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Cult Video Game Essentials: Ice Climber (1985)

Ice Climber was a vertical platform video game developed and published by Nintendo for the Nintendo Family Computer in Japan and the Nintendo Entertainment System in North America in 1985. In Ice Climber, the characters Popo and Nana, collectively known as the Ice Climbers, venture up 32 ice-covered mountains to recover stolen vegetables from a giant condor. In some European countries, the NES console was sold bundled with the game, increasing Ice Climber‘s familiarity outside Japan.

The first player controls Popo, a boy wearing a blue Eskimo parka, while the second player controls Nana, a girl wearing a pink Eskimo parka. The only tool they carry is a wooden mallet to carve openings in the ice above and to club enemies.

Each mountain level consists of eight layers of colorful ice and a bonus stage. Standard, dull ice blocks pose no threat other than an easily disposed of barrier and platform. Square ice blocks with higher detail are indestructible, forcing the player to take another path. Hatched ice acts as a conveyor belt sliding the Eskimo either left or right.

 

Finally, many mountains include unbreakable moving platforms resembling clouds. The bonus stage takes place at the peak. Within a 40 second time limit and no enemies, the Ice Climbers often face trickier jumps and multiple moving platforms. The peak is also the only place to recover stolen vegetables, most notably eggplants. Collecting just one piece of corn from the fifth bonus stage is the only way to gain an extra life. At the top of the peak, the Condor flies overhead.

Popo scales Mountain 1 surrounded by Toppies and a Nitpicker.

Enemies encountered on the way up the mountains include the Topi, Nitpicker, and White Bear. Toppies come in two varieties: the blue seal featured in the Japanese Famicom Ice Climber release, and the short yeti seen in Western versions and Vs. Ice Climber. Toppies have the ability to fill in holes in the floor with ice. To do this, a Topi scouts out opening in the floor, runs back to its cave, and reemerges pushing an icicle to fill in two blocks. This process repeats until no more openings on their layer of ice exist.

The Nitpicker is a small, mountain-dwelling bird that swoops down from icy caves on the levels’ edges. Unlike the Topi, which is confined to one floor of the mountain, Nitpickers can cross over multiple ice layers. Taking them into account along with moving platforms and sliding ice, timing jumps can be more difficult.

The final enemy is the bipedal Polar Bear. This enemy, wearing sunglasses and pink shorts, appears on screen only when Popo and Nana take too long to advance. Pounding the ice, the Polar Bear forces the screen to move up. If an Eskimo is forced off the screen, the player loses a life.

Other obstacles include deadly falling icicles. These can form on the bottom of any type of platform. After a few successful mountains climbed, all enemies’ speeds increase.

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