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Rovio’s new “Stars” label was designed to snatch up and release indie games with promise, but we weren’t sure quite what to expect from the Angry Birds maker's publishing efforts. As the first of the so-called Stars, Icebreaker: A Viking Voyage luckily lives up to its lofty billing and sets a high bar for those to follow. It’s a quirky, inventive, and colorful physics puzzler that deserves every bit of visibility the mobile publishing giant can give it.
The word "voyage" implies longevity, and this game certainly fits the bill. Icebreaker is a lengthy quest, with long chapters, branching paths, and the promise of more content to come. The map system often allows a choice between different stages, which prevented a feeling of ever being stuck. If the situation grew too dire, we could simply try the other path.
With so many stages, it would be easy to fall back on tried mechanics, but we were stunned by how well Icebreaker iterates on a few simple ideas. The puzzles task you with getting your Vikings back to their boat by manipulating the environment, and they’re solved by cutting through blocks of ice, swinging and cutting ropes, and firing cannons. It somehow manages to squeeze every drop out of those relatively simple core ideas, so each stage feels fresh and exciting. Only occasionally did we even feel like a solution was counterintuitive, but even then we had to admire how the flexibility of the physics allowed for solutions that felt like “breaking” the game.
Much as the puzzles impress with ingenuity, the experience is really held together by its sense of personality. The stout little Vikings and earthy color palette – both rendered in hard-edged, retro-inspired pixel art – perfectly fit the mood, but the visual style can’t take all of the credit. The light touches of story give the stages a little context, and the humorous writing kept us engaged with the characters.
The bottom line. Icebreakers: A Viking Voyage is a puzzling treat that packs a surprising amount of depth into a few simple mechanics.
iPhone or iPod touch running iOS 4.3 or later
Puzzle mechanics that iterate constantly to stay fresh. Good sense of humor. Unique retro-inspired art style.
Some solutions feel counterintuitive. Separate iPad release.