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'Ice Climber' retrospective: A cool vertical platformer

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Ice Climbers

© Nintendo



First Released: 1985 (NES)
Now Available On: Virtual Console (500 Nintendo Points)

Christmas is behind us and winter will be here for some time to come, but there are plenty of ways to chase away those seasonal blues. A good retro gaming fest is one of our top coping strategies and what title could be more appropriate than NES classic Ice Climber as the cold snap reaches its peak?

Released for the 8-bit Nintendo console in 1985 following a successful debut on the arcade, Ice Climber was an influential vertical platformer starring a pair of Eskimos named Popo and Nana, who must scale a series of mountains to recover their crops from a condor.

Players were armed only with a mallet for carving holes in the ice and taking out enemies. There were 32 stages to tackle, each comprising eight layers of coloured ice and a bonus level.

Ice Climbers

© Nintendo



The different varieties of ice posed varying degrees of threat. For instance, clear blocks could be smashed without too much difficulty, square blocks were indestructible and hatched ice acted like a slippery conveyor belt.

Popo and Nana encountered several enemies on their way to the peak of each mountain. There was Topi the yeti, Nitpicker the mountain-dwelling bird, and a nameless, bipedal polar bear. Topi was originally a seal in the Japanese version. We can't think of too many modern games where it's appropriate to take a mallet to a seal, which is probably for the best.

After reaching the summit of each level, a bonus stage kicked in where the object was to gather the Eskimos' crops while traversing a series of platforms with the condor flying overhead. Additional points were awarded if the player managed to reach the top of the screen and grab the bird of prey.

Ice Climber could be tackled either solo or in two-player mode. The latter saw Popo and Nana compete to reach that condor at the summit. On the way up the mountain, players could choose to co-operate with each other before going head-to-head during the bonus level.

Ice Climbers

© Nintendo



Although the game failed to reach the same level of success and acclaim as some of Nintendo's other first-party releases, such as Super Mario Bros and The Legend of Zelda, it was a significant release for several reasons.

Ice Climber was the first game Kazuaki Morita worked on for Nintendo, but it wouldn't be the last. The influential programmer went on to help develop future entries in the Super Mario, Zelda and Star Fox series before spearheading the Super Smash Bros development team.

Moreover, the game was popular enough in Japan to be made a launch title when the NES console debuted in North America. It was also influential within the vertical platformer sub-genre and championed multiplayer within this category.

Popo and Nana's legacy isn't quite as strong as some of the Big N's other creations, but the duo have gone on to appear in other series over the years, including Smash Bros and WarioWare. Ice Climber also came bundled with the GameCube edition of Animal Crossing as an in-game bonus.

Ice Climbers

© Nintendo



Ice Climber may not be a household name, but it's up there with the very best NES platformers and still holds up well today. The graphics retain that 8-bit charm and the gameplay remains just as fun today. So if you're after some nostalgic kicks this winter, there are few cooler options on Virtual Console.

Do you have any fond memories of Ice Climber? Write a comment in the space below.

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