Shoot 'em ups aren't really a popular genre these days, but there seems to be a bit of a resurgence on the downloadable front. Not long ago we received Gaiabreaker, and now here we have Ice Cream Surfer, a game which had an unsuccessful crowdfunding campaign, but nonetheless ended up being developed anyway.
Upon launching the game you'll be presented with a silly intro explaining the story, about an evil piece of broccoli that wants to take over the world; before jumping in proper you get a character select screen which gives you the choice of five characters. Each of these has different stats, with one for example shooting lots of weak projectiles, and another shooting very few, yet very strong projectiles. It's nice that there's variety, but it would've been preferable if the character select screen actually displayed the differences — as it is, you'll have to actually start the game to find out how your character works.
Unlike the recently released Gaiabreaker, Ice Cream Surfer opts to go for the classic horizontal shoot 'em up approach, making you move from left to right rather than bottom to top. As in most similar games, you can freely move around the screen, so when the bullets start flying you'll be moving all over the place to dodge them. Surprisingly, unlike most horizontal shoot 'em ups, there's absolutely no terrain you need to dodge; everything you see, including stuff enemies are clearly standing on, can be flown through without any harm, meaning you only need to deal with enemies and projectiles.
As you fly around, you'll encounter floating ice cubes which, when broken, drop powerups that do a variety of things — depending on your character — like increasing your shot strength, size or even letting you fire in multiple directions at the same time. Defeated enemies, on the other hand, will drop gems that increase your score and slowly build up a meter that earns you a full-screen nuke attack when filled. Speaking of the enemies, they're a pretty wacky bunch, with examples like polar bears on flying soda cans, literal French toast, coffee cups on (flying) saucers, and more. The bosses are also pretty crazy and quickly get big enough to fill the entire screen.
While the game certainly has the wacky factor going for it, it falls short in numerous other categories. First of all, it's quite short and easy, with only six levels to clear before you hit the end credits. None of them are particularly hard, with only a handful of the bosses offering any real resistance to speak of — most of them can be easily shot to death from a safe spot where none of their attacks can ever reach you. When you die you lose all your powerups, but even then the game still isn't anywhere near tough. Once you hit the end, the only thing left to do is unlock entries in the gallery, which has some concept art; it's a nice addition, but won't last you very long. You can also play with a friend in local co-op, too, a cool extra that, for the reasons we're outlining, doesn't necessarily guarantee a lot of fun.
If the gameplay was up to snuff, this would be a serviceable game, with the only real complaint being its length. Unfortunately that's not the case, as even the basic play suffers from some critical flaws. First of all, this is one of very few shoot 'em ups not to feature an auto-fire function, which means that you can't hold down a button to automatically keep firing — you have to tap the fire button for every single shot you want to fire, which can get annoying quite quickly.
It also gets overly busy sometimes; in the later stages there'll be enemies, pickups and projectiles flying everywhere, with the already somewhat difficult to see enemy projectiles getting lost in the crowd and easily being able to hit you. This busyness also leads to another flaw, which comes in the form of the dreaded framerate issues, something you absolutely do not want to see in a shoot 'em up game. It's thankfully not very frequent, but it does occasionally skip a little, which can easily get you killed if it happens to occur at a bad time.
Finally, despite the good spritework and some decent music, this simply has this air of cheapness about it — aside from a sparce title screen and other menus, the enemies — with the possible exception of the bosses — are barely animated, with maybe 2 or 3 frames of animation each; there aren't even simple things like your character's sprite slightly changing when moving up or down. Hitting enemies barely results in any feedback, which makes you wonder if your shots are even doing anything, and at least one boss has a particularly inconsistent hitbox that made us question exactly what part we were trying to hit. The game doesn't seem like it's trying to be overly retro, so there was no need to skimp on things like this, especially considering the fact it's not a particularly sizeable product to begin with.
Ice Cream Surfer gets some of the basics right and offers players a crazy, wacky world, with colourful locales and varied, interesting enemies. Unfortunately, the game built around that world is just not particularly fun to play, with little challenge, poor presentation, some annoying gameplay quirks and almost no replay value. Had it spent more time in development or perhaps received more money from its crowdfunding campaign, this might have been an enjoyable title, but as it is right now it's best to keep it in the freezer.