What makes a video game a classic? Is it enjoyable gameplay that never feels old? Is it an engaging storyline that draws players into its universe? Or is it simply the inclusion of some characters and stages in the latest Super Smash Bros. title? Ice Climber is the latest “classic” NES game to hit the 3DS Virtual Console, but if it weren’t for Super Smash Bros. Melee, would anyone really care?
Like many early NES games that aimed to reflect the arcade experience at home, Ice Climber’s gameplay is mainly focused on achieving the highest score possible. Starting at the bottom of each stage, your goal is to work your way upwards towards the top of the mountain by jumping from platform to platform while avoiding obstacles such as condors, polar bears, and strange yeti-like creatures. Getting hit by any of these creatures — or simply falling down a pit as the level progresses vertically — will cause you to die. Waiting at the top of each mountain is a bonus stage that has you collecting vegetables while still trying to work your way up even higher.
Because your goal is rooted in scoring rather than progressing through a plot, it is naturally a very repetitive experience. Each level is different in its layout, but your mission of reaching the top is the same every single time. This formula of repetition works with many games, but playing Ice Climber beings to feel like a chore after a short while. The inclusion of local multiplayer via download play does add an element of variety in that you can choose to either work with or against your partner, but that’s entirely coincidental.
Though the levels seemingly go on forever, there are only 32 stages to play through before they start repeating themselves. In other words, even though the game goes beyond 32 levels, stage 33 is actually just a renamed version of stage 1, and so on. This means that not only is the gameplay repetitive, but the game is literally just repeating itself. Once you’ve gotten past stage 32, then you start playing through levels you’ve already completed.
The way that Ice Climber controls is, to say the very least, frustrating. While your controls are limited to travelling left and right, swinging your hammer to attack enemies, and jumping, getting anywhere quickly is an ordeal. Your ability to jump is the most important aspect of this game, but your movement is almost completely vertical. Trying to jump to the left or the right – which, may we remind you, is central to the gameplay — will more often than not end in missed ledges and plummets to your death. There’s also the frequent issue of falling right through a ledge rather than landing on it, but that’s a much bigger flaw that can’t simply be attributed to poor controls.
Not only is the gameplay lacking, but Ice Climber falls flat in the visual department as well. It may seem unfair to pick at such an old game that was clearly limited by technology when it was being made, but beyond the variety in structure, each stage looks exactly the same with their solid coloured platforms and stark black background. The character sprites, while adorable, are also lacking the detail that can be expected from other NES classics.
When dealing with games that have ongoing legacies through modern titles such as the Super Smash Bros. series, it can be difficult to determine how much of a role nostalgia plays. Though it is now considered a classic NES game, the reality is that Ice Climber is a very repetitive arcade game that is limited by a lack of variety and frustrating controls. If you are already a fan then you could definitely do worse than this version, especially with the included download play for multiplayer, but newcomers might be disappointed by how quickly the excitement dries up.