Retro Metro #14: Ice Climber

Today we are going to review a port of an old arcade classic to the NES: Ice Climber. Like all really old games, the story of this one is quite simple: a man named Popo (and his sister Nana, if you’re doing two-player mode) must climb thirty-two freezing, treacherous mountains to recover stolen fruit from a giant condor, which is some sort of bird. This is accomplished through a lot of vertical scrolling (like Mario, but going up).

The gameplay is both simple and deceptively challenging. The player controls Nana (or Popo), who jump using A, and swing their enemy-killing hammer using B. That’s it. The main way of getting up the mountain is by breaking overhead blocks with your head and jumping to the next row (there are eight per mountain). The problem is that the ground enemy (and occasional upright polar bear) cart ice to restore the blocks after they reach them, leading to yet more work. To make this worse, you cannot really kill these enemies, but only hammer them off the screen for a bit. In addition to these ground enemies, there are flying birds, which you can kill either by hammer or by hitting them from below at a very specific spot. Otherwise, you die.

This is a great point to talk about lives. When you get hit by an enemy, or simply fall down a hole below the screen, you lose a life and are respawned at the lowest row on the screen–which is sometimes higher than where you were before! Unfortunately, you only have 4 lives, but when you lose you can choose to start at the beginning of the mountain you were just on instead of the very first one. When you get to the end of a mountain, you get a small “Bonus Stage,” where you have 40 seconds to collect some fruit and/or get to the very top and kill the condor. Both give you points (the condor especially), as does breaking blocks and killing/stunning enemies, but these points do not do anything other than allow for “high scores.”

There are also some smaller things you should watch out for: many levels have moving cloud-platforms and “conveyor belts,” and there are many uprights that, if hit, send you back the direction you came. In addition, most of the rows are wrap-around, meaning that if you go all the way to the left or right, you will pop out on the other side. Also the physics is kinda weird–sometimes you’ll go halfway through a platform above and then fall; sometimes you can jump up through one broken brick, but other times you need two. Most annoyingly, both the vertical and horizontal distance your jump goes varies in certain situations, leading to many Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels-esque stupid mistakes.

Finally, we come to my brief notes on Ice Climber‘s graphics and music. The graphics are what you would expect for an NES–most likely worse than the arcade game’s, but not bad and certainly workable. As for the music, like on most games I play on my portable consoles (I got this game off of the Nintendo 3DS eShop, which I have written about extensively), I did not really listen to the music, but I imagine it was “meh.” I mean, most arcade games’ music is pretty basic, since that is never what people care about, and a NES port probably would have lowered the sound quality a bit.

All in all, I highly recommend this game, which can be purchased, like most games I review, through the 3DS eShop, probably the WiiU eShop,, and by just buying the cartridge. Happy holidays to y’all, and may your fruit never get stolen by a giant bird that lives in the Andes!

About Ben Buyer 13 Articles
Howdy-ho! My name is Ben Buyer, and my interests are pretty eclectic, ranging from Latin, to old video games, to The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (which some consider old), to South Park (and to a lesser extent, Futurama and The Simpsons), to Magic: the Gathering™. So, yeah, th-th-th-that's all, folks!

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