Ice Climber
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Developer:
    • Nintendo
  • Publishers:
    • Nintendo (NES/ARC/FDS)
    • Hudson (PC88/X1)
  • Released:
    NES
    • JP 01/30/1985
    • US 10/18/1985
    • UK 09/01/1986
    PC88
    • JP October 1985
    X1
    • JP November 1985
    ARC
    • JP 1985
    • US 1985
    FDS
    • JP 11/18/1988
Score: 65%

This review was published on 04/07/2015.

Ice Climber is a platform video game developed and published by Nintendo for the Nintendo Entertainment System. It was released in Japan on January 30, 1985, North America on October 18, 1985, and Europe on September 1, 1986. The game was an NES launch title in North America and it was bundled with the console in some European countries. A slightly modified version of the game was released for the arcades as part of Nintendo's Vs. Series, called Vs. Ice Climber. That version of the game was later ported to the Famicom Disk System in Japan on November 18, 1988. Other platforms the game was released on include the NEC PC-8801 in October 1985 and the Sharp X1 in November 1985. Most people know this game from the vastly more popular Super Smash Bros. Melee, which was released for the GameCube in 2001 and featured Ice Climber's two main characters as a playable fighter. Ice Climber is rough around the edges, but it's still a challenging and fun arcade styled game.

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The two main characters of Ice Climber are a couple of Eskimos referred to as the, well, Ice Climbers. One's a boy named Popo and the other's a girl named Nana. They look identical aside from the color of their clothing, with the boy wearing blue and the girl dawning pink. Basically, they're the Eskimo versions of Mario and Luigi. In single player mode, you take control of Popo by himself. Both Eskimos are really only capable of three things; walking, jumping, and hammering. The Eskimos wield mallets that they use to break blocks and defeat enemies. You press the B button to swing the hammer, and you jump under blocks to destroy them. As simple as the controls are, they do have issues. The jumping in this game is pretty awkward, because it goes fairly high up into the air, but covers almost no horizontal distance whatsoever. You also must be absolutely dead center when landing on platforms, or otherwise you'll fall right through them. On top of all that, bumping into walls during a jump pushes you away, often off of the desired platform. These control issues result in game play that is frequently frustrating.

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Despite being seen from a side-scrolling perspective, there's no actual side-scrolling to be had; the screen only scrolls vertically. That's because the main goal of the game is to scale mountains to retrieve vegetables stolen by a giant condor that looks suspiciously like a pterodactyl, meaning the game play exclusively focuses on vertical ascension. Once the ground has scrolled off screen, the bottom of the screen will then count as a bottomless pit, even if there was ground there prior to the scrolling. This strange phenomenon accounts for most of the game's challenge. Generally, the higher you climb up the mountain, the more difficult it gets to survive. There are a total of 32 levels in the game and you can actually select whichever one you want on the title screen. I'm not sure why you're given access to all the levels right from the start, but it's certainly a convenient feature. The verticality of the level design gives Ice Climber a unique edge when compared to other platform games like Super Mario.

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While ice climbing, Popo and Nana will encounter enemies along the way. Enemies will sometimes come out from the sides of the screen to harass you, in addition to aerial foes like birds coming from above. There aren't very many enemies in the game, but the ones that are there all perform unique functions. The first and most common enemy is Topi; a short yeti in the Western release of the game, and a blue seal in the Japanese version. Toppies will show up to repair the damage you've done to the environment by recreating destroyed floor blocks. This can actually help you out if you destroyed all the footing and are unable to progress as a result. Then there's the Nitpicker, which is a nitpicky bird that will swoop in from above and pester you with its incessant nitpicking. A polar bear will also appear to force the screen to scroll upwards if you take too long finishing the level. The baddies increase in speed as you progress through the game, progressively getting harder over time. Ice Climber could do with more enemy variety, but each foe is distinctive in both form and function. Plus that polar bear wears sunglasses and pink shorts, and that's just plain cool.

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Upon reaching the end of a stage, you're treated with a bonus stage. The transition to a bonus stage is so seamless that it feels like it's a part of the normal stage, but the game does let you know when you're in one. Bonus stages are primarily for boosting your score, which is accomplished by collecting vegetables as you continue to scale the mountain. You're timed, however, so you need to be quick about it. The anxiety that results from the time limit makes the simple tasks presented in these stages much harder than they normally would be. After reaching the highest point of the mountain, otherwise known as a peak, you'll have to grab onto the talons of the giant condor to successfully finish the bonus stage. Managing to accomplish such a task awards you with mad points. You still move on with the game even if you fail, so it's all just for fun. Sadly, the bonus stages do start getting recycled after a while.

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In the two player mode, player one controls Popo and player two controls Nana. The two players will scale the mountain in a competition to see who can get the highest score. What's cool about this game's multiplayer is that both players are able to play the game at the same time, so there's none of that lame taking turns stuff here. Unfortunately, that's also precisely the problem: the multiplayer goes through the same stages as the single player, and given the game's design, things are considerably more difficult with two players. If one player moves too far ahead of the other, then the one that gets left behind will die once he or she is scrolled off screen. Additionally, players can bump each other into enemies or pits. All of this will result in countless frustrating deaths, potentially ruining a friendship. The two players could choose to cooperate, but with the mechanics as they are, that's almost impossible. It can still be fun so long as you don't take things too seriously, though.

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Ice Climber is indeed an icy climb. The slipperiness of the controls and annoying jump mechanics will undoubtedly put off a lot of people, as well it should. Also, due to the nature of the game, it gets repetitive after a while. The same few enemies appear all throughout the game, and since all the levels are completely vertical, the level design becomes predictable. Even considering all those faults, though, there is still something alluring about the game's simplicity. It's got that old school feel to it, in that every single object or mechanic in the game has an explicit purpose; there's no exuberance to be had here. If you can tolerate the rough controls and repetitiveness, then Ice Climber is a quaint little game that will provide some old school fun.

Word Count: 1,237

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