Ice Tales brings Crystal Castles inspired gameplay to the App Store

In Ice Tales you’re in control of Pendelton, a penguin with a problem. He and his penguin friends have found themselves the target or Moira, a little girl who wants to use them to grow her evil garden. So she kidnaps them and transports them away. Somehow something goes amiss with Pendelton and he gets beamed to an iceberg and left adrift at sea.

Shockingly, this crazy introduction really does nothing to get the point across of what Ice Tales is really about. It’s a fast paced game where you try to collect starfish laid out in different maze type levels and avoid enemies. It has a sort of Pac-Man-esque vibe. You’ll run around board, jumping over enemies and grabbing baskets of fish to keep away seagulls.

It’s best to think of the controls in the sense of a virtual trackball. The faster you swipe the further you’ll go, with a quick burst of speed and then a severe slowdown until you stop. Slow swiping has the opposite effect and is good for precision movement, though it’s never quite as precise as you want it to be. You’re either going to love or hate the control scheme, and that will either make or break Ice Tales for you.

You have more of a sliding feel to the movement, which is probably pretty accurate being that you’re a penguin moving around on the ice. It’s hard to explain until you see it, but if you’ve ever played trackball games back in the day like Marble Madness or Missile Command, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

It took me a little time to recall the game from my youth this reminded me of, but when it finally dawned on me, it all sort of clicked in. This game plays like an updated Crystal Castles from the old arcade days. It’s got the same look and feel in terms of level design, with the point of Ice Tales being to run around the ice and grab starfish and avoid crabs and otters, as opposed to the Crystal Castles enemies. Unlike many arcade classics, Crystal Castles isn’t one that’s been updated in recent years, so it’s actually a nice game mechanic to recall.

Ice Tales

Ice Tales

There are a few gameplay wrinkles to keep things interesting, like the bucket of fish that can be collected for points but if it’s ignored will attract seagulls that will attack you mercilessly. Or the “Orb of Mystery” that, when collected, banishes the Evil Queen (Moira) from the level. There’s just enough to keep things interesting, but not to the point of confusion.

At the end of the day the control scheme is going to be a big divider for people. It doesn’t really work the way you expect it to, and takes some time to get used to. I was able to get a handle on it, but that’s because I called back to games I played 25 years ago. It’s just not going to suit everyone’s taste. But if you “get it,” Ice Tales can be an enjoyable time.