Retro Review: Ice Climber

20 04 2009


Ice Climber (NES)

Original release date: October 1985

As I was playing through Super Smash Brothers: Melee the other day, the thought occurred to me on just what game the Ice Climbers were from anyway. It seemed like they were the only characters from the list I had never heard of. On further inspection I found out they had their own game on the NES, so I got me a copy and had a go. Now Ice Climber is a very innovative approach at the platform genre, with its one unique trait of moving vertically, rather than horizontally. Your point here is to chisel your way up the level with your trusty hammer, all the while avoiding crazy obstacles. Now while there are several fun parts to this game, Ice Climber is generally kind of limited in its game-play, but the wonderful uniqueness of the game all but make up for it. That should throw away any doubts of the game being worse than the Ice Climbers are in Smash Brothers, right?

The real points of the game here are hammer and jump, hammer and jump, oh…and hammer and jump. There are a total of thirty-two different mountain stages for you to get through, all working against a time limit. This time limit will hurt you or help you depending on how fast you work and the timing of your jumps and attacks. The strangeness ensues as you fight pterodactyls and seals during your long climb to the top of each stage. The seals are not only a pest in that aspect, but they sometimes re-freeze the ice above you, causing you to chisel some more. Other obstacles include falling icicles and of course the hover cloud, which will help you on up the stage with good timing skills. When you finally make your way to the top of the peak, an odd little bonus game will begin. You have around thirty seconds to collect all of the vegetables on the screen without falling to your doom. What are the vegetables you say? Well, they happen to be hot peppers; it must be what keeps these little guys going in the cold environment.

Odds and Ends

The time limit is probably the thing that you will have to work the hardest against. If you allow it to continue too far, madness ensues as you begin to be chased by a large polar bear, the horror. Well, maybe I am exaggerating a little bit, but the oddities in this game continue to appear throughout the game, and will keep you in a state of befuddlement. The one thing I do commend the game for is its well balanced difficulty level. The first few stages are simple enough that you will have the gist of it in no time at all, and it goes at a nice pace. I found the game difficult but not so much so that I was taking my system and throwing it out the window. With the praising aside there is one thing that was probably the most bothersome, the play control.

Now as said before there are many things which contribute to the difficulty in the game; the falling icicles and diversions, ground and flying enemies, and the time limit. However, the primary difficulty I had, had to do with the tight control movement. As you progress along up the mountain, early sections you had passed will disappear, leaving nothing but the holes you made while chiseling. If you fall through those holes you will lose a life, now that may not seem so bad, but I found myself in trouble more with jumping than the enemies themselves. The problem with the jumping is that even when you jump at an angle, you will jump straight up and slightly toward the direction you were facing. This pushes a lot more on the aspect of being right under the platform in order to successfully jump to it. This is not too much of a burden at first, but when you fall down that hole for the twentieth time, you will begin to get a little frustrated, not enough though, that it will make you give up of course.

You may be wondering if this game looks any different than the traditional NES games out there, well I have to say the graphics are quite impressive compared to most of them. The character and enemy sprites all look very good, with each being nicely recognizable and full of color. The mountain and platforms all look a little less flashy, but they are detailed enough to let you know they are there. Good, clean-cut visuals and no general slowdown whatsoever all allow for a better focus on the game itself. On top of that the sound is just fine going at a steady pace that is not too distracting, which was also quite surprising to me. You have the minor beeping sounds of the jumping and smashing that are very quaint and correlate just fine with the game-play.

Probably the greatest part of this game is the literally cool two player option. What I liked about the multi-player is how team work is utilized so well, and once you get in “synch” with each other, things run a lot smoother. Climbing up the mountain levels with your friend, bonking seals and birds, and avoiding confrontation with polar bears, what could be more fun? Well, several things I am sure, but this option makes the game all the more enjoyable. Another handy option is the battery save feature, which will allow you to save your progress, just in case you want to take on a particular mountain down the road. This feature is one that some disappointingly do not have, and it is very frustrating to work towards beating levels, only to have to repeat them again. Anyway, if you can grab a friend to tag along, the two player mode is fun enough that you will probably play the whole thing through.

Well, with its strange sense of characters, innovative platform approach, and fun two player option, Ice Climber is a warm spirited game beneath its cold setting. It does get a tad monotonous as you move further along and it lacks a real sense of depth, but for all its worth, it is better than most of the platform based stage to stage games out there. The moral here is, the quicker you get the hang of the controls, the longer the game will stay in your console. Believe me when I say that while most NES games do not age well, Ice Climber seems to be one of the few that actually has. It’s on the Virtual Console now, so go pick it up.

Verdict – 8/10




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