One man’s wonderful descent into madness.
Set on a post-apocalyptic version of Earth, Icycle: On Thin Ice tells the story of a world where everything has frozen – and yet there are still functioning bicycles. The follow-up to the popular Icycle, which also happens to be included, takes a simple concept in a bizarre direction. This just serves to bolster its charm, albeit in a confusing way that sometimes asks way more questions than it answers. Like: why does he have a working bike but there are suddenly no clothes? It is an enigma wrapped in a riddle.
Finally arriving on Steam (Icycle’s first appearance, as a web game, was way back in 2009), Icycle sees you step into the hopefully thermal boots of Dennis, who must solve a serious of increasingly difficult puzzles in the form of beautifully rendered environments perfectly encapsulating the dreams of the last human on Earth. The worlds are charming and constantly adorable, bearing similarities with other worlds in the 2D side-scroller genre, yet exuding their own unique identity.
The puzzles that Dennis must solve bring their own special mechanics and dangers that threaten to eliminate the last remaining vestige of humanity. From shifting platforms to rolling ice boulders, lever traps and any other assortment of simple machines, Icycle: On Thin Ice provides an effervescent fun factor that I have not felt in this genre for such a long time. Plus did I mention how charming the environments are?
On Thin Ice doesn’t get off to the greatest start, being lacking in early guidance and tutorial. Not that it is particularly hard to figure out if you’ve played any similar game before, but it can be a little confusing as you’re left waiting quite literally out in the cold to be told what to do or where to go. But once that initial hurdle is behind you, everything becomes incredibly intuitive.
The challenge of Icycle is the series of conundrums and traps that await you amidst the frozen wasteland, as it is very much a situation of “easy to learn, hard to master”. With simple controls that do not take an academic to figure out – right to go forward, umbrella to arrest your fall etc – it essentially provides a relaxed atmosphere from which you can focus on overcoming the traversable enigmas.
This is a simple game that, at heart, is about an adventure through a series of fascinating worlds. Puzzles are smart but their mechanics are simple. You move forward, you fall, you jump, but it is the timing of all of these factors and how you initiate them that matters. It isn’t the simple gameplay mechanics and funny customisations that make On Thin Ice so marvellous; it’s the carefully constructed setting which, despite being blaringly loud, also offers a much deeper subtlety, like a Picasso painting. There is more to it than meets the eye, which makes you want to explore further and delve deeper into Dennis’ dreams.
At once wacky, corny and sophisticated, each world has progressively harder elements to tackle. 27 different locations await you in On Thin Ice, starting with the basic ice landscape before the dial gets turned up a few notches and we’re sent to arenas which involve rapidly jumping across bombs that begin to explode as soon as they’re touched, and one delightful zone featuring a strategically placed apple and a mermaid. You’ll understand when you see it.
You can customise Dennis’ appearance, too, although perhaps swap out ‘customise’ for ‘degrade and straight-up humiliate the poor guy’ as you cover him in a variety of accoutrements and sit there laughing a sadistic laugh. No, you’re not above it.
These cosmetics don’t just extend to bowler hats and lampshades, either (come on, what respectable person would wear a bowler hat? Lampshades, however, I’m calling early for the biggest fashion trend of 2018). Dennis will also get to experience different kinds of wheeled mechanical objects just to spice up his insane dreams a little bit. Why ride a bicycle, when you can jump on a sort of go-kart or, even better, a penny-farthing? That is living, right there.
Icycle: On Thin Ice takes a while to show its full potential. But its humble beginnings pave the way for the intrigue and enchantment that follow. On Thin Ice may follow one man’s rapid descent into eclectic madness, but it’s a journey you’ll be happy to take with him.