Game Reviews

Icebreaker: A Viking Voyage

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Icebreaker: A Viking Voyage

Icebreaker: A Viking Voyage is the perfect agenda-setting debut game for Rovio's new publishing effort, Rovio Stars.

For one thing, it concerns that most intrepid and pioneering of people, the Vikings.

For another, its gameplay literally involves breaking new ground, not to mention exploring a number of new physics-based mechanics.

But more importantly, it's really, REALLY good.

Breaking new ground

You're the new recruit in a tribe of the least threatening, most charming Scandinavian warriors you could ever meet. Your speciality may be slicing and dicing stuff from the deck of your little ship, but it's more likely to be ice floes and dangling ropes than English monks.

With your tribe scattered across the land by a mysterious squall, it's left to you to go and cut them out of whatever predicament they land in, like some kind of medieval fireman.

This is normally where we dismiss a game's setup as unimportant and move on to 'the good stuff.' But you see, Icebreaker's story and world are as polished and compelling as the rest of the game.

Developer Nitrome fairly slaps us around the face for claiming to be a bit bored of pixel-art graphics and shows us that they just needed a bit of imagination to freshen things up.

It's also really funny. Not occasionally-laugh-out-loud funny, but constant-smirk-on-your-face funny. It's got Vikings named Dave, snotty-nosed trolls, and hen-pecked gatekeepers.

Cool customer

This attention to detail continues seamlessly into Icebreaker's gameplay. Yes, it's yet another physics-based puzzler. And yes, you'll spot sizable elements of other such games in there - in particular Cut the Rope and Slice it!

But such elements have been stitched into a much greater whole and put to work in new and interesting ways.

Like those two reference points, Icebreaker's all about making precision cuts. Initially you'll have to slice off chunks of ice, using gravity and momentum and slippery-slidey physics to transport several stranded Viking brothers (and an optional treasure chest) to your ship.

Pretty soon you'll have ropes to bisect, goats to redirect, trolls to avoid and cannons to fire. And it's not just a case of throwing lots of gimmicky new stuff at you, either - if there were a category for Most Creative Use of Ice in a Video Game at the next big awards show, Nitrome would win it.

You'll find yourself making precise incisions to topple chilly monoliths, like a Nordic tree surgeon. You'll set up domino-like chain reactions, form sledges, and more.

Intrepid explorer

Icebreaker's levels are as varied as they are numerous. Occasionally you'll hit a really tricky level, but the game's branching structure (the wonderful overworld map reminds us of Super Mario Bros. 3) always leaves you with an alternative or two to keep you moving forward.

After the initial tutorial period two core goals emerge for each level: collecting all the gold coins and finishing under par (within a certain number of slashes).

This two-pronged approach appears to get really tough after an impeccably judged intro, but then you realise that you don't need to meet both conditions simultaneously.

Just come back and tackle the level in a second way, if you must. In fact, there's no obligation about it - you'll WANT to come back and tackle these bite-size playgrounds again.

Axe to grind

There are cracks in this almost serenely slick, icy cool package. Sadly, IAPs rear their head in an irritating way - you can't use any of the game's God Powers without splashing some real cash.

These powers enable you to move Vikings and objects in various ways outside of the game's tight rule-set. They're not essential, or even particularly compelling to use compared with the rest of the game, but I encountered one or two (literally) cases where I couldn't see a clear way to completely ace a stage without a power-up.

Of course, given the level of care, attention, and intelligence in the level design, it's quite possible that this was just a failure in my comprehension. And besides, the game's generosity of content and willingness to offer you alternative routes mitigates much of that sting.

Another slight issue is a familiar one for sandbox physics games of this kind. Some level elements seem to react inconsistently to your prompts, leading to an irritating number of restarts - or worse, the abandonment of a sound plan.

Cracked it

Again, Icebreaker's overwhelming strengths do much to dissipate any annoyances. There's just so much here to enjoy and to distract you that even familiar iOS grievances somehow don't feel like such issues here.

If this is what a Rovio Stars game looks like, then you can count us entirely sold on the Finnish company's new publishing endeavour.

Forget the question of whether Icebreaker: A Viking Voyage is the next Cut the Rope, Where's My Water?, or indeed the next Angry Birds. It's better than them all.

Icebreaker: A Viking Voyage

Witty, varied, challenging and gorgeous to look at, Icebreaker: A Viking Voyage is one of the finest physics-based puzzlers on iOS and an outstanding start for Rovio Stars
Jon Mundy
Jon Mundy
Jon is a consummate expert in adventure, action, and sports games. Which is just as well, as in real life he's timid, lazy, and unfit. It's amazing how these things even themselves out.