Icebreaker Hockey iPhone Review

Posted June 6th, 2011 at 9:30 am

By Brian Sipple
“Are you related to Jean-Claude Van Damme? Because Jean-Claude Van Damme you’re sexy!”

If you didn’t know any better you might fooled into thinking Icebreaker was a cheesy pickup line app, chock full of gems like this one guaranteed to keep your dwindling batting average above the Mendoza Line (That or Muay Thai kicked in the face if there is a relation). Even better it’s a spinoff of Natural Motion’s bestselling Backbreaker series for the iPhone and iPod Touch which arrived just in time for the Stanley Cup Finals.

Fans of Backbreaker will have no trouble getting acquainted with Icebreaker’s energetic and straightforward style. The game retains its easily accessible control scheme, vibrant visual appearance, and signature challenge and endurance modes. It may seem like a winning formula, but how well does Icebreaker handle its transition from the gridiron to the ice rink?

There’s no question that Icebreaker mirrors Natural Motion’s football series, and perhaps it does so a little too closely. Once again your player needs to get from one end of the ice to the other, dodging wave after wave of headhunting defenders along the way. Points are awarded for successful evasive moves, as marked scoring zones and out-of-bounds areas return to fill out the rink. Rather than high-stepping into the end zone players shoot the puck into the net to finish off a wave. Advanced waves even put a goalie in front of the net but shots all go in regardless. The only way to fail is by letting the goalie snatch the puck away.

The controls are virtually identical to the previous games, with tilt-based motion control and HUD buttons for moves that include spins, dekes, hard stops, fast skating, and shots. Tilt responsiveness seems to be tuned perfectly giving movement a natural feel. All the while though something seems to be missing. The pick-up and play element of Icebreaker is always a nice thing to have, but with fewer moves than Backbreaker the level of challenge and variation seemed to dry out as I advanced further in the game.

What never dries out though is the presentation quality Natural Motion seems to bestow its games with. Arenas are designed as grand, flashy set pieces that play backdrop to the action on ice where the iPhone 4’s retina display gives players’ animations and appearance an authentic quality. Over the top hits that send your player flying are always fun to watch – even if it means restarting a stage. It’s all topped off with bright lighting design that makes every color jump off the screen.

Icebreaker only has two modes: Challenge and Endurance. Challenge mode is comparable to Backbreaker’s Tackle Alley where each level is comprised of five waves that gradually increase in difficulty. Advancing to further levels opens up a wide set of unlockables including Game Center achievements, difficulty levels, and new teams for your player. The familiar premise is all well and good but gameplay starts to feel old and overdone as the mode never introduces anything new to the series.

Though not new either Endurance mode is by far the most entertaining and replayable aspect of Icebreaker. Players are tested to see how far they can go through wave after unending wave of opposition. The mode is ridiculously addicting in the later rounds and intense enough that even the hardest of hockey fans are sure to get a rush out of it.

Icebreaker has managed to take every element that attributed to Backbreaker’s success and implement it well to the sport of hockey. It’s a great place to start if you haven’t played a Natural Motion title yet but I still found the level of creativity to be indolent and uninspiring. At $2.99 it’s not a necessity for anyone who’s thoroughly enjoyed Backbreaker or whose interest in hockey doesn’t extend beyond movies like Sudden Death, where Jean-Claude Van Damme fights terror and a Glock-wielding Bruins mascot at Game 7 of the Stanly Cup Finals.

Icebreaker Hockey is available now for compatible iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad devices.