEY’s secrets often break the fourth wall. Exploration reveals unfinished rooms devoid of color, email correspondences between developers, and even artificial glitches where numerous faux error windows flood your screen. The narrator’s tangents remind us that Icey is seeing things that were never intended for her or your eyes. Demystifying Judas and the narrator is without a doubt ICEY’s most intriguing quality.
Beyond the story, the game offers little. Graphics and sound design are passable. The combat is fine, and getting the hang of dashes and attacks feels quite fluid, but everything is second to the storytelling. In this case, it works, but it is over so, so quickly.
This Switch port is non-offensive, but several of the coding and error window effects were definitely intended for PC. Still, ICEY is fine. If you are seeking a short, functional, and fundamentally different experience, then you will find a lot to love. If you want a traditional story, a long adventure, or lots of action-packed gameplay, then search elsewhere.
Reviews Editor at Nintendo Enthusiast. I am a major fan of all consoles and eras. Follow me on Twitter @habitablestorm3 to watch me tweet about the many old games I love to spend time with.