Ice Cream Surfer is a bizarre horizontal shoot ‘em up published by indie developer ‘Dolores Entertainment’. It is based on an online comic by a gentleman named ‘Stephen Hausdorff’ who describes the series best as “…a comic about a kid and a broccoli on adventures living in the Ice Cream planet”.
In the opening cut scene ‘Broccoli’ is declaring war on ice cream and intends on enforcing the compulsory feeding of vegetables to children. Yes, the plot really is this terrible. Thankfully the main protagonist ‘Ace’ and his team of Ice Cream Surfers intend on saving the day.
The game takes place in six short yet actions packed locations which will see our heros travelling from one planet to another, blasting away at vegetables, inanimate objects and some impressively mad cap bosses. All the levels are incredibly colourful and the screen can get extremely cluttered with enemies, gems, power ups and bonus items.
At the start of the game you get the choice of 5 characters, all of whom use a type of ice cream or lolly as a flying surfboard (reminiscent of the NES game Silver Surfer, only much more forgiving), they also all have different attacks. There’s the aforementioned ‘Ace’ who travels on a three scoop ice cream cone, a snow ape named ‘Hima’, a Superman rip off named ‘Super Cream’, a young woman named ‘Sailor Twister’ & a ninja named ‘Rei Tou’.
Personally I didn’t like using Sailor Twister as her attacks always veer up & down which make targeting unnecessarily difficult, and I didn’t like being Rei Tou either as I felt his attacks were never responsive enough. Super Cream wasn’t a bad character to use, especially as his lasers were pretty lethal. However for me the best character in the game is Ace, not just because he has a straight forward attack but I also think he has the best screen clearing abilities when fully powered up.
So the stages scroll from left to right, occasionally stopping when you need to take care of a mini boss. You get three lives & unlimited continues, also although the stages are short they do include check points so regardless of how slap dash you are the game never punishes you too severely for making mistakes.
As well as firing your regular shots you can collect lollies to power your guns up (until you take a hit). There are shields to pick up which offer you temporary protection and plenty of gems to collect which top up your power meter. When your power meter is full enough you can summon all the other characters for a devastating temporary attack. The biggest down side to having so many power ups to collect on screen at once is that they often obscure enemy bullets, making them difficult to see let alone avoid. Actually one strange design floor this game has is that very often enemy projectiles can easily be mistaken for power-ups. For example there is one boss that fires hearts at you. Can you name any other game where you got hurt from collecting a heart?
The graphics have a retro feel to them with deliberately low res sprites and backgrounds. I do normally enjoy this style of game although I did feel that the background transitions left a bit to be desired. The sprites all have a couple frames of animation and limited shading to make everything pop and feel as if you’re playing a classic arcade game. The art style and amateur design reminded me of many of the strange demos that can be found on the Amiga or old shareware discs from the mid 90s, mixed with a bit of Sega’s ‘Fantasy Zone’. The sound mimics the art style with cutesy retro chip tunes and high pitched voice samples. The music does a pretty good job drawing you in and adds to the old school arcade vibe.
As endearing as this title seems it is unfortunately riddled with little problems. The first issue I had with this game was with the controls. I sat down with my WiiU pro-controller looking forward to having a good blast and as soon as the game loaded my pad lost connection. I tried a few times to turn it on but it just wouldn’t connect to the console. I figured maybe the battery had died so I picked up my second pro-controller and the same thing happened again. It turns out this game isn’t compatible with them which I was majorly disappointed about as I’m not too keen on the WiiU gamepad.
I picked up the game pad, hit start and again nothing happened. It turns out that the button inputs used to play this game (and even navigate the menus) are very specific and there are no on screen instructions. To navigate the menus you need to use the D-pad and you select with either of the two ‘shoot’ buttons (X or A). Pressing start on the menus gets you nowhere. Once I got the game started I tried moving and nothing happened again. It turns out this game not only dislikes pro-controllers but also dislikes analogue sticks, which is something I felt would have really benefitted this type of game had they been enabled.
One odd problem I noticed was some occasional spells of slowdown between segments. Given that this is a relatively basic 2D game there’s no reason why the hardware should be struggling with it! Another thing I felt this game could have benefitted from would be the option of rapid fire. Despite this game being short it will leave you with a sore thumb from the constant button jabbing, and that brings me on to another issue that this game suffers from which is it’s lack of challenge & length.
On my second attempt I set my stop watch to see how long the game would take to finish. I’m not particularly good at these types of shooters yet I had this game beat in exactly 26 minutes. I reckon I could shave a few minutes off that time if I tried again. As for replay ability there is a lot of concept art locked in the opening menu with no indication of what I need to achieve to unlock it. Given that I’ve beat the game I’m at a bit of a loss as to what I need to do about that. It may be related to scores? Beating certain sections without getting hit? Playing in two player mode? I’m just guessing. Actually the inclusion of a two player mode is a big plus point, however since this game doesn’t work with pro controllers you will need to dig out your Wii-motes.
So given the control limitations, lack or rapid fire, slow down, short length, cluttered screens, awful story, questionable backgrounds and characters that can’t shoot straight I’m guessing you’d expect me to give this game a poor rating… and weirdly enough I really don’t feel as if I can. Make no mistake, this title was obviously produced by amateurs. In fact if you were to tell me this game was made by only one or two people I wouldn’t be a bit surprised. I’ve reviewed far more professionally produced titles than this and given them ratings of 2 to 4 out of 10, but I can’t help but feel a bit of a fondness for this one. Maybe it’s the nostalgic memories this game conjures up of pushing 10p coins into an arcade cabinet when I was a young boy, or maybe it’s the games refusal to be arty or credible in this day and age of bland indie game pomposity. Overall, in the short time I spent with Ice Cream Surfer I actually had fun with it. I’d happily pick it up again from time to time if I just fancy a casual blast.
The game is priced at £4.49, and even that is pushing it considering how little game there is here, but if you fancy half an hour of straight shooting bliss then this will be a sweet little addition to your dash board, all be it far from the most credible.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Wii U code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.