The App Store offers many outstanding games for the discriminating mobile user, all with their own unique charms. But as great a collection of games as, say, Flight Control, Need for Speed Undercover, and Ramp Champ may be, even their most ardent fans wouldn’t claim that those games will help you make a better mint julep.
I’m not certain Interactive Cocktail Entertainment can make that claim either. But I do know that this free and decidedly adult game from Medialabs is a clever way to test your memory with an app that makes excellent use of the unique features of the iPhone and iPod touch. And it’s also more fun than it has any right to be.
Interactive Cocktail Entertainment—ICE, from here on out—puts you in the booze-stained shoes of a humble barman with a tavern full of patrons you’ve got to keep liquored up. They’re all demanding drinks, and it’s your job to fill those orders—promptly and to the exact specifications of ICE’s database of 50 cocktails. You’re not required to muddle, stir, or strain, but you do have to pour the specific types of liquor in the exact amounts; grab the mixers, liqueurs, and juices in the precise order; and shake it all up to combine if that’s what the recipe calls for. You score points for how faithfully you follow the recipe and for the difficulty of the cocktail you prepare. Dilly-dally, and your customers will eventually abandon you, if not for a place where everybody knows their name then at least for some place where it doesn’t take for-freaking-ever to get their hands on a Cape Cod.
To grab the right ingredients, you swipe your finger to pan around the reasonably well-stocked two-shelf bar, tapping on whatever item you need. The navigation can be a little dodgy—occasionally, when trying to stop panning, I’ll tap on the screen, inadvertently grabbing, say, a bottle of Jameson when I meant to use Glenlivet 12. Fortunately, ICE gives you the opportunity to cancel these wayward taps; unfortunately, that’s not going to help you get that cocktail to your impatient customer any faster.
It’s when you assemble the cocktail that ICE really shines as an iPhone app. To pour out the right amount of liquor, you’ve actually got to tilt your iPhone—and if you keep tilting, you run the risk of over-pouring. (In an especially attentive touch, the bottle you pour is actually the one you’ve selected—for example, an image of a Beefeater bottle appears when you’re making a Dirty Vermouth.) When it comes time to shake all the ingredients, a cocktail shaker appears on the screen, and you shake your iPhone until everything’s good and mixed. These are the sorts of things that can really make an app feel at home on the iPhone, and ICE has them in spades.
Since there’s no peeking at the recipe when you’re mixing drinks—not that you’d have the time to do so, anyway—ICE is a pretty good game for sharpening your recall and memorization abilities. Imagine—alcohol actually improving your memory!
Because it forces you to recall cocktail ingredients quickly and rewards you for getting things in the right order, I thought ICE might also be a nice learning tool for aspiring bartenders—kind of a boozy set of virtual flash cards, I guess. I ran my theory past a friend of mine, a certified bartender who’s throwing away his once-promising career behind the mahogany for the degradations of journalism, and he was decidedly less enthusiastic about ICE’s potential as a teaching tool. For starters, the game has a heavy European influence—measurements are in centiliters, not ounces, and some of the drinks are ones you won’t hear ordered too often on this side of the Atlantic. (Indeed, one of the 50 recipes in ICE is something called Panther Milk—a combination of gin, condensed milk, and cinnamon that sounds so vile, I can’t imagine any human being ever ordering one unless if they were on the business end of a bayonet.) More to the point, some of the recipes are off—ICE’s take on the mai tai, my bartending chum point out, calls for two kinds of Cuban rums that you will have a hard time finding in the United States, what on account of that pesky embargo. Bottom line: ICE may be a fine diversion as a game, but if you’re looking for a source of cocktail recipes, you’d be better off turning to something along the lines of Cocktails+.
ICE has a few other shortcomings. The music is repetitive and awful, though, thankfully, you can turn it off; doing so, however, will also turn off the neat sound effect that lets you know when a drink is properly shaken. You can save scores to the app or to the Internet, but not to both—and saving high scores on the Internet quits the app and launches the Safari browser on your mobile device.
I’m not sure Interactive Cocktail Entertainment constitutes a good casual game—if all the pouring and shaking don’t draw unwanted attention to you, the the shouting out of random cocktail ingredients certainly will. (Though in the Michaels household, we’re decidedly used to people mumbling cocktail components under their breath.) Still, I find ICE curiously addictive. And I wish more apps put in the same amount of effort to make the most out of the iPhone’s unique capabilities.
[When he’s feeling particularly festive, Macworld.com executive editor Philip Michaels mixes three ounces of ginger ale, an ounce-and-a-half of gin, half-an-ounce of bourbon, and a squeeze of lime, serves it with ice and garnishes it with a mint sprig.]