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Monday, February 24, 2014

Memories #15: Ice Climber

Winter is almost over but while it's still here, I thought that now would be a good time to reminisce about one of the earliest NES games I've ever played, Ice Climber. Ironically, Ice Climber was my first encounter with what has often been one of my most hated environments in video games, ice worlds.

When my sister and I were kids, my father, like all fathers do, would occasionally bring home surprises for his children. This would range from candy, to movies and if we were really lucky, video games. One night after work my father brought home with him not just one, but two NES games. The first was Donkey Kong Classics, a compilation release that contained Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr. The second one was Ice Climber.

Those words in the top right corner of the
screen? I saw that A LOT.

There were no princess to save in Ice Climber. The only thing that was in peril here was some eggplants that were abducted by a condor. The Ice Climbers were tasked with climbing the mountain, reaching the bonus level, collecting all of the fruit and finally catching the condor that caused the pair so much grief. Something that I found out early on is that Ice Climber is not an easy game. You could say Ice Climber has an arbitrary difficulty due to the way Popo and Nana's jumping functions. The two cannot alter the direction of a jump once you choose to go left or right and the weird arc associated with each leap can make precision platforming more challenging than it needs to be. Failed leaps were more common in Ice Climber than in any other game I've played on the NES but when I did successfully pull off a jump, it felt pretty good.

Vertical platforming was certainly different from horizontal platforming, the later of which I was far more accustomed to after playing Super Mario Bros. Even though I did get used to the jump mechanics that Ice Climber used, there was still plenty of other things to make mountain climbing a chore. Nitpicker, a small pink bird, was your typical airborne nuisance that was easily disposed of with a well-timed mallet strike, but could still be trouble. Toppies would fill in any open patches in the floor with ice, essentially giving you more work to do. This really became annoying in later mountain peaks where you'd have to deal with small platforms, fast moving platforms and other enemies all at the same time.

The salty, salty tears of failure.

Ice Climber has some pretty aggravating enemies but by far the biggest headache was the Polar Bear. Wearing shades and a pair of pink trunks, the Polar Bear was the game's way of saying I was taking too long to complete a stage and they would pound the ice, which forced the screen to scroll up, which resulted in some frustrating deaths. Needless to say, I took great pleasure in killing that bear whenever the opportunity presented itself. The Polar Bear was hands down the most satisfying enemy to get rid of.

The bonus stage at the end of each peak weren't much easier than the regular levels. Unlike the mountains, you only had 40 seconds to collect each piece of fruit. The moving platforms combined with the odd jumps made these sections the bane of my existence. Not only did you have to collect all the fruit to even get a bonus, but you had to catch the condor, 40 seconds may seem like a lot of time, but it really isn't. I don't think I ever completed a single bonus stage as a kid.

Everything is worse with bears, especially
if you're at the bottom of the screen.

I was never a major arcade goer. I mean, I had visits to the arcade, but most of my gaming was done at home or at a friend's house. Ice Climber may have been developed on home consoles but looking back at it, the game's arcade feel is more than apparent. The levels are short and you didn't have to reach each mountain the old fashioned way. The game's 32 mountain peaks was selectable on the title screen. This was especially helpful when I felt like playing a certain stage or seeing what later mountains had to offer. Since I tended to get scrubtacular at around mountain 4 or so, a stage select that was accessible right off the bat was a gift from the heavens. It was one of those rare instances in a game where my lack of skill wouldn't restrict me from seeing the whole game. Perhaps the folks at Nintendo took this into account when they were developing Ice Climber.

One of the many spirit crushing bonus stages.

Time went on and as I played the numerous sequels to Super Mario Bros. that were released over the years, Ice Climber seemed to be one of those games that was forgotten by both myself and Nintendo. It wasn't until the summer of 2001 that I would remember the parka pair. When the E3 trailer of Super Smash Bros. Melee was shown and I viewed it in school with some friends,  my face lit up like a Christmas tree when I saw Popo and Nana. No surprise, I was the only one in my circle of friends who knew who they were.

It was fitting that my father brought both Donkey Kong Classics and Ice Climber together. Mario uses a hammer as a weapon in Donkey Kong and in Ice Climber, the 'mallets are their sole means of defending themselves. Both games also had you ascending rather than having you go through side scrolling levels. But beyond that, these were two vastly different games. Whereas I had actually conquered Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr. I never even came close to beating Ice Climber. Not only was Ice Climber a much longer game than Donkey Kong Classics, it was far more difficult. And yet, I still got a lot of fun out of Ice Climber. Like Contra, the game schooled me hard, but I kept coming back to it. My sister, my friends and I were all quite fond of the game. I fired it up it recently via Animal Crossing on the GameCube and I can honestly say that I still get a kick out of playing it. As happy as I am to see Popo and Nana get time in the sun in the Super Smash Bros. series, I'd love for this duo to take to the mountains with their mallets once again.

1 comment:

Adam said...

I played it on Animal Crossing after Super Smash Bros. Melee, I hated the game.