Ain’t No Mountain Cold Enough

Ice Climber, with its alternately “hard” and “harder” gameplay, is touted by few and berated by the rest. Yet, more than many other characters, Popo and Nana still deserve a sequel.

By Andrew Hsieh. Posted 08/11/2010 08:30 2 Comments     ShareThis

Play a pickup game of Super Smash Bros. Melee or Super Smash Bros. Brawl, and it’s more than likely that the Ice Climbers will make a belligerent, albeit adorable, appearance. In those dastardly donnybrooks, Popo (the blue one) and Nana (the pink one) sport rather uncanny abilities to generate and manipulate blizzards, icicles and even glaciers; at the same time, they have no qualms about swinging around gigantic mallets almost as big as their own bodies. This, even ignoring the fact that they’re a two-person team in a sea of solo fighters, often sends the Ice Climbers into higher (though admittedly not highest) tiers of professional gameplay, and of course, the idea of playing characters known only to the enthusiast who lives and breathes Nintendo makes the hardcore gamer’s fingers throb with excitement.

“I’m playing as Ice Climbers,” that cheery chap will tell his friends, just returned from a rousing session of Chuck E. Cheese’s Party Games. “Bet you don’t know what ridiculously retro and crazy-obscure game they’re from! Bet you don’t even know their names!” Ha ha! Imagine the looks on those friends’ faces. They’ll never even begin counting the sheer amount of nerd awesome points racked up by statements like these.

But hang on, realizes the gamer, midway through chain-throwing Jigglypuff into the stratosphere– if playing as Ice Climbers in Super Smash Bros. is so great, why not go even further? Racking up awesome points should be even easier if we play their actual game, right? And so, that hardcore gamer, after all his friends have given up on Super Smash Bros. forever, will go upstairs, grab some rubbing alcohol and Q-tips, and painstakingly excavate the dust and dirt from his Ice Climber Nintendo Entertainment System cartridge, as if he were the world’s greatest archaeologist. And he’ll insert Ice Climber into his NES, provided it’s still in working condition (which it is– he’s hardcore), and prepare to bathe in a tub filled with awesome.

Within moments, his gamer brain explodes.

Most people only ever see this level when they skip to it.“This isn’t how I wanted it to be,” he laments hopelessly, as his desperate attempt to run away from a baby yeti fails. “I thought this would be better, but it’s not. I can’t even jump in a direction other than straight up. Oh,” he’ll say, rolling his eyes. “There goes that polar bear again.”

The fact is, Ice Climber, released back in 1985, just isn’t that great of a game. Wonky jump controls and quick-moving platforms cause Popo to fall down a mountain far more often than he climbs up one, and thirty-two mountain levels is just thirty-one too many for this kind of two-steps-back, one-step-forward gameplay. Meanwhile, multiplayer, though always welcome, only changes the situation from one player sighing at the screen to two. And, like so many games released in the early reemergence of video games, it’s completely missing any obvious storyline.

Which is, incidentally, Ice Climber‘s only saving grace.

A direct sequel to Ice Climber, even with flashy graphics and perfect controls, would do nothing for the game. Nintendo’s already finished the core game, and it’s plenty dull. But, much like how Kid Icarus: Uprising brings back an old icon in a bold new way, a new Ice Climber could throw tradition to the wind– and come back actually playable. The original Ice Climber game is broad enough to accommodate any innovation; even the exact relationship between Popo and Nana (are they siblings? Lovers? Really, really good friends?) isn’t ever expounded on, and Nintendo seems to have a “think what you want” policy regarding it. Story-wise, the only details gamers know for sure is that they need to go up a mountain and grab a condor, because it apparently has a penchant for stealing every eggplant in the village. Arguably, Ice Climber joins games like Balloon Fight and Clu Clu Land in the pile of titles where imagination reigns supreme. If gamers can write fanfic after fanfic about Popo and Nana’s endless escapades, Nintendo should be able to whip up a tantalizing story that’ll make players actually want to traverse a mountain.

If Nintendo wants to stick to its guns– that is, if Nintendo would rather focus on gameplay over storyline –well, there’s not much to be said for the original, so a revisit to Icicle Mountain would need significant work. While Ice Climber‘s multiplayer mode emphasizes competition over cooperation, Super Smash Bros. makes it clear that Popo and Nana either work together, or don’t work at all; this kind of cooperative gameplay, perhaps in a game a la The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures or New Super Mario Bros. Wii, could work flawlessly. And to accommodate four players, an Ice Climber update doesn’t have to include only two Ice Climbers– Popo and Nana should welcome any newcomers. It’s lonely on the mountain, after all, and chipping away at it shouldn’t be so dull with others to bounce around with. Maybe those yetis and polar bears could even join in.

In any case, though it might be an overstatement to say that Ice Climber needs a remake– it seems to be one of those games that gamers throw out every time someone mentions games that need sequels, without really wanting an actual sequel –Nintendo might as well try. After all, Nintendo insisted on throwing Popo and Nana into Super Smash Bros. Melee and Brawl, thus throwing them into the gaming mainstream. Even the similarly-dated Pit, whose inclusion in Brawl and impending 3DS launch title makes him the cover boy of retro returns, seems to be doing well enough– if his success is any indication, Nintendo might even already be thinking of dusting off those blue and pink daredevils they abandoned on that mountain.

Though the Ice Climbers’ initial outing might not have aged well, Popo and Nana are still raring to go. After all that effort to get just a couple of eggplants, they deserve a second chance– a very different chance. Come on, Nintendo. There’s nothing to lose– and there’s nowhere to go but up.

Masthead image by hextupleyoodot.

2 Responses to “Ain’t No Mountain Cold Enough”

  • 697 points
    Adam Sorice says...

    Good read and you’re totally right about the Ice Climber gameplay. There was a sample of it in Melee and I wanted to pull my hair out. Definitely needs rethought from the ground up.

    About the whole issue of not having a story, some modern games seem to share that problem too, especially from Nintendo. And while you can connect the dots in your average Mario game, things like Kirby Canvas Curse could have done with a brief video sequence explaining what the hell was going on.

    Thumb up 0
  • 678 points
    amishpyrate says...

    I love platformers, so I say nintendo brings it back Donkey Kong Country style…. put it on the ds so it doesn’t compete with DKC returns….

    Thumb up 0

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