Release Date: 1996
The most fitting one-word description of Blue Ice is "unique". I don't recall any other adventure quite like this one. Blue Ice is also one of those famous "rare" games, and in this case it's because it's not a game with a "mass market appeal". That, of course, doesn't mean Blue Ice is a bad -- just that it's not exactly everyone's cup of tea.
Blue Ice is a multi-layered game. I'll first talk about the upper layer, which is a more or less normal point and click adventure game. In the introduction we hear the late king of Icia and a witch named Orseppro talking to the royal heir, Prince Edward the DCCXIIth (that's 712th for those of you not so good with Roman numerals). The recently deceased king would like Edward to follow in his footsteps and in the royal tradition of Icia. That is, follow the millions of rules established by previous kings, add a few thousand new rules, never deviate from the rules in the slightest. Which is not a simple task when there are so many of them! Strict adherence to rules is bliss (what do you mean it's not?). Orseppro on the other hand is disdainful of rules and tells Edward to experience Icia for himself, use his senses to the fullest, and enjoy the beauty of the world (and damn the rules -- although that's not said aloud, just implied).
As the actual game starts, you take over as the young Edward and start exploring one small corner of Icia, solving puzzles along the way, There are about 30 locations in the game (and that's "location" in the most generic sense), although unlocking them is part of the puzzles. The graphics are mostly static images and they are definitely not realistic. By that I don't just mean that they depict a fantastic and imaginary world, I mean that they resemble experimental (but not abstract) art more than anything else. The view is first person, except in many screens you actually see Edward. It's best not to think too hard about it.
Blue Ice is in a way a very beautiful game, and that has a lot to do with music. Each location plays a short sound clip, anything from classical muzic (Mozart or Tchaikovsky) to modern (from Duke Ellington to Brian Eno). In many screens I couldn't help just listening to the music for a while. Together with the unusual visual art and often very lyrical texts associated with each location, Blue Ice is quite a multimedia experience.
Sadly, that's more than can be said for the adventuring part. It's no so much that the game is very difficult as extremely unforgiving (or buggy, take your pick). When I first started playing Blue Ice, I ended up stuck without even realizing it. I'll explain why - it has to do with the unique (and in this case that means "bad") way Blue Ice manages inventory. There is no inventory per se - the active item becomes the mouse cursor and you can choose from the available items/cursors when right clicking. This gets very cumbersome if you're lugging around 20 items or so. But that's not what my problem was. In the game there are several items that exist in multiple instances (a number of keys for example) but you can only have one at a time in your inventory. If you pick up a new one while you still have another object of the same type in the inventory, poof, it's gone, never to return.
In this way I managed to lose one of the keys, only I didn't know that until after I started looking for hints. The game gives absolutely no warning. The situation is not helped by the fact that there's a whopping one save game slot - and Blue Ice is a 1996 release, mind you. There are several other methods of getting into a dead end situation -- I'll let you discover them for yourself.
Majority of the puzzles actually make good sense and in most cases there are hints scattered around (if you care to look for them, of course). There are a few rather odd puzzles though, and another difficulty lies with the hotspots. Because of the artistic style of the screens, it's very not obvious what can be manipulated and what can't, and half the time I was just clicking blindly around the screens and getting constantly surprised by all the things that would happen.
As for the story, there really isn't any. I already recounted most of it above. There is no plot to speak of, no character development. There are also no dialogues -- although you can read the thoughts of the other characters in the game, which could well be more efficient than talking to them anyway. The adventure part is relatively short, and if you know what to do it can be solved (or rather walked through) in about half an hour. That's at least in part because there are no animations to watch, no dialogues to listen to, no cutscenes to view. If you eschew hints however, don't expect to solve this game quickly.
Now let's take a look at the deeper layer of Blue Ice. That is a very tough puzzle fest, but we're not talking about adventure game style puzzles here. From the start it's apparent that there's more to the game than meets the eye, because there are incongruous images and series of numbers in all the locations. After finishing the adventure game portion, several new rooms are unlocked and that's where the really tough puzzles are. I won't say anything about them (that'd be a spoiler) except that they require lots and lots of patience, research outside the game and probably a great deal of good luck.
Blue Ice was originally intended by its creator, Rik Yapp, to be a competition game with a prize for the first person who solves the puzzles, but this never happened. I'm not sure if anyone actually solved the game purely on their own, but there are hints and solutions available on the web. This portion of the game is definitely not for everyone -- the hard puzzles are unlikely to be most people's idea of a good time.
As I pointed out at the beginning of this review, Blue Ice is a one of a kind game. I'm not even sure if I liked it. In my opinion it works better as an audiovisual experience -- a beautiful and magical one at that -- than as an adventure game. The puzzle fest part is not really an adventure game at all and I will not even attempt to judge it. My overall rating of Blue Ice is a C- with an important note -- if you can, take a look at this game because you won't see another one like it anytime soon.
Final Grade: C-