Retro Review: Ice Climber (3DS/Wii Virtual Console)

4 mins read
Popo is doomed right now

If you’ve heard of the mountain-climbing duo, Nana and Popo, you probably have Super Smash Bros to thank. It’s the simple tale of two adventurers scaling a mountain to rescue their precious vegetables from bothersome condors. Those of the people who played Ice Climber back in the day, though, will already know whether or not they want to buy this game again for the nostalgic factor. Most new gamers just aren’t going to derive too much enjoyment from this occasionally taxing arcade platformer.

Each stage in Ice Climber consists of eight levels, with a bonus stage at the end. Each level contains enemies and you must use your hammer to break the layers of ice on the mountain level above you. Your mallet is also used for fending off pesky mountain creatures, such as polar bears and condors, and breaking ice. Later stages throw in obstacles like conveyor belts and falling ice, but these rarely pose much of a challenge. Bonus stages task you with collecting eggplants with a limited amount of time. Should you land outside of the screen or get hit by a foe, you’ll lose one of your three lives. There are 32 levels in all, so you will see a bit of variety.

Troubles arise as soon as you start the game. You’ll notice that jumping controls just aren’t as up to snuff as games like Super Mario Bros. It’s tricky to control the descent of your character, which makes platforming incessantly more vexing than it needs to be. To add further nuisances, there are moments where you can clearly see that Popo landed on a platform, but fell through anyway. If your jump isn’t perfect, you’ll just fall through a platform. Whether or not the designers consciously made the controls like this to add realism to the experience is irrelevant, as it certainly does not make a game about climbing a mountain to get vegetables from a bird any more rational.

If it weren’t for the pesky controls, though, this would be an underwhelming and easy game. The subtleties like being able to dispose of certain enemies by jumping and the ability to switch sides of the screen help to make it even easier. Later levels only drag the experience into lengthy sessions as opposed to more challenging ones, due to the jump control precision required.
Jump control makes this harder than it is
Last is the multiplayer mode, which is also very basic. Each player has three lives and can either cooperate with the other player or battle it out. It’s probably a fair bit more amusing than the single player game, to be honest.
The soundtrack isn’t much to write home about, with essentially two unremarkable tracks and repetitive sound effects. The presentation is a similar affair, lacking any particular aspects that differentiate it from other arcade-style games at the time.
Ice Climber was a decent and reasonably inoffensive game that has regrettably lost the battle against history. It delivers modest arcade-style gameplay, but it falls flat in comparison to all the other arcade games out there like Donkey Kong. For 500 Points, it just won’t be worth the time for most people.

-Clark A

Note to the 3DS owners: the eShop ambassador release lacks a multiplayer mode until the games are made available to the public at a later date. 

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