Classic NES Series: Ice Climber
The original Ice Climber for the NES still holds a special place in my heart. It was the first multiplayer game that really drove my friends and I to spend hours glued in front of the TV, pounding Coca-Cola and wolfing down Gummi Bears in an effort to force our bodies up past 1 AM in the morning. During those extended gaming sessions we could be heard giggling like schoolgirls as we bumped and battled for position on the game’s tiny moving platforms in a frantic attempt to be the first one up the mountain and to that elusive cache of bonus points. Now, 20 years later Nintendo has brought Ice Climber back, this time on the GameBoy Advance as part of their Classic NES series, and I’m happy to say that the game has still retained all the unique charm that made it so appealing back in the day.
For the uninitiated, Ice Climber is a fairly uncomplicated game in which you take parka-wearing, mallet-wielding characters and burst through multiple layers of rock and ice on your way to reaching the mountain’s summit. Various hazards like swooping birds, fuzzy cotton swab-like creatures that replace holes you create in the ice, falling icicles and fast-moving cloud platforms all help make your trip up the mountain a decidedly tricky one. Combine those perils with slippery ice and moving treadmill surfaces you are constantly traversing and the fact that the screen cannot scroll back down (meaning any holes you jump up through become death pits when positioned at the bottom of the screen) and you have quite the challenging game experience. In fact, Mountain 32, the last and most difficult level in the game (well, before they begin repeating at an even harder difficulty), will test the platform hopping abilities of even the most jaded of old school veterans.
Playing Ice Climber single player is rewarding enough due to the game’s challenging gameplay mechanics, but playing with a friend is where the fun’s really at. Indeed, just by looking at the title screen and noting how the game keeps track of two separate high scores, one for each player, you can easily deduce the importance Nintendo places on bringing a buddy along. When playing two-player, each level starts out pleasantly enough – both gamers help each other whacking baddies, creating holes in the ice and making sure not to leave the other behind. But, as soon as you reach the final fourth of the mountain where the timer starts counting down, all bets are immediately off. Now, the first person to reach the summit and grab the legs of that bizarre circling pterodactyl gets a huge chunk of bonus points, while the other only is only left with a bruised ego. This mixture of cooperative and competitive multiplayer gameplay was pioneering back in the mid-eighties, and is still enormously enjoyable to this day.
Of course, to play multiplayer in this version of Ice Climber you have to link together two GBA systems, but this is quite feasible because you only need one game pack to make it work. Also worth noting is the fact that Nintendo’s yet-to-be-released wireless multiplayer adapter will be supported by the game, making the link-up process even less painless.
Like most early NES games, Ice Climber is not what you’d call a visual tour-de-force, but it does have a quirky, and quite likeable, personality that is successfully portrayed through its graphical presentation. The mallet-wielding protagonists, despite their tendency to beat down the local wildlife with massive blunt objects, look cute in their light blue and pink parkas. Indeed, they even look adorable when in the act of swinging their oversized hammers ruthlessly down on the game’s relatively defenseless enemies, which is a shinning testament to Nintendo’s time-tested ability to turn any subject matter into a kid friendly romp. All of the enemies in the game are just as loveable as the main characters, especially the potbellied, sunglasses-wearing polar bear that bounds onto the scene when you take too much time progressing up the mountain. The graphical low point for Ice Climber is a decided lack of variety between mountain designs and the mundane black background that serves as the backdrop for every single one of the game’s 32 stages.
For a NES game, Ice Climber’s MIDI soundtrack is surprisingly pleasant, if a bit on the repetitive side. The main tune that plays during the title screen and bonus portion of each mountain is upbeat, jazzy and quite memorable, and the song that plays during the lower section of each level is agreeable, even despite its simplicity. Naturally, the game features the ageless springy jump and bursting block sound effects made famous from Nintendo’s classic Mario franchise, so that should please the hordes of Miyamoto cronies out there.
Ice Climber may be a 20 year old NES game, but it’s still a great purchase on the GBA due to its unique multiplayer appeal and classic Nintendo attention to gameplay. Out of all the titles being released in the Classic NES Series, it’s the only one that can be played simultaneously with another player, so if you want to be both social and nostalgic at the same time, Ice Climber is really the only way to go. Now, if only Nintendo would release a GameCube update of this game with four-player support and slick 3D graphics… Hey, I can dream can’t I?