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Monday, October 7, 2013

NES Replay: Ice Climber

Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Released: 1985
Most of the NES launch games are surprisingly polished. Not so with Ice Climber.

Ice Climber stars Nana and Popo, two adorable parka-bedecked people who are climbing up series of mountains to reach the top. It's a fun concept, and a great idea. Instead of making a platformer that scrolls horizontally they made one that scrolled vertically, and it could have turned out great.

Sadly, the execution is terrible, and it all has to do with the fundamental mechanic at the heart of it: Jumping.

First, the directional jumping is problematic. In most games, if you walk in a direction and then press the jump key, the game will understand that you wish to jump in that direction. The physics will then be consistent enough so that you can replicate that jump without having to think about it each and every time.
Ice Climber's not like that. Jumping while moving can either result in one of two outcomes:
  1. Your character jumping straight up with only a slight movement in your chosen direction.
  2. Your character flings themself in the direction that you're trying to jump just like you would expect.

There appears to be no rhyme or reason to which option will happen, and for a game that lives and dies on jumping directionally, that's a killer.

The crazy thing is that the programmer of Ice Climber, Kazuaki Morita, later served as the main programmer on Super Mario Bros. Super Mario Bros. obviously had much more reliable jumping physics, which makes this all the more baffling. Didn't either of the two teams share notes or anything? Didn't anyone stop the developers of Ice Climber at any point and say, "Woah, these are awful physics! Who came up with this?"

However, there's another flaw that absolutely dooms Ice Climber, and that's the poor collision detection during jumps. It's like the first ten pixels of any platform simply don't exist when you're jumping, you'll frequently fall through platforms. Since the majority of your time is spent jumping upwards and a missed jump can result in a mild case of death, it's amazing that it was overlooked.

In fact, it's such a blatant problem and so noticeable that I'm not sure if it was actually intentional. Were they trying to have the ice be "transparent" in a way? I can't say for certain, but it's so bad that it can't be overlooked.

The sad thing is that if the jump physics were fixed, Ice Climber could have been a really fun game. Instead, it's one of those games that’s fondly remembered, but only by people who have never actually played it.

Final Rating:


Next Week: Kung Fu