Tuesday 11 December 2012

Icicle Works

It's getting cold outside, so must be time to tell Paul Weller that the river Nile flows through ten African nations and much of the continent follows Islam. We've done this every year since 1986 but he just doesn't listen!

And what better way to celebrate the festive season than Icicle Works for the Commodore 64, a game completely devoid of icicles... and work. Great stuff.

Those silly enough to put their weight behind the Wii in the last few years will be no doubt accustomed to the produce of Nintendo. You may have wasted weeks and months waiting for Miyamoto to launch his fifth interpretation of Ocarina of Time, blissfully ignoring the much better produce of third party developers on other systems. But hey, who cares if you're ignoring vast chunks of the video game market in your quest for repetition - it's clearly a sound business strategy that I'm sure will do well in the future.

Predictably this model can't be applied to other systems, and not just on the grounds of being a horrible idea. Commodore's three year stint at supporting their own leading computer led to a handful of "functional" games for the masses, each keeping the bar needlessly low with their own brand of mediocrity. In fact, the Commodore 64 only hit its stride after its creators stopped caring - it was the launch and growth of the Amiga which helped motivate developers to get the most out of the system, resulting in a computer being kept afloat entirely by outside investors.

It's fair to say Commodore were somewhat distracted in the 80s. The process of publishing software played second best to launching pointless hardware and ramping up debts, and what better proof of this than Icicle Works, released by the company back in 1985. Icicle Works is a shallow victory for the organisation - a simple clone of Boulder Dash with a Christmas theme can't expect to revolutionise the industry at large, and we've since lost sight of it in the mists of time. The net result is a company we don't remember for actually producing video games, which is a shame, because this one is actually rather good.

Gameplay in Icicle Works is largely predictable to anyone who's taken an interest in this field sometime in the last thirty years, sporting sixteen levels of snow, bricks and falling rocks alongside some disrespect to the laws of physics. You play as a man in red pyjamas collecting a specified number of presents across each stage, all while trying not to be crushed or get stuck - it's a not a style of game that's uncommon, even on this blog.

The twist this time is a non-linear map - provided you can find the right door, you can tackle each of the rooms in any order, and even repeat stages if you feel so inclined (the game does keep track of which rooms have been completed though). You have your time and "MEN" limits too, so there's always an element of pressure to deal with.

During the journey you will encounter highly combustible polar bears and present-filled penguins to flatten, though curiously neither creature can kill you without the help of boulders. Instead mother nature's creations are mere tools - a method of destroying brick walls and completing stages, provided you can keep them in one place. Also of note is the concept of flowing water, which if left alone will flood the stage and kill everything in it's path. It's all very interesting.

Included in the package is the option of classic wacky keyboard controls (A, S, P, L, Space - it's how real men play games), as well as an option to turn off the awful music and play against a friend. The game itself is reasonably pretty for 1985's standards, and although you never see more than four colours on screen, is a noticeable step up from some of Commodore's earlier creations.

Icicle Works is a relatively beefy adventure with the potential to challenge even the most serious of players, and although granted, part of the reason for this is its awkward view on scrolling, it's still a pleasant game worthy of your attention should this genre interest you. There's also a Commodore Plus/4 outing, and an altered adaption for the ZX Spectrum if you're desperate to play lesser versions.

So should you be trapped with a thirty-year-old home computer and a functional cassette player, Icicle Works is perhaps one to recommend. It's not likely to win any awards, but is definitely admirable.

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