Icebreaker: 53

I’m a couple of days late with this — it’s a busy time, and I seem to have entered one of those can’t-start-writing zones — but the latest news is that I’ve made it through level 53, “Mount St. Monday”. The level purports to be created by one Ken Megill (yes, Icebreaker takes the unusual step of identifying the designers of individual levels, and why not?), but I can only assume that this is a pseudonym for the Marquis de Sade, or possibly Torquemada. Maybe it’s just me, but this level seems difficult out of proportion to the levels around it on either side.

It’s all down to the terrain. Icebreaker has several sorts of terrain hazard: stones that block movement, pits that kill anything that attempts to move onto them, slime that kills you but doesn’t affect the enemy, swamp that slows you down, ice that makes you skid. Some types of Seeker pyramids know how to avoid specific sorts of obstacle: the basic ones always charge at you directly and either fall into pits or get stuck on rocks, but there are ones that will go around pits and ones that go around rocks and ones that do both. The area containing the stationary pyramids is a rectangle diagonal to the grid-lines, so that its edges are corrugated; around it is a very large margin of a default tile type, usually something navigable, providing the player with a place to do an end-run around a pack of pursuing Seekers.

Level 53, now. Level 53 has a volcanic theme: the normal ground tiles are blackened and cracked, the pits are pits of lava. At least half of the playfield is lava or rocks, and the margin is pure slime. You’re effectively trapped in a maze. To traverse this maze, you frequently have to cut across corners. All terrain hazards fill the entire map tile they’re on, but if you’re careful, you can move between two tiles that touch at a corner without incurring the hazards in either of the adjacent tiles. The player has doubtless learned this by now, but in the past, this has usually meant edging between two similar hazards. Here on level 53, we get the peculiarly cruel scylla-and-charybdis combination of corner-movement with a pit on one side and a rock on the other. Aiming for the middle and being slightly off on the rock side means you get stuck, but unsticking yourself by edging slightly pitward can spell death. And when you die in this game, you have to start the level over from the beginning. This happened to me a lot.

Icebreaker provides multiple difficulty levels, so I had been thinking for a while that if I ever found a level that was too tough for me, I’d just dial it down. But that’s not much help here, because the difficulty only seems to affect the number of enemies, and the enemies aren’t really the problem here. Or so I thought, until I cleared all the stationary pyramids for the first time. In order to win a level, you have to destroy not just the stationary pyramids, but the Seekers as well. As long as there are stationary pyramids remaining, dead seekers simply respawn out in the margin, but once the land is cleared, you can blast them for good. On most levels, this really just amounts to a brief victory ritual in which you turn around and open fire at the crowd on your tail. In level 53, there are a smattering of stupid pink Seekers that get stuck on rocks — specifically, having spawned on the outside of your maze, they get stuck on the rocks around the outside, in all directions. So after you’ve successfully navigated all the pinch-points once, you have to go back through them again, trying to reach the open spaces on the periphery from which you can blast the last remaining Seekers. Once, I got to this point only to realize, to my horror, that one of the Seekers had managed to get stuck on the outside in the wedge between two rocks, a place inaccessible to my fire, and which I couldn’t lead it away from. I had no choice but to start over.

Anyway, I’m past it now. But if this sort of thing becomes the norm in later levels, it could take me a long time to finish this game.

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