Minimalism is tricky to pull off. For every game that succeeds in creating a clinical, even stylish, sparseness, another only manages to be ugly in a peculiarly empty way. Thankfully, Island Survival is one of the better attempts, the spare frostiness of its blocky graphics blending well with its soundtrack of howling distant winds, while the game’s simple mechanic revolves around starting with little, and then taking most of that away, too.
Styxtwo’s perky Flash title throws your avatar onto a series of islands, all of which are steadily melting into the cold blue sea. The goal is always the same – avoid getting your feet wet – but through an ingenious tweaking of basic variables, each new level feels like an entirely different kind of challenge. One mission might alter the speed at which the ground disappears, for example, while another may limit the surface area you start out with, leaving a third in turn to fiddle with the rate at which snowflakes – dinky little collectables that allow you to raise the land around you a notch or two – appear on the playing field.
And so one moment, Island Survival might be a straightforward game of endurance and twitchiness, and a minute later, it’s become home to a tight little spatial puzzle, as you try to predict which, if any, of an island’s blocks will still be above the waterline when the timer runs down. Along the way, there’s plenty of room for impromptu set-pieces, if you accidentally tip yourself into a sinking pit and have to wait for melting ice to allow you a foothold out, and even a wayward exploration of architecture, as you race between snowflakes, building your island up into improbable – and often counterproductive – structures.
Resembling everything from cathedrals to bar charts – fitting, perhaps, as your avatar appears to be decked out in a business suit – the game’s islands are a pleasantly unstable place to spend a lunch hour or two, with the blockiness of the primitive presentation only serving to aid your imagination. There aren’t many games that manage to tie so many little notions together with such a gentle wit and a limited handful of art assets, and there aren’t many games so suited to livening up a Friday afternoon with a chill blast of arctic air.