Ice Cream Surfer is a Horizontal Shooter in the vein of Irem’s R-Type or Konami’s Gradius series. It’s loosely based on the Ice Cream Surfer online comic strip by Stephen Hausdorff. I say loosely because the comic strip has a much deeper lore than the game presents. It takes place in a world known as Ice Cream Land, where the two main characters, Ace, and Frozen attend the same school. Ace is a human character who is obsessed with super hero books, and is part of a club with other classmates. When Frozen, (a sentient piece of broccoli) isn’t allowed to take part in the clique, Ace leaves, and forges a bond with the broccoli. Frozen is also gifted in the sorts of mad science we’ve seen in superhero books for the last seventy-five years.
PROS: Zany characters, and stages. Fun, and challenging.
CONS: Technical hitches. Slowdown. Not much lore for those new to the IP.
WEIRDNESS FACTOR: It gets close to Plaque Attack.
The two partner up, and go on several adventures trying to do good deeds. Without giving too much away, at least for the time being, it’s a far cry from what we’re presented with in the game. In the game, Frozen takes the role of a super villain, who wants to destroy all of the junk foods in the universe. Ace, along with several other heroes have to stop him. Each of the heroes has his or her minor variances in how they play. So the difficulty, and challenge can change depending on which character you choose. The game also offers simultaneous two player cooperative play.
You can play as the following characters:
Ace, who takes a page from Marvel’s Silver Surfer. He rides along on an Ice Cream Cone shooting bullets. He is a well-rounded character who isn’t too fast or two slow.
Super Cream, a Superman stand in who looks like the DC hero stuck in an ice cream sandwich. He is another well-rounded choice, who is preferred because his heat vision shots can get between enemy projectiles easier.
Sailor Twister, who is an obvious parody of Sailor Moon. She surfs along on an ice pop. Her shots are slower, and change direction every other shot. As such, she’s harder to use because you have to compensate for her slow firing rate, and changing aim.
Rei Tou is a Himura Kenshin inspired character who surfs on doubled ice pops. He doesn’t shoot, but rather swings a sword. When he does, a very small wave flies out in front of him. The problem is that the wave does not travel to the end of the screen. Rather a few pixels, in front of him. This makes him one of the hardest characters to use, as most of the grunts you’ll face have to be dispatched at point-blank range.
Hima is a giant yeti who can throw ice. He is the slowest character in the game. He also has a short attack range, as the ice melts only a few pixels away after firing. The difference is he is also more powerful. So his attacks are more effective on bosses. Of course, the fact that he is larger than everyone else also means that he’ll be hit easily.
The game is structured very much like the shmups of the late 80’s, and early 90’s. There is a lot going on at any given moment. But it isn’t as intimidating as bullet hell games, like Ikaruga. Still, that doesn’t mean the game is going to be a cakewalk for most players. Frozen’s forces always seem to fire projectiles in ways that you’ll barely be able to get through. You will never have a dull moment, or time to breathe as you try to avoid all kinds of enemy firepower. Fortunately for you, there are power ups. You can collect letters I-C-E-C-R-E-A-M, you can collect gems dropped from every enemy you dispatch, as well as find ice pops, and spoons.
Spoons are this game’s options. In older games like Gradius, and Life Force, one could have an orb that acted as cover for your ship. In this game, spoons will bring a little dish of ice cream to your aid. Some shoot lasers, others just act as an extra hit. You can’t have more than one, so collecting a second spoon merely replaces your dish with a different one. The ice pops beef up your primary attack. Each one adding more power until you go from mere pellets to spread attacks, or giant beams. Collect enough gems, to fill a meter up near the bottom of the screen, and you can use a desperation move. Generally for most characters it acts as a smart bomb, taking out all of the enemies on-screen.
Ice Cream Surfer has a lot of really great things going for it. The cast of zany enemies alone are worth the price of admission. There are bears riding cans of soda, tomatoes sporting Duke Nukem haircuts, Gomer Pyle inspired eggplants, and floating cups of coffee. The bosses are even pretty awesome. In a lot of ways they may even remind you of some of yesteryear’s strangest shmups. Games like Meldac’s Zombie Nation, and Konami’s Parodius. A giant polar bear, a bowl of udon soup that turns into a sumo, and a giant sun are some of the crazy fights you’ll enter. All with the pattern memorization, and dexterity the genre demands of its players.
Ice Cream Surfer is also a short game, it’s only around six stages long (Upon beating a stage it can be selected as a starting stage.). But it feels about the right length overall. It doesn’t go on to the point of monotony. Nor does it end too abruptly. The game also takes advantage of the Wii U’s gamepad. It lets you either use its screen as a sort of HUD, or you can press the – button to enable off TV play. It isn’t a huge deal, but it is nice to see a small developer able to take advantage of it.
Unfortunately there is one glaring problem with Ice Cream Surfer. Slowdown. Just like the Sega Master System port of R-Type, you can fully expect the brakes to jam on. The game just cannot seem to hold a solid frame rate during some of the most precarious times, which makes the game run sluggish, and less responsive. It’s really a shame, because outside of that one major flaw, there isn’t much to complain about. At least as a game. Some fans of the comic may be perplexed as to why Frozen is simply thrown into the role of super villain. (at least until they beat the game.) But in the end Ice Cream Surfer is a surprisingly fun, and exciting shooter. It’s just too bad some technical hitches drag the experience down.
Final Score: 7 out of 10