Did you ever wonder what you’d get if you crossed penguins with Qix, casual gaming, and a touch screen? Yeah, pretty left-field, huh? But that’s exactly what Hyperkani made with Slice Ice, a popular game about slicing ice into different shapes to provide the penguin king with cold refreshments. It’s fun, wacky, sometimes frustrating, and even with several niggling problems, it’s hard to say no to those adorable penguins.
Penguins and Ice Slicing
Penguins slide around on a slab of ice. You slice pieces off this ice floe with your finger, keeping all penguins together on the same side. When enough ice has been sliced away — the glass at the bottom left acts as a meter — the level is complete. Slices must be made from an edge connected to water so you can’t just draw a hole in the center of the ice (although you can eventually do something similar with exploding penguins).
If a penguin gets caught in the path of your slice, or if it is separated from the rest, you lose. You need to get seals off the ice, but you can’t slice through them either. You get more stars and credits (for power-ups) with fewer slices. Each level has a maximum number of slices allowed for a three-star rating, but you need only complete it to unlock the next.
Developer Hyperkani gets a lot of mileage out of this simple mechanic, squeezing out 165 levels across eleven worlds. New concepts get introduced along the way, such as penguins that explode when tapped on — creating a hole in the ice — or rocks that can’t be sliced through. Tapping on penguins (not attached to bombs) and seals spins them a random number of degrees on the spot, allowing some basic manipulation of their movement patterns. Slice Ice feels stale at times, but never overly so, and it always manages to come back to form.
The initial arrangement of penguins and seals around the map is at least partially randomized. Maps get re-used in such a way that their familiarity often proves a red herring — the trick to beating an otherwise identical level is sometimes drastically different when presented with a more cosmopolitan set of critters sliding around on the ice.
The ice floe on most levels looks like a silhouette of a creature or object. You get people, fish, dinosaurs, countries, and much more. Each shape poses its own challenges, since the penguins bounce off edges according to the angle at which they strike. It’s often frustrating when one or two penguins get stuck bouncing around in a small confined space that you want to slice off, but this can work in your favor too — giving you a chance to slice off a big chunk or to get rid of a pesky seal.
Power Me Up, Power Them Down
You earn credits that can be used to buy power-ups by completing — or just attempting — levels. These make the task of slicing up the ice much easier. There are power-ups that slow down or shrink the penguins, along with a couple that temporarily freeze the seals. One of the more expensive power-ups lets you herd the penguins in pursuit of a fish, which makes their movement more predictable and organized.
Achievements grant additional reward credits and encourage full use of the mechanics. There are achievements for rating the game, completing an “offer” to remove the annoying ads, highly-proficient slicing, using power-ups, sinking rocks, tapping on penguins, and getting maximum stars on a world.
Don’t Slice Me, Bro
If you so much as touch a penguin or seal with your slice, it’s curtains for your attempt. It seems bizarre that this extends to seals, which are made out to be the evil henchmen of the Penguin Kingdom. If seals are so horrible, why does it matter if I cut a few of them in half? That’s one less seal for the cute little penguins to worry about, right? You could justify it easily in the fiction — although calling it a “fiction” is perhaps too generous a term for the thematic consistency on show here. But more importantly it would make Slice Ice a better game.
The challenge — and the core goal — is to slice the ice floes into tiny spaces just big enough for the penguins to have their merry old time, without letting any of them drift off on a separate sheet. Nothing about this should necessitate the rule about not slicing critters applying to seals. The seals are bigger; avoiding them requires more finesse. They move much slower than the penguins, but this doesn’t make it easier to separate them.
Slice Ice often devolves into a game of waiting. You wait for the penguins to congregate momentarily in the same general area. You wait for the seals to wander into the path of your planned — or sketched out — slice. You wait for a chance to set off a penguin bomb without killing any penguins. For such an active, ostensibly engaging game, you sure spend a lot of time not doing anything.
If games like Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja, and Cut the Rope have taught us anything, it’s that repeatedly swiping and sliding your finger around the screen can stay fun and engaging even after thousands of tries. Slice Ice taps into that well, but it periodically comes up dry. Slicing the ice is indeed fun, but losing because those stupid (but admittedly cute) penguins snuck in at the last moment is not. Nor is stumbling over timing issues because there are too many critters on the screen and you can’t get your touch to register on an exploding penguin. And don’t get me started on those seals again!
Slice Ice could be a brilliant game; instead it’s just a good one, with frustrating inconsistencies that spoil your fun, time and again. Full of charm and a good sense of humor, it’ll make you forgive it for its shortcomings. But make no mistake — it’s flawed in so many little niggling ways.