It’s quite surprising that we took so long to talk about this game in our “Getting Good” series, particularly since Ice Climber has been on the minds of the modern gaming community ever since Nintendo released the eponymous duo as a playable character back in Super Smash Bros. Melee on the Gamecube. Regardless, it’s time we talk about a popular game for the Famicom, which was originally released on Nintendo’s VS. System arcade cabinet.
Ice Climber was, like many games of the time, a simple, straightforward title with a basic gameplay loop, where the complexity didn’t come from the execution of its mechanics themselves, but from trying to survive for as long as possible, in order to score points and set high scores. Specifically, players take control of a mountain climber and progress through levels by breaking ledges with their hammer, and then climbing to ever-increasing heights, while also collecting vegetables to score points, and avoiding the errant enemies that swoop in and out of the screen.
In this new entry of our ongoing Getting Good series, we’re going to talk about the basics of Ice Climber, and also give a few tips and tricks to improve your performance and help you to set all those high scores.
Ice Climber Controls and Gameplay Basics
Ice Climber has a very simple control scheme: Players use the joystick to move left or right, and they use A to jump and smash bricks on the ledges overhead, and B to smash their hammer on the ground in front of them, which hurts enemies and sends them flying in the opposite direction. You can also press Start to pause the game, while the Select button isn’t used in-game.
In a nutshell, the gameplay in Ice Climber revolves around jumping up to smash bricks overhead and create an opening, so that the player can progressively climb until the end of the stage. Along the way, they will pick up items to score points, and will also have to avoid enemies, either by getting out of their way or smashing them with the hammer, as well as falling icicles, all of which take a life if they ever make contact with the player.
Characters and Enemies
Aside from the titular ice climbers, Popo and Nana, there are a few enemies that you can run across on your adventures in Ice Climber. Contact with any of these will result in losing a life, so you must do your best to avoid them at all costs. Luckily, as long as you know how each of these baddies act, you can easily steer clear of their paths.
Here’s a rundown of all the enemies that you’ll find in Ice Climber:
- Topi: Depending on the version of the game, this can either be a seal (Japanese version), or a small yeti (international release). These enemies have very simple behavior: They simply walk slowly in one direction, and don’t actively attack the player. If they run into a hole in the ice, they will turn around and return with an ice block, which they use to plug the hole and continue walking forward.
- Nitpicker: small birds that fly in a set path along the stages. Like Topi, they don’t actively attack the players, and don’t ever diverge from their set paths.
- Polar Bear: This is more of a hidden enemy, as it doesn’t show up unless the player stays in the same height for extended periods. Specifically, when the camera stays in one spot for a long time, the Polar Bear will walk up from the left, smash the ground and force the camera upward, and walk off. Players who are caught by the camera when it scrolls up will lose a life.
- Condor: The big bad of the game, who stole all the climbers’ fruits and scattered them down around the mountains. The Condor only appears at the very top of the stages when the player has completed the bonus section of the level in under 40 seconds. When it’s present, the players must jump into its claws to end the level and get a significant completion bonus.
- Bee: Available only in the arcade version of Ice Climber, these bees appear in certain heights, careening from side to side, aiming directly at the player. To avoid them, you must jump over them, or hit them with your hammer, though the latter requires careful timing. You don’t get bonus points for defeating bees, so it’s better to just avoid them. It’s worth mentioning that, whenever there’s a bee present, there will never be a Nitpicker present at the same time.
- Butterfly: Only appears in the arcade version, and on the back sides of mountain stages. In all aspects except appearances, they are the same as the Condor.
Aside from the enemies in Ice Climber, it’s also important to know about the different types of floors and platforms, since you’ll be breaking through them for most of your gameplay. There are four main types of floors in the game:
- Breakable Ice: Your standard tile that can be broken by jumping into them from below, by pressing the A button.
- Unbreakable Ice: These tiles have a cross pattern on them, indicating that they can’t be broken by any means.
- Slippery Ice: These floors have either a forward slash or backslash pattern, depending on their direction. Walking in the same direction as these platforms will make you move twice as fast, but walking in the opposite direction will make you move at half speed. These tiles can be broken like regular ice.
- Clouds: Small unbreakable platforms that can be used to reach upper levels. These clouds are solid, which means that you can’t jump through them.
Ice Climber Tips and Tricks
Now that we know the basics, let’s go over the 10 top tips and tricks that you can use for maximizing your score in Ice Climber.
- There can only be 2 Topi on screen at any given moment. Keep your eyes open for these enemies, and make a mental note of their direction and paths, in order to avoid them.
- Both players and enemies can walk to one end of the screen, and appear on the opposite side. Use this to your advantage to avoid enemies. However, keep in mind that enemies can also use this shortcut system.
- Watch for falling icicles! You can spot the places where icicles will fall from since they need to go through several forms before turning into proper icicles. Keep in mind that these icicles can also form in moving clouds.
- If you’re not sure if there are Topis on any given floor, you can easily stay in front of the number on each side of the floors and wait a few seconds. In this spot, you are effectively safe from any wandering Topis, though Nitpickers can still get you.
- Though it’s a bit more difficult, you can defeat Nitpickers by jumping into them directly from below, or by dropping onto them while making contact ONLY with your outstretched legs. Keep in mind that, if you fail, you’ll likely lose a life.
- Popo and Nana move much better on the ground than on the air. Unlike the great Mario, their vertical control is lackluster, and our climbers can jump mostly directly upwards. Though it’s possible to span some horizontal distance with your jumps, you’ll need a running start to do so.
- Though you’ll almost always open a two-hole wide gap when moving upwards, it’s possible to save some time by opening a single tile, and moving upwards with a slight running start.
- The Polar Bear appears after the camera has been still for 70 seconds. Despite its imposing stature, you can actually whack it with your hammer to defeat it before it smashes the ground and forces you upward.
- If you’re on the arcade version, remember that there can be no Bees if there are Nitpickers on the screen. Conversely, if a Bee attacks you, you can avoid it by jumping, while knowing that there won’t be any Nitpickers flying overhead.
- In some cases, it might be better to let Topis plug holes underneath you, as it will give a stable surface from which to jump upwards from. In these cases, it can be worth keeping these little fellas alive just for long enough until they can fulfill their purposes.
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