Skip to main content

Ice Climber: Cool concept, atrocious execution

It looks cute, but beware.

Ice Climber must be somewhat beloved because Popo and Nana have been characters in multiple Super Smash Bros. games. But playing the original game is an exercise in frustration. Which is a shame because the concept is cool.

Instead of the usual left to right platforming, in Ice Climber it's vertical. Each stage is a mountain of eight levels (five visible at a time) to ascend. Parts of each level are made of ice you can smash with your hammer when you jump, thus creating gaps to jump through. The premise of the game appears to be that a condor keeps stealing your eggplants and carrying them away to the top of mountains! The top of each stage is a bonus area where you retrieve your vegetables (which, despite the singular animation, aren't always eggplants).

Why do so many early NES games involve eggplants?

What ruins this cute game is the atrocious jumping mechanics. When jumping from standing still, your ice climber can move left or right only a single block, which is only 1/32 of the screen. While this may be more realistic than Mario, it's useless for traversing gaps. This means you need to be running before you jump. Unfortunately, this is only slightly better, as the climbers get just enough reach to traverse a gap. Despite their poor distance, they jump very high. Imagine running and somehow jumping 20 feet straight into the air but then landing just a few feet away! That's what Nana and Popo's jumping is like.

Worse still, when jumping they actually pass through the very edges of platforms! As a result, you have to wait to the last moment to push the jump button if you don't want to whiff right through your target and fall back down. Again and again and again you will watch in dismay as your little climber plummets through the platforms! A few minutes of this and you'll want to throw the controller in frustration.

While you focus on trying (and failing) to make precision jumps in which you must ignore your eyes to correct for the phantom edges, little yetis (called Topi) continually close any gaps in the ice by laying down new bricks. While this is a neat concept, on later levels it adds an additional level of frustration, as they keep filling in the gaps you're laboring to create. You can smash the Topi with your hammer, but they come back seconds later. Also, birds keep swooping down at you. You can bash them by jumping at them, but this, too, must be timed right or the bird hits you instead of getting hit by the hammer. Finally, if you're too slow due to repeated falling, a polar bear in sunglasses comes out and forces the screen to scroll up, killing you if you're on the bottom-most visible level.

A silver lining of the game is that you can play it with a second player simultaneously. Another plus is that you can start on whichever level you want, no password necessary.

Add a second player to share the pain.

The basic concept of the game is compelling, but it's ruined by the controls. I could see players tolerating this pre-Mario, but it launched alongside Super Mario Bros. I don't know how anyone could suffer this after playing that. Furthermore, like SMB, it has 32 levels (which then loop endlessly arcade-style), but they are very repetitive. Each level looks identical but for slight variations in layout and challenge.

In a pre-Mario world, this could have been a good game. Honestly, I could imagine a quality remake of this game that fixed the controls and added more level and enemy variety. The time for that has probably passed; there should have been an Ice Climber 2 or Super Ice Climber that solved these fatal flaws.

I give Ice Climber a D.

Linked Reviews

"Ice Climber’s concept is solid and the components for a real classic are all there, but it doesn’t play very well, and no amount of clever design can change that."
— Stephen Kelly, Nintendo Life, 5/10

"While displaying some cute design and showing signs of fun, the actual play experience is shaky. Jumping horizontally is troublesome and inconsistent, as it's tough to garner distance, and this is made up for by the player being able to seemingly jump through platforms."
— Pat Contri, Ultimate Nintendo, 2/5

"While each of the thirty-two mountains has a slightly different layout, you will begin to experience deja vu very quickly. Your tolerance for this game will vary depending on your love for well-timed jumps and how well you can master the unnaturally slippy controls."
— Dylan Cornelius, Questicle, B-

"Prior to Super Mario Bros., the fussy, uncooperative jumping controls and platforming design of Ice Climber wasn’t simply acceptable, it was about as good as it got. But once Mario journeyed to the Mushroom Kingdom, things would change forever. That leaves poor Ice Climber stranded as a bit of a relic."
— Jeremy Parish, NES Works


Popular posts from this blog

Mysterious Murasame Castle: Non-stop ninja frenzy!

The Mysterious Murasame Castle is a bit of a lost treasure. It's a frenetic samurai-and-ninja game set in feudal Japan. The real mystery is why Nintendo didn't bring it to the West (until 2014), where I'm confident it would have been a hit remembered alongside Ninja Gaiden . Look familiar? This game is a sort of fraternal twin to The Legend of Zelda . Both were made from the same game engine, and it really shows. They both launched on the Famicom Disk System in early 1986, taking advantage of its save feature. However, whereas Zelda is an open-world game with nine dungeons, The Mysterious Murasame Castle is stage-based. You control Takamura through four pairs of two levels each: an above-ground section followed by a castle. The ninth and final stage is the titular Murasame Castle. Although there are branching pathways, stages are mostly linear, like the dungeons in The Legend of Zelda. The Mysterious Murasame Castle Famicom disk The main gimmick of the game is that, wheneve

Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels: Mario misstep

Given the enormous success of  Super Mario Bros. , Nintendo naturally wanted a sequel. It seems they wanted it so bad that, to quote Dr. Ian Malcom, they "were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should." Super Mario Bros. 2 landed on the Famicom Disk System in June of 1986, a mere nine months after the original. In English it was later given the name The Lost Levels since it was never released on the NES. The prematurity of the sequel shows as soon as you boot the game. It looks almost exactly like the original, down to the same title screen (with a 2), same sprites, and same backgrounds. There are a few visual tweaks, such as new ground tiles and faces on the clouds, trees, mushrooms, and moving platforms. The game has no new power-ups or enemies (except more aggressive red Piranha Plants). There are a few new elements, but they aren't very good. The Poison Mushroom hurts Mario (or Luigi); Super Springs propel him far ab

Mappy: A great mouse detective game

Next up in my list of Famicom games is Mappy, a cat-and-mouse game. Mappy first landed in American arcades in 1983. It must not have been very popular, as few people today seem to remember it. Mappy is similar to Pac-Man in that you move through a maze-like structure (a house), collecting items (stolen goods), and avoiding enemies (cats called Meowkies). Even though Mappy is a police officer, it kind of feels like you're the one robbing houses, taking electronics, paintings, and safes! The most distinctive part of the game is that Mappy can't jump, but instead bounces off trampolines. These function like elevators and are how you get to the different floors. While bouncing, Mappy is immune to enemies, even if they are bouncing with him. Avoiding the enemies thus involves strategic use of the trampolines. The goal, of course, is to get as many points as possible. One way to do is this is to take out enemies by opening flashing doors. This releases a pulse that moves along that f