(Image Source: The Gay Gamer)
Ice Climber gets more attention than it probably deserves. It’s been released on about ten different platforms and its protagonists have been featured in one of Nintendo’s biggest franchises of all time, Super Smash Bros.
For an NES game, it showed a lot of promise. In 1985 it predated Super Mario Bros. in Japan and – unlike most platformers following it – the objective is to climb up rather than run right.
Similar to many single-screen titles of its time, moving off the edges of the playfield makes the character reappear on the other side. To advance, you have to create gaps in the ice block ceiling by jumping up and hitting the underside.
There’s a variety of deadly to the touch animals that will reseal holes by replacing the blocks knocked away. Walls limit your mobility and sometimes you’ll have to platform between moving clouds to reach the next floor. Most deaths come from falling down the openings you’ve created or by lingering at the bottom of the screen when a polar bear scrolls the stage up.
Yet the most difficult aspect of the game is dealing with the awkward jumping controls. Your climber is a bit lacking when it comes to mid-air horizontal momentum. Making it through the hole isn’t a problem. It’s landing safely that will cause frustration.
Often it will look like you’re about to catch the edge of a block, yet instead you’ll clip through and fall back down. Generally that means reattempting the jump, though it can also result in death from falling onto enemies or plunging into the abyss below. The lack of certainty in the timing replaces the fun of challenging platforming with irritation. That’s trouble when the game is based around jumping.
Keeping this flaw in mind, I’m surprised it resurfaced in the first place. Maybe the visual design helped keep the title alive. As an earlier release, the variety and detail in the character sprites are impressive. There’s also something satisfying about knocking away individual blocks and seeing them tumble off screen.
However without Popo and Nana’s presence in Super Smash Bros Melee and Brawl, I have my doubts it’d be so recognizable. I’m sure it has its fans, but it feels like a title that should remain alongside other lesser played black box NES releases. Wrecking Crew and Clu Clu Land come to mind. Not that they’re bad games. They’re just difficult to return to.
Considering the Ice Climber’s resurgence between Super Smash Bros. Melee and Brawl, it’s strange that nothing else came out under the name. I could imagine it’s an idea that could easily be expanded for a small downloadable title. Improving the controls alone would go a long way for making a funner experience. Having been left out of the latest Super Smash Bros., I doubt Nintendo is planning anything soon.
A a fun little bit of extra info: Ice Climber, and a variety of other early NES games, were ported by Hudson Soft to the NEC PC-8801 and Sharp X1 computers. I’ve never played them myself to say how different they are. Based on these videos, they look faithful in reproducing Ice Climber’s awkward jumps.