‘Ice Climber’ was a vertically-traveled platformer game originally developed for the Nintendo Entertainment System (and the Famicom, in Japan) in 1985. In this funny little game the player would control a boy named Popo (wearing a blue parka), and a second player could control a girl named Nana (wearing a pink parka). Both characters carried a wooden mallet with which to fight enemies and carve out holes in the icy setting. The goal of the game was to use your two little “ice climbers” to make your way up through the 32 icy mountain stages. Why all this mountain climbing from two cute little nursery-color-clad kids? Why, to retrieve stolen vegetables from a giant condor, of course.
What? It’s a video game.
Each of the mountain stages was made up of eight layers of ice blocks in multiple colors. Some ice could be broken to create a new path, some ice wad indestructible in order to block a path, and some ice would allow the climbers to slide across the screen, as though on a conveyor. And, of course, there were enemies traversing the ice as well, in the form of yeti, mountain-dwelling birds, and large polar bears wearing sunglasses and pink shorts. This last (ridiculous) enemy would only show up when the player was taking too long to advance the game. He would rectify this delay by pounding on the ice, which forced the screen to move up. And, like many games of the time, if your player was forced off the edge of the screen as a result of that movement, you would lose a life (which were a hot commodity in this game).
There was also an arcade version of the game called ‘Vs. Ice Climber’, which had some game-play differences, as well as a second set of mountain stages that boasted a giant butterfly instead of the condor. This version of the game could also be played in a 2-player versus mode in which Popo and Nana competed in a race to the top of each stage.
The console version of ‘Ice Climber’ has been re-released on several platforms over the years, including a downloadable option on the Wii, 3DS, and Wii U “Virtual Console”. But the version of the cute little parka-clad kids that most modern gamers would be familiar with is the one portrayed in the popular ‘Smash Bros.’ series. The ice-climbing duo first appeared as playable fighters in Super Smash Bros. Melee on the GameCube console. The two climbers come as a pair, with the player controlling one climber while the other mimics all the first’s moves. The climbers even boasted their own stage in the game and met up with their yeti and polar bear foes in the game’s Adventure Mode. In ‘Super Smash Bros. Brawl’ the duo returned with a new stage that recreates the bonus level mountain peak from the original ‘Ice Climber’ game.
My personal experience with the ice climbers is only through those two ‘Smash Bros.’ games, and they were an option that I was always a bit on the fence about. If you could master their moves (and/or learn to exploit them like the cheap gamer that you were) they had the capability to be little powerhouses. On the other hand, a poorly aimed attack from your opponent or a poorly timed jump on your own part could cause you to lose your partner, and if that happened you were pretty much useless. Either way, though, it was amusing to have such old, classic Nintendo characters be part of a hugely popular modern game. Unfortunately, the two little mountaineers were bumped from the newest ‘Smash Bros.’ game, but I’m sure they’ll always hold a special place in the hearts of those of us who spent countless hours playing ‘Melee’ and ‘Brawl’.
Have you ever played the original ‘Ice Climber’ game or any of the later ports? How about playing the characters via the ‘Smash Bros.’ series? Don’t you think those little buggers are just too cute? Please share!
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