Endless Hellscape/License Hell: Ice Cream Surfer

I did not mean for every License Hell column to be on a webcomic turned video game, but somehow I keep falling ass backwards into them.

You may notice the screenshots changing resolution as this article goes on. I’ll get to that.

Playing around with the “random” button on Steam with a pal one night led to both of us discovering that a) this game existed and b) I owned it. In need of a quick mark in the win column, I figured a cute-em-up would be the ego boost I was after. Buuuuuuut there were two problems with that.

This game suffers from a lot of what I might call “fundamental design problems”. Can you figure out what my shot pattern is based on this screenshot? Hint: it’s not entirely consistent, which makes aiming monstrous. And this is POWERED UP.

The first is that this game controls impossibly poorly. There was a single patch note for the game on Steam which simply read “Error control solved – 3/8/2016. This new release solve the problem with the pad control.” This was a lie – no matter how I bound the controls (and this is an early Unity title, so there were control options in and out of game!), I could never get them to stop feeling floaty and stuttery. Seriously, it’s really hard to explain, because the framerate is pretty consistent, but you just don’t stop moving a lot of the time. Given that character hitboxes are also questionable, this leads to a lot of deaths.

I tend to agree with the opinion that in the shoot-em-up1 genre, you haven’t beaten most until you can one-credit clear a title, especially a lot of modern titles where this is the only way to unlock the “true” final boss. Just spamming “continue?” or pumping credits isn’t really a clear… buuuuuuut I absolutely did that on this game and I’m still going to count it because of the other reason.

See all those flames? They appear with no signaling whatsoever, and they are invincible.

The final two stages of this game are utterly hateful. The fifth of six introduces a lot of invincible enemies and culminates in a boss who is pure RNG, the is-that-a-sun you see in the above screenshot. All you must do to defeat him is simple on paper: he has 4 throbbing… somethings… appear on his face, you shoot them before time runs out, and he opens his mouth, a weak point you can shoot to lower his health bar at the bottom of the screen. (Which has 3 bars, I’ll point out.)

Did you fail to shoot the throbbers in time? Every one of them has now burst with no cue whatsoever, killing you if you’re still in front of it. Also, please notice that now that he’s down a few lifebars, he has a flame not-quite-a-shield around him. Aura? As far as I can tell it does nothing.

The problem with this is that if you die, you go back to a level 1 character, and this means that depending on your character2, you’re VERY CLOSE TO UNABLE to kill his throbbers before they explode. If he spread them out too far, I just killed one and got out of the way, because between movement and the fact that I had to be on top of them to fire fast enough, it was too risky. I would also like to mention at this point there is no autofire whatsoever in Ice Cream Surfer, so by stage 5 my thumb was real tender from mashing for every single shot in the game.

You can’t even credit-feed him to death because if you game over, this game is checkpoint based. Your three lives are your only three hits to take out this boss, and if you lose them, have fun restarting the entire thing from his lifebar at full.

Remember how I mentioned your hitbox is questionable? Do take a guess how I was supposed to navigate through attacks like THIS.
These teleporting pricks can and will appear right under you and cause a death you can’t react to.

And then there was the final stage, where credit feeding became even less workable because it had no checkpoints whatsoever and was a gauntlet of bad design. A recurring boss who has attack patterns these controls/characters were not designed for, teleporting enemies who can just gank you if they choose to spawn inside you, and it’s the longest one in the entire game, all to be done on three lives. I will be entirely honest and admit that because of this, I cracked open Cheat Engine and locked myself to a permanent 1 life for the rest of the game just to get this over with. Were it not for that I probably wouldn’t have any screenshots – it became incredibly challenging to hit the key and not die, and only with the ability to die at will did I not care anymore and F12ed away.

And then I cleared the game and got to see something that led me down a weird, weird rabbit hole.

I actually expected this domain to be dead, but I did look. And… it was a cute but aborted webcomic. But from there, I discovered the artist’s social media, and that this game was not a one-off vanity project by the creators. In fact, it was the first game from a still-present company staffed by two gentlemen from Spain, one of whom was the comic’s author, the other being the coder.

A company that is apparently putting out physical versions of Ice Cream Surfer on PS4 and Vita this Christmas. Seeing that this game got ported made me real curious if the Steam version was just abandoned and it had been improved for consoles, and… uh… It looks like it controls just as bad, at least. The UI has a slight improvement but otherwise, this is the exact same game I went through in an evening, with the same much too loud volume that can’t be tweaked in-game, and spritework that looks about the same as it does on my PC at higher resolutions if I don’t turn the game to “Fastest” out of spite.

Although I have to give the PS4 version this: the video there doesn’t constantly shift resolutions. Every time the game loaded a new scene it’d go to fullscreen in a hitchy fashion, and I’d have to alt-enter it back to windowed. It’s really hard to express in words how poorly coded the game is – every time you close it, it unlocks 30/31 achievements for you on Steam, all of which have no icons or descriptions. I’ve mentioned the control problems. Volume seems to be maxed on every possible sound that comes out of it – I turned the game down to 1% on Windows’ own mixer and it was still way too much for me to listen to after a few stages.

Since I mentioned the other characters, do take a look at ’em. You may also notice the character select icon is not in any way centered on these characters.

If anything, I’m most curious about what in the absolute hell deals Dolores Entertainment has made to become the publisher for the titles they have. Somehow this is the team who ported indie darling Nihilumbra to Switch and they’ve worked with a few others in the same role across a variety of platforms now. Reading reviews tells me that not everything is as questionable as this game, so now I’m only left wondering what in the hell happened here?

Or I would be if I wasn’t going to absolutely scorch all traces of this game from my hard drive and open tabs when this post goes up, because pee-yew.

  • Remaining clears before hiatus ends: 25/36
  • Remaining titles to be written about: 4

Endless Hellscape: Son of Scoregasm

It’s really weird to realize just how long it’s been since I played the original Scoregasm, one of the first indie titles to hit Steam that I was praising to high heaven before the modern shooter resurgence began. It had a Darius-style progression system, except it would let you pick up from anywhere on the branching path you liked to continue onwards. Getting stuck 5 stages into a route? You can leave and come back when you have more practice elsewhere. As a bonus, every single stage had a customized challenge for when you completed it, for a bit of replay value that kept me going for quite a bit.

It also threw into stark relief how much Steam’s become an unusable mess as a storefront, because I didn’t know until December 2018 that there was a sequel, Son of Scoregasm, released at the tail end of 2017. It never recommended it to me “because you played the only prior game from the dev on the service at length” or “because you’ve been playing Dariusburst CS and other shooters a lot” or a lot of other reasons – no, I only saw it because I got it drawn completely random out of a digital hat fucking around with the store’s absolutely terrible “discovery queue” system in the sale to get some trading cards. Even then, it told me it was recommending it to me not because it thought I would like it, but “just to see if I might be interested”.

No, really.

I would have to revisit the original to be sure, but somehow, Son of Scoregasm doesn’t quite feel as… together, I guess? as the original package. Less levels, it doesn’t seem to run as smoothly (maybe it’s loading but the menus have some serious framerate issues), the challenge mode isn’t there, and the new scoring system feels finicky to me. The original game had a basic “continue the combo for more bonus”, the new one gives you a meter that will bomb anything in a radius around you and convert it into score multipliers. The issue is that at a certain point, there are enemies which I’m pretty sure you can only kill with this bomb, and so if you haven’t played that stage before to know where these are (since the goal of every stage is to survive all waves and kill all enemies), it basically means you’re occasionally going to eat shit and have to redo a stage, or play an incredibly harrowing game of keep-away with your gun pushing them back ineffectively while you try not to be cornered on some of the stranger shaped levels.

Here’s a cross-section of some of the stages, and their shapes or perma-hazards. Others include walls made of fire, rotating irregular shaped lasers like you’re inside one of the vectors from Asteroids. or more.

I just don’t feel like it’s as thrilling as it once was, is the thing. There are no powerups. There MIGHT be a second ship, based on one achievement, but I have no idea how to unlock it after clearing 2.5 branches out of 7. More than a few stages are too damn annoying to want to revisit for the score medals, of which I only discovered by accident since the tutorial’s not amazing. I kept leaving stages with a score multiplier of 0, since I didn’t realize the bomb was a mechanic for a while (the default controls map it to a trigger on my controller). Until you get to the final stage on a branch, where bosses await, you’re just sitting around fighting mooks and occasionally the layout, and it’s all the same ship, and it’s so very, very samey.

But it was fast, and it was cheap, and while I found myself disappointed, I also can’t blame a one-dude studio for putting out something like this which he hustled onto multiple platforms, including the PS Vita, in 2017. I might not recommend it to all my friends this time, but it’ll make sure I keep an eye out for anything new he does in future.

Remaining clears before hiatus ends: 35/36