I've always thought that ice cream must feel a little depressed around the holidays. For a good half of the year, it is the unquestioned king of desert and queen of dairy. However, round about October, the trucks that delivered it to neighborhoods amidst the dulcet tones of "Turkey In The Straw" fall silent. The shops that once sold it in more than fifty varieties close their shutters. Worst of all, though, ice cream finds itself replaced in our hearts and on our tables by all manner of thematically-shaped cookies, pies, gingerbreads, fruitcakes, and nogs. Well, the stars of Bad Ice-Cream, Nitrome's new top-down arcade puzzle game, are three dollops of frozen dairy that are mad as heck, and not going to take it any more. They're rebelling the only way they know how: collecting fruit and spitting ice cubes. Are you a bad enough ice-cream to claim the season back?
In Bad Ice-Cream, you start by selecting whether you shall play as chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry, and if you'll be player with a second person. For the record, I like me some strawberry, and while I'm not a big fan of sharing the keyboard, I'm glad the options are there. Guiding your heavy-browed ice-cream dollop using the [arrow] keys, the goal is to collect all the various fruits on the level, one type at a time. Hitting the [spacebar] will cause your dollop to breathe out a straight row of ice blocks, or destroy an already created row if you're standing next to one. Various baddies, including stalking monsters, rampaging bulls, searing flames, ice-breaking squids, rolling logs, and tunneling triple-scoops, will attempt to cream you into a puddle of goo. Ice blocks and quick movements are your only defense. Stay frosty and see if you can avoid a meltdown through all forty levels!
Don't let the cheerful pixel graphics and chirpy music fool you: Bad Ice-Cream is no helping of soft-serve. After a few underwhelming opening levels, the difficulty curves ramps up: It becomes unforgiving around level 25, and frustrating around level 30. Generally, though, I would call the difficulty fair, though the slight isomorphic tilt to the perspective can make it difficult to place which line of the grid enemies are on, leading to some cheap deaths. Also, the later levels rely a bit too heavily on fruit that moves randomly around at speeds faster than your character can manage, which feels a little cheap, especially when you think you're racing the clock. (To be clear, the clock in the corner of the game window is solely for bonus points, something that I wish had been made clear in the instructions. Would have been a lot less stressful.) That said, there are some clever level designs: some relying on quick movement, some on proper ice block placement, and some on figuring out enemy movement patterns and using that to your advantage. I especially liked level 20, whose recreation of Pac-Man into Bad Ice-Cream's own mechanics make for a nice twist on an old favorite.
Those gamers who aren't turned off by Bad Ice-Cream's cuteness, might be by its difficulty. However, if you're looking for an challenge, and are open to adorableness not precluding being-tough-as-all-get-out-ness, you'll find Bad Ice-Cream makes a very nice sundae.
Thanks to Jordan, Alan, Tobie, and Tom for sending this one in!