Never before has it taken me so long to prepare breakfast. I've been working at it for four solid days now and so far I only have the Royal Yerba de Mate on the table. Toasting the bread is turning into a mammoth task. And then there's the jam. How do you add three blips of blackberries all at once to the pot when you can only 'carry' one at a time and you can't find a container to collect them in?
Needless to say, Blue Ice is one of the rare games that I am reviewing before completing, so it is not a game that you can simply install and play along, happily, to the end. The likely scenario is that you will start playing, shake your head in confusion for a while, then either give up in disgust or, if you are like me, get so totally fascinated that you can't resist going back and trying to make sense of it all.
Blue Ice is most certainly a game with a difference. It isn't a traditional adventure although you do have an inventory and numerous tasks to perform. Visually, and in the mode of movement, it is reminiscent of Treasure Quest, and it also has numbers floating around everywhere, but that's as far as the similarities with this game go.
As the manual states it's a surreal adventure so you find yourself wandering around in an environment where numbers are part of the landscape, where water is on the outside rather than on the inside of the bathtub, and where the characters are everywhere at once. The cook, for instance, is waiting impatiently in the hall when you enter, but as you move on, she's in the kitchen, in the dining room, asleep in bed, etc. It's difficult to explain and definitely a weird experience, so you are likely to start out very confused. But, persevere if you can, and you too might get hooked. The numbers are tantalising and, as far as I can tell, they relate somehow to a puzzle at the end of the game (the colours that are associated with each room probably relate to the same puzzle) but I can't be sure about this because I haven't got there yet.
The Kingdom of Icia has sunk into the depths of despair. It all began many moons ago when a royal child died and the King banished the innocent Orseppro from the land, blaming her for his loss. Since that time she has only been able to watch from afar as consecutive rulers have turned inwards and reigned harshly, enforcing rigid rules and regulations designed to keep her at bay. But now a King has died before his son, Edward, is of age to rule. Orseppro has an opportunity to influence and teach the boy and, ultimately, remove the shackles from the land.
Your goal in Blue Ice is to facilitate Edward's enlightenment and to solve the puzzles and to ultimately find the five colours which are gifts from Orseppro. The puzzles are quite fun and as well as preparing breakfast you will be doing such things as mixing various concoctions over a Bunsen burner, getting two lovers together and working out how to use musical instruments.
Each location in the game is depicted by a static screen which may, or may not, contain several characters, as well as an image of Hope (Orseppro's daughter and your guiding light) and a question mark which is sometimes deviously hidden. Select Hope and she will have some poetic advice, or 'listen' in on the thoughts of the characters to find more clues to guide you. When you find it, the question mark also has an important cryptic message to help you out. Or you might even find some hints by selecting the Blue Ice icon or the Scroll icon at the top of the screen.
Except for the vital aural clue accessed through the question mark, this game relies highly on text (even the narration is captioned), so there is a lot of reading to do. Pity that the one very important clue is not subtitled because it is occasionally difficult to understand, and it certainly excludes anyone without good hearing from sharing in the fun of the game.
There's no disk swapping in Blue Ice as it all comes on one CD. But don't be put off by this as I've played multiple CD games that have taken less time to finish than it has taken to find a mere two of the five colours in this game. And I don't even know if I have actually FOUND the colours, I'm making an assumption here because I don't know how to 'get' them. I could be deluding myself.
The game can be played in either DOS or Windows and using Win 95 I haven't experienced even the tiniest hitch. I did have some problems, however, with the save game feature and also with the overall interface although these relate to their design rather than to technical troubles. For saving your games you must use an identifying symbol by scrolling along a bank of symbols at the bottom of the screen. It's a bit fiddly and it's irritating trying to remember which squiggle represents your last saved game.
The interface is also a little irritating although I am quite used to it now. It is completely mouse controlled and the problem is that the action icons and the icons for inventory items are combined. You just right click and you have access to the arrow for movement, the hand for actions and the magnifying glass for looking (well, listening/reading really, because you can only 'look' at characters to ascertain what they are thinking) as well as all the items you have collected. The various icons are displayed in a long row so you must move the mouse to scroll through them as they highlight in their turn. Stop moving when you have highlighted the one you want, left click and you can 'use' it. It takes some getting used to, especially as everything you collect gets slotted in between the movement arrow and the magnifying glass. This necessitates an awful lot of scrolling back and forth.
Blue Ice has two other useful features, the Thumbnail icon which also scrolls and allows you to jump to any location you have already visited as well as the disk icon that identifies the background music for each location. I thoroughly appreciated this latter feature as the music in this game is excellent including jazz, classical and some more contemporary music. Also, the first game screen contains a help icon so you can return here any time to identify the items you have picked up.
Taking into account this icon together with the library, the Scroll and the Blue Ice Icons (mentioned earlier) all of which contain tips, as well as the information given by the various characters, you might think there is an over abundance of help in this game. Well there isn't. It's a difficult game because there are no hotspots (you must click on everything) and there are no descriptive captions for on screen objects. You have no choice but to use your own eyes here and some objects are tricky to identify let alone to ascertain if you might need to 'use' them. The cursor offers minimum help in that it flashes red if you are on the right track when using the correct icon, but other than that you are on your own.
This is a game that is both frustrating and fascinating. I know it isn't for everyone, and especially players who like to see clearly what they are doing and where they are going, but I am thoroughly enjoying it ... and going mad in the process. Perhaps the manual could have been more helpful to move players into the game but, then again, half the fun is figuring out what is happening.
Some players might not like the 'romanticised' narration, but Tom Conti does the job very well. I was hesitant at the beginning but all that is forgotten now. Though I didn't appreciate facilitating voyeurism and, as for the 'old' cook ... obviously in her dotage at the ripe old age of 47 ... well, fortunately this review is coming to an end because I'm speechless. Game writers might benefit by remembering that not all game players are in their teens and that mature players of 45 plus may not yet be shopping for rocking chairs.
So my advice is to give this game a try if you want something different, although if you don't like getting stuck or resorting to trial and error if all else fails, then maybe it's not for you. It's an acquired taste, but quite tasty nonetheless. And remember, it's a surrealistic adventure so don't expect it to make perfect sense. By the way, I finally managed to add the blackberries to the pot in a rather novel way.
See the metzomagic.com Blue Ice walkthrough.
Copyright © Rosemary Young 1997.
All rights reserved.
DOS: 486 DX 33 or greater, 4MB RAM (8MB recommended) SVGA, 2xCD ROM (4x recommended) soundcard and mouse
WIN: 486 DX 50 or greater, 8MB RAM (16MB recommended) 2xCD ROM (4x recommended) 256 colour graphics mode (640x480) WIN 3.1 or greater, sound card and mouse
Published in the following languages -- English, German, French and Spanish
It is also available for the Mac.