Ice Climber | oprainfall
Title Ice Climber
Developer Nintendo R&D1
Publisher Nintendo
Release Date 18 October, 1985
Genre Action, Platform
Platform NES, Wii, 3DS, Wii U
Age Rating ESRB – Everyone

Occasionally in video game history, a game proves that it is a prime time player in the current market that it continues to be a reminiscent focal point and oozes nostalgia. Unfortunately, though, Ice Climber really didn’t hit it home back during the third generation of gaming. Whether it was a lack of availability or lack of interest, the game didn’t fair well on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Despite its inherent flaws, however, it has managed to remain one of the many centre pieces for video game discussion, perhaps, in part, due to the main characters’ inclusion in the fighter blockbuster hit Super Smash Bros. Melee and later Super Smash Bros. Brawl.  So, is Ice Climber a compelling game that has withstood the test of time? Let’s climb the icy mountain and examine this frigid game!

Ice Climber was released on 18 October, 1985 on the NES as a launch title in the US markets, and was created by the Nintendo R&D1 development team. Due to it being a launch title, I’m fairly confident that the reason why it didn’t do too well was because of it being a launch title. In addition, another game in the launch lineup proved it was a better game than all of the launch titles combined. Super Mario Bros. was the star of the lineup and, therefore, there was no way that Ice Climber could have competed for glory. I will say, though, it was a close third or even fourth in terms of greatness.

Ice Climber | Single Player Mode
Awww, isn’t Popo cute?

The gameplay in Ice Climber is a mixed bag of precipitation. The concept of the game is fairly straightforward. You ascend what is essentially a mountain by breaking ice chunks above you with a sledgehammer and jump up to continue your journey to the top. You reach a certain height and you’re given a timed bonus stage upon which you collect various fruits or vegetables which are later added to your score. In most games, the object of the game is to follow a compelling storyline and learn about the characters. However, in Ice Climber there’s not much in the way of story. The goal really is to get a high score and boast about it with your friends. Ice Climber supports two player co-op. Player One plays as the blue Eskimo named Popo while the second player plays as the pink Eskimo named Nana. You could add variables on your own to the gameplay with your friends to make it more challenging such as seeing who could break the least amount of blocks to get to the top, kill no monsters on your way up or even get the lowest score amongst your friends.

Ice Climber | Two Player Mode
Double your fun with Nana!

The controls of the game are exceedingly frustrating, as is the game field. While you can break the blocks with great efficiency, jumping on them can be a trifle of a task. Sometimes you think you’ve landed a jump, but you merely slip right through the block. A tactic for succeeding in jumping is to control your jump after the arc is finished. It can make you utter a few choice curse words as you traverse the mountain. Not only do you have to do battle with breaking blocks, but silly white puffballs known as Topi make your job a lot more difficult. They wander across each level of the mountain and, if they spot a hole in the ice, they rush back off the screen to collect a chunk of ice and push it towards the hole in an effort to fill it. It can be especially challenging in mountains that contain conveyor belts and other nuances as you have to re-break ice blocks. It should be noted that in the Japanese version, the white puffballs are blue seals. The reason for the change in the US version was likely to avoid heat from anti-seal clubbing groups complaining about it and due to Nintendo of America’s policies against gratuitous violence.

Ice Climber | Japanese Version
Nintendo of America, Y U GET RID OF CUTE SEALS!?

Another type of creature that makes your life harder are birds that fly around vertically and diagonally which add to the chaotic nature of the game. Sometimes, a polar bear will come out to cause mischief. He sports a rather fashionable pink bathing suit and a pair of sunglasses. Unlike the other two creatures in this game, he does not do damage to you. Instead, he pushes you along and causes you to fall through holes you’ve already made. You can’t even kill him with the hammer! A couple of other things he does is causing the game to speed up and make the camera pan upwards. If you are on the lowest level, you’ll die and appear on the highest non-cloud level.

Ice Climber | Polar Bear
Stylin’ and profilin’ Polar Bear!

The graphics of the game are very simplistic and not very visually appealing, unlike some of the other games that came out in that time. It is very blocky and the colours aren’t that exciting. The Eskimos are very adorable for their 8-bit nature, though. When you die, your character turns into a snowflake and falls off the screen. I find that amusing because, well, it’s Ice Climber!

The music and sounds in the game are actually pretty basic. The music is pretty much the same in every single mountain. I really wish they had made different songs for each of the colour schemes that appear in each mountain. That would have made it interesting. The sound effects that the Eskimos make while breaking the blocks of ice is pretty decent for a system that harbours 8-bit sound. I think my favourite sound effect has to be the score tally screen when the Eskimos are crying. It’s so cute!

Ice Climber | Popo Crying
Have an… eggplant… for your whine?

The game contains only 32 mountains, which might not sound like much, but, due to the repetitive nature of the game, it would appear that game might never end. Once you reach 32 and complete it, you are given a 33rd mountain, which is essentially the first mountain that you encountered earlier in the game. So, once you’ve reached the 32nd mountain, it’s safe to say you can call the game conquered. If you die in the game and lose your lives, your score is wiped. You can continue where you left off by choosing the mountain you died on from the main title screen, but, as I stated earlier, the object of the game is to accumulate a high score, so dying isn’t something you want to do a lot of.

At the end of the day, Ice Climber is a game that is for the nostalgia fanatic. Newcomers to the game will find that there isn’t much replay value as, once you’ve completed the 32 given mountains, any further gameplay you do is purely for bragging rights in terms of a high score. Ice Climber is definitely a game that people need to play at least once in their lives. It’s a worthwhile playthrough because you’ll be tickled by how far game creation really has come since the third generation.

You can pick up Ice Climber on the Nintendo Wii U and 3DS eShop for $4.99.

Review Score

Review copy purchased by the author.

Stacey Flewelling
Stacey is a 36 year old from Canada. She has been playing video games since she was 5 with her first gaming system being the Texas Instruments TI-99/A 4A. She fell in love with Nintendo when her brother got an NES for Christmas. She later got into the hand held market when she got a Game Boy. She's a die-hard fan of PC, hand held, and iOS games. Her favourite genres are puzzle, MMO, and JRPG. Her favourite games of those genres are Tetris, World of Warcraft, and Final Fantasy VI. She was involved heavily in the emulation scene in the late 90s and posted news on quite a few well known emulation news sites. She has a snowshoe Siamese cat named Elliot whom she loves with all her heart.