Heart of Ice
Summer has given way to fall, and before long winter will be here, bringing with it snow, hail and delicious hot chocolate. While the pressure-suited protagonist of Heart of Ice, an action adventure platformer from Eddy Larkin, might be facing similarly cold conditions, he has no time to be concerned with sugary beverages. The Watcher lurks somewhere within, watching like the creeper he is, and it's our hero's job to take him out.
Help the hero accomplish his mission by controlling him using the [WASD] or [arrow] keys, and some parts of the game also use the mouse. Move with [A] and [D] or [left] and [right], [W] or [up] jumps, and [S] or [down] attacks with a three-strike combo. Jumping on enemies is ineffective, so it's important to get used to using your weapons early on.
You have a health bar at the bottom of the screen that decreases when you're struck by enemies. It can be restored by collecting health kits strewn throughout the caverns, though these are fairly uncommon and most of your healing will be done through continuing after being killed. While you can regenerate health over time as well, this is such a slow process that it's almost negligible so you shouldn't rely on it.
As you progress through the game, you'll run into three bosses, including a homicidal pirate and a psychotic psychic. These battles are the high point of the game by far, each requiring you to adapt to a new strategy. You can also search for several hidden items throughout the game in order to unlock an additional fight against a secret boss. All in all, Heart of Ice is slightly longer than your average flash game. Expect around 45 minutes to an hour of gameplay for your average player.
Analysis: Heart of Ice is one of those games that really nails the fundamentals of what makes a game enjoyable. It's visually and aurally appealing, the boss fights keep the experience varied enough that it remains enjoyable throughout and there's enough secrets to keep you searching. Larkin has said that he's spent a year and a half on this game, and it shows.
Heart of Ice features a gorgeous graphical style that looks like something out of a hand-drawn cartoon. It also has some memorable music and passable voice acting and sound effects. The main complaint here is the lack of effective sound effects in certain places. Attacking produces a very subtle noise, while the hero doesn't appear to make any sound at all when he's hit, which can be a pain during heated battles.
The only low point is the slightly unbalanced difficulty. The majority of the game is fairly easy, but every so often there's a nasty difficulty spike. Certain parts of the final battle, in particular, are remarkably frustrating and may turn some players off.
The relative scarcity of health contributes to this as well. As there aren't really any penalties for dying other than restarting that section (unless you're going for achievements) it's usually best to just let yourself be killed if you enter a boss battle or difficult area with less than full health. As mentioned, the game claims that you regenerate health over time and that this is affected by body heat, but in practice this never seems to be useful at all.
Despite these relatively minor quibbles, Heart of Ice is an excellent adventure that will leave you wanting more. The top notch presentation would lend itself well to a downloadable release, and with some tweaking the gameplay could be just about perfect. Sit down with a nice mug of hot chocolate and give it a try.