In a time when video games, movies and music just seemed simpler, better and faster we found a wide variety of professions. One of these professions involved climbing mountains also known as Ice Climber.
Although released in the mid-80s I only truly got to experience this game in the mid-90s. And just like all of you here in South Africa I’m sure you either got to play it on the Golden China or a knock-off “TV Games” console with a 50-in-1 cartridge. Nevertheless, it still was one of those titles that would be remembered for many years to come and hence today’s Blast from the Past.
Ice Climber puts players into the boots of Popo and Nana as the second player. Together the pair, or just Popo if you’re playing alone, set out on a quest to conquer dangerous mountain peaks to collect stolen vegetables. Battle against snow enemies such as seals to what appears to be abominable snowmen, birds with beaks as sharp as pickaxes and moving ice platforms…indeed I said moving ice platforms. More often than not these moving platforms were a greater challenge to me than any enemy in the game. Why? Because of the jump mechanic. Within the first 15 minutes, I made it to the third mountain but was utterly frustrated with the jumping in the game.
On thin ice
The jump mechanic is not only slow in response but also feels stiff and quite possibly a platformer’s worst nightmare. I often found myself missing platforms both above me and to the side because of the horrible jumping the character possesses. Just when you think or even believe you’re about to make it (due to your character touching the platform) you plummet to your death. And in most cases, you would only have to focus on timing but in Ice Climber it is more than that, if you intend on pushing past this you’ll have to focus on your timing, forward momentum as well as hitting the button 10 years in advance. Pretty often you’ll find yourself trying to jump and shift a tiny bit to the left or right but all the character does is jump straight up on the spot. A fun, bright, colourful mountain climbing title spoiled by its jump mechanic. Was this mechanic purposefully added to the game in this way to increase the difficulty in reaching the mountain peaks, or maybe it’s due to the heavy looking wooden mallets they use to break through the ice and knock out enemies? It still did not make my journey to each mountain peak any more enjoyable knowing this. In fact, once you reach the bonus stage within the level you’ll start collecting the vegetables and this is where every jump matters the most because if you fall and miss a platform in this section of the level, it’s level over. The good thing is that you’ll still clear the stage but with no bonus score and with your head bowed and your character crying.
Past the jump mechanic though the levels are well set out. With the players having to break through ice platforms above them and jump on to it only to break the next one. Some of the platforms also work as a conveyor belt which moves a player automatically in one direction making it difficult to break a point with ice above you and still jumping into it at the same time. These platforms can also move the player into the enemy causing an instant death. There are usually eight of these platforms for the players to get through and each platform can have enemies who fill the holes if they find one as well as falling icicles which can kill the player with one touch. However even with all these dangers players aren’t defenceless and are equipped with a wooden mallet.
Just when you think or even believe you’re about to make it (due to your character touching the platform) you plummet to your death.
Ice Climber is most probably one of those hit and miss titles for many old-school gamers out there as well as someone who’s just picking it up for the first time. For a mid 80s title it looks and sounds good especially with the jazzy music you’ll hear when you reach the high point of the mountain (the bonus area of each level) and try to make it to the summit. It also works well as a co-op title as you and the second player will assist each other to break through bricks and battle against enemies to reach the peak. Things change up competitively in the higher points of the stages to see who can reach the peak faster to grab the bonus and more vegetables. However even with all this the jump mechanic still staggers this game immensely to make it a game that can truly break through the ice…see what I did there. The worst feeling has to be that moment when you reach the peak and miss a platform because of the character’s terrible jumping skills and fall into the depths of oblivion. Especially after you’ve just pulled off what feels like a speed run below. Indeed ice climbing is not a profession that I’d like to pursue.