I was born and raised in New Jersey, only an hour away from New York City. And despite my familiarity with the fast-walking, mean-mugging and aggressive driving in my own city, I always felt foreign when I visited NYC. As people say, it’s a world of its own. No time in my own city ever prepared me for the weird mess that is New York City.
New Ice York, by magicdweedoo, parodies the hardships of living in New York and turns the city even more inhospitable by adding a layer of ice. As the lead detective, the player is tasked with discovering who caused the city to freeze over. The mystery leads you on a long trail of fetch quests, brawls and puzzles that make for a crude but smart look at the insufferable nature of New York. The game embodies the look and feel of the big city: It’s a little hard on the eyes, sometimes grating on the ears, but hidden in the dense smog is a lot of intellect, humor and beauty.
The game doesn’t take itself seriously; there are plenty of moments where New Ice York acknowledges its gaming elements, and pokes fun at its own limitations. But there were a few times I felt the game point at a deeper meaning, hidden behind a layer of blue. New Ice York, much like the city it’s based off, is a game of survival. There’s a point in the game where the player must leave NYC to find the culprit for the city’s freezing. As the detective travels out of New Ice York, he relays a sense of relief, as if he can finally be himself again. Even the color returns as he leaves New York, a momentary reprieve before he must return and solve the mystery of the the ice-cold city.
New York is known for being an extremely tough place to live. Watching the game’s icy blues change into beachy browns, safari greens and blood reds reminded me of my own struggles with identity and place, and finally finding the place that feels like home.
Not only does New Ice York evoke that that love/hate relationship with place and the desire to belong, it does so with art that looks like it was made with pencil tool in Microsoft Paint. Its animation and design look simple, but hidden behind hand-drawn lines and loopy music is a story about people and living in a place that sometimes seems completely uninhabitable. In this case, it’s New York, but the message is universal: anywhere with a human history can be both dreaded and loved.
By the time I reached the end of New Ice York, I felt dissatisfied. It thanked me for playing, but something felt incomplete, as if I’d missed something that would have given me a different ending. But then again, maybe I got the exact ending I was meant to. I recently spent a week in Manhattan, and while New York is still a bit incoherent to me, I have a better understanding of its wonder. No great city comes without its trash. New Ice York is a funny mystery reaped with trash bags, drugs and criminals, but it’s also about place and home. What happens when you leave home, and what happens once you return?
Shonté Daniels is a poet who occasionally writes about games. Her games writing has appeared in Kill Screen, Motherboard, Waypoint and elsewhere. Her poetry can be seen at Puerto del Sol, Baltimore Review, Phoebe, and others literary journals. Check out Shonte-Daniels.com for a full archive, or follow her for sporadic tweeting.