Icebreaker: Seekers

One of the things that Icebreaker really gets right is the variety of enemies. Yes, they’re all pyramids. The variety is in their behavior. There are just enough truly distinct behavior patterns that it’s easy for the player to forget the full range of possibilities and be taken by surprise on encountering a type that hasn’t been seen in a long time. So let’s ruin that. Time for a monster inventory.

In general, Seekers come in lighter colors than stationary pyramids. There are four colors of basic Seeker, indicating what obstacles they know how to deal with: cyan ones go around stationary pyramids and rock tiles, but fall into pits; pink ones avoid pits, but get stuck trying to go through rocks and stationary pyramids; lime green ones can navigate both sorts of obstacle; yellow ones, neither sort. When I started typing this paragraph, I thought I was going to have to say that I didn’t really know which color signified what, and had to look it all up, but in fact, it turns out that I’ve seen them enough for the colors to have definite associations in my mind. The sight of a pink Seeker stuck behind a pyramid is a very common one; yellow is the only Seeker color for the first few levels of the game.

You might think that stupidity makes Seekers less dangerous, but that’s not always the case. A pink guy stuck behind a blue pyramid is effectively camping it, squatting exactly where you want to go. Moreover, stupidity increases the chaos of the battlefield. I compared the Seekers to Robotrons before — this is because, as in Robotron, it’s easy to get them all to cluster together into a clump that trails behind you. This makes them predictable. There are only two ways they can break formation: dying, or getting stuck. (Unlike Robotrons, Seekers respawn, so pits might as well be teleporters.)

Beyond the basics, we have several types of gimmick Seeker, most of which seem to be as smart as the lime ones. First, we have the Chameleons, which are basically lime Seekers that stand still and pretend to be green stationary pyramids until you get close, then come to life. This is the main thing I was thinking of when I spoke of old Seeker types taking the player by surprise; surprise is the Chameleon’s raison d’être. It’s kept within reason in the levels I’ve seen so far, though — there will be large fields of greens with a number of Chameleons scattered among them, but never a solitary Chameleon waiting to catch you off-guard in a level that otherwise doesn’t use them. Unlike most seekers, Chameleons don’t respawn, so there can be arbitrarily many on a level. Unlike real green stationary pyramids, Chameleons are vulnerable to blaster fire — which means that they provide a motivation for blasting willy-nilly at things that don’t look like they’ll be affected.

Orange Seekers are the only ones that come in a nonstandard shape. They start out unusually fat. Shoot them, and they split into two normal-sized pieces that keep chasing you. Shoot these, and they split again, into skinny things that can finally be destroyed. The interesting thing is that each stage is stupider than the last. The final stage is equivalent to yellow. I don’t know if the intermediate stage acts like pink or cyan — I’ve had limited opportunity to observe them, since the only time they ever appear is when you’re already shooting at them. I suppose the best way to keep an orange guy from following you would be to blast it until there’s only one of the smallest pieces left, then get that piece stuck on something. You wouldn’t want to destroy it all, because the whole thing respawns once it’s fully dead.

“Lurker” is apparently the name for the purplish ones that I only recall seeing once so far. (And I’m slightly over halfway through the game now.) This is the only enemy capable of moving faster than the player — but only for short bursts, after which it has to stop and catch its breath. The animation of a pyramid breathing heavily is very clear despite its lack of facial features or other usual signifiers. It’s one of the most amusing things in the game, and a good illustration of what minimalism in game art really means. When they’re moving, though, they’re by far the most panic-inducing of the Seekers. You get used to running away from things in this game, getting some distance and then circling around and leading them towards the green pyramids. It becomes automatic habit, and it’s a habit that gets you killed when there are Lurkers are around.

Finally, we have the Zombies: pyramids of mottled grey and green that burst out of the ground and take three hits to kill instead of one. Other Seekers respawn at the periphery of the playfield, but Zombies respawn anywhere, sometimes right under your feet. Note that all the other Seeker types have at most one novel quality apiece; Zombies, with two, break the pattern and hint at more complex possibilities — but possibilities that would make the gameplay less charmingly pure. I suppose that the mix might have come out of playtesting, but on the face of it, it seems like an arbitrary combination, and the only place where the game seems to let mimesis dictate mechanics.

No Comments

Leave a reply