So the Ice Climbers did pretty well in the Melee tournament at Evo 2013 last month. They made it all the way to the Grand Final match! And as I watched the daring duo rampage through a collection of fan-favorite franchise characters, a thought occurred: how does a pair of such fearsome cold-blooded killers go nearly thirty years after their debut without another game?
Escape an infinite grab? Can’t let you do that, Star Fox.
It’s high time the Ice Climbers made a comeback. But in what form? Their debut was an arcade platformer; with Mario and Luigi and Donkey Kong and Yoshi already set for sidescrolling on Wii U, the last thing Nintendo needs right now is more 2D run-and-jump.
The obvious alternative, then, is a 3D platformer. We've been buzzing about N64’s best platformers lately, and it just dawned on me...Ice Climber could be the perfect groove for that jazz. Specifically, Ice Climber should take over as Nintendo’s mainstay in the Super Mario 64 style adventure-platformer genre that's fallen by the wayside.
Miss you, baby...
This could seem like a strange move at first glance. But let me assure you, in glorious top ten fashion, that it is the perfect idea.
First thing’s first, however: we have to start on a somber note and consider the probability that...
There were some high expectations going into this year’s E3. Nintendo confirmed that The Next 3D Mario would be there, and the hype train was full steam ahead. And then, when Super Mario 3D World made its grand entrance? Crickets. Tumbleweed. Cough. Even here at Brainwashed Nintendo Apologist Babies And Grandmas And Sheeple Dot Org, the initial response was lukewarm at best. Rampant speculation about the next “True” 3D Mario began within minutes.
But here’s the thing: Nintendo’s been moving “True” 3D Mario in this direction since the beginning. The loose, sandboxy Mario 64 and Sunshine adventures were succeeded by stiffer and more structured Galaxy titles, which gave way to the corridor-linear and simplified 3D Land. Nintendo clearly wants 3D Mario to be the iconic comfort food that 2D Mario is. Mario has long been Nintendo’s bridge to bring fringe gamers closer to the hardcore. They won’t hesitate to streamline his forays into the Z-axis into a more welcoming and familiar form, leaving behind former complexities. So I’m thinking, unless 3D World flops, the future of 3D Mario will probably be borne of the same template. Calibrate your hype drive accordingly.
And maybe that’s the smart move for Nintendo. 3D platforming is an inherently complicated and demanding thing, after all. I once watched a friend struggle through the first stage of Super Mario Galaxy for over an hour, fuming all the way. I can’t imagine the trouble he would have with Super Mario 64’s constant camera babysitting and complex moveset. Sure, he doesn't have much experience with video games, but he managed to complete Portal with no help whatsoever.
When GlaDOS is considered a friendlier alternative, something may be amiss.
Of course, if our reaction to 3D World is any indication, there’s still demand for more complex 3D platforming. It may not be the booming market it was in the late nineties, but it’s a space where Nintendo is situated to dominate, seeing as how...
Nana and Popo could be big fish in a very small pond.
It's a sad state of affairs, but the 3D platformer genre is all but extinct. There’s Mario and...what, exactly?
Sonic? Practically on-rails. Even when it’s not played in 2D. Sly Cooper? Sure, if you don’t mind feathery movements and the platforming equivalent of aim-assist. Ratchet and Clank? Fine games, but you might as well include every third-person shooter with a double jump at this point.
And where's this guy been lately?
Even if the next Ice Climber game was a slapdash mod of Super Mario Sunshine, it would be unlike anything on stores shelves this generation, Mario games included. There’s certainly room for two 3D Nintendo platformers on the same system: the streamlined casual bridge that will be 3D World, and the hardcore cannonball-piloting simulator that once was 3D Mario.
So why the Ice Climbers, and not any one of Nintendo’s other veteran franchises? Well, the game style just makes sense for them when you consider...
They'll climb any mountain!
One sentiment that keeps coming up in our frequent Mario 64 nostalgia parties is that the vertical, mountain-style level designs tend to be the most beloved. They suited Mario’s diverse repertoire of rocketing jumps, and having a central landmark helped players orient themselves within the sandbox as they hunted for various objectives.
Well gee whiz, guys, get this! Mountains are like the Ice Climbers’ whole deal! After all, the original Ice Climber game ONLY scrolled vertically, as the pair practically jumped into space to rescue vegetables from pterodactyls or whatever. Also their last name is Climbers, and what they typically climb is Ice, which is on mountains a lot!
You can totally see them in there, right? In your mind's eye? Climbing some ice?
It doesn’t all have to be mountains, though. Snow levels are wonderful, but a game full of them would be all icing and no cake, right? I don’t see this as a problem for Popo and Nana though, because...
They were born to explore!
Why does a man climb a mountain? Because it’s there.
Why does a man climb down into a volcano, leaving his marker perilously close to the bubbling magma at the bottom? Same reason.
Someone high up at Nintendo must have a serious thing for hands.
Their claim to fame might be mountain climbing, but I don’t see a reason to shackle the duo to the snowy peaks. Why wouldn’t a pair of capable young adventurers seek thrills elsewhere?
And with a natural thirst for adventure, they don’t even need a flimsy collectathon-to-save-the-world premise like Mario 64, Banjo Kazooie, and DK64 used. They’re on an adventure for adventure’s sake, planting flags to commemorate every accomplishment. Of course, you could also scatter some vegetables around for kicks and nostalgia.
The vegetables have faces...so are they still plants, or animals, or what?
It takes more than extreme wanderlust to tackle a mountain, though. It takes proper planning, conditioning, and equipment. Well, it just so happens...
They've got the tools!
Wimpy jumps weren’t all Popo and Nana had going on in the eighties. They also packed huge wooden mallets (the mountain climber’s best friend). While they were used only for clonking polar bears back then, there’s plenty of precedent for hammer-enhanced platforming in the new millennium. Sonic Adventure, of all things, showed that oversize hammers are great for high jumps, and even the Climbers themselves have a life-saving helicopter spin in the Smash series.
It doesn’t have to be hammer time around the clock, though. Mountain climbers always gear up before the ascent, and the Ice Climbers could have a pack full doodads. Ropes for climbing, lassos for grabbing, hooks for makeshift handholds, crampons for friction, et cetera. The duo already makes effective use of an elastic tether for edge recovery in the Smash series, why not add some new gizmos to their collection?
Even Spider-Man's jealous; his webs don't have a BFF at the other end.
Tools and equipment could potentially go in a number of design directions: they could be used in puzzles, or for character customization, or even as a Super Guide style assistance mechanism. And in addition to the hardware, the Ice Climbers have the most crucial tool of all...
They've got each other!
The best feature of the original Ice Climber was its cooperative two-player mode. And after the Smash Bros. series played up the Ice Climbers as a tandem, it just makes sense that a revival would have a fairly prominent multiplayer bent.
There would definitely be a hug button.
And the possibilities for a multiplayer 3D platformer are wide open. Couch co-op is a no-brainer, with one player on the TV and the other using the Wii U gamepad. Or they could go asymmetric, Mario Galaxy style, with the Gamepad player stunning baddies or planting hooks or some such. Nana and Popo also could pair up for improved combination jumps and attacks. If they go that route, the second character could be kept as an AI partner in singleplayer, directable Pikmin style with the Wii remote or Gamepad. Time trials, ghost races, score attacks, so on and so forth. And of course there’s also online multiplayer, which Nintendo may someday discover. But let’s not get greedy.
Yes siree, Nana and Popo have been together forever, since the very beginning. The terrible, terrible beginning...
They deserve a game that's actually good.
Everybody knows every inch of World 1-1 by heart. Meanwhile, I'm not even sure if this is Mountain 01 or not.
Okay guys, real talk: Ice Climber was pretty forgettable. Maybe even outright bad. I know some early NES games got a pass for taking the baton from an aging Atari era with roots firmly in the arcade, but Ice Climber was kind of broken. This ostensible Nintendo classic featured awkward horizontal movement, inexplicable collision detection, and a pretty narrow scope of content. At best, it’s a passable retro curiosity.
A cast of gaming legends. Some Inuit children also seem to have wandered into the photo.
Every fighter on that list is from a Nintendo series with at least one bona fide masterpiece of video gaming (except maybe R.O.B. and Mr. Game & Watch, but they're kitschy oddities). Everyone except Popo and Nana, that is, with just Ice Climber to their credit. Don’t they deserve a chance to live up to the rest of the roster?
And speaking of Smash...
Ice Climber could be the next Uprising.
Remember what happened the last time Nintendo revived a long-neglected NES franchise? A guy named Masahiro Sakurai handled it.
He made this.
I think most of us will agree that it was pretty fantastic. So why not give the guy stewardship over another neglected IP?
Sakurai will be looking for a new project after SSB4 drops next year, and he could be a great fit for the classic 3D platformer-adventure style. Super Smash Bros., Kirby’s Air Ride, and Kid Icarus Uprising are all approachable games with surprising complexity hidden below the surface. Deceptive depth within simple mechanics is Sakurai’s specialty, and that sounds like a winning formula for a 3D platformer to me.
And if Nintendo can get him to concentrate on making a great 3D platformer, maybe he'll finally stop RUINING SUPER SMASH BROS RABBLE RABBLE TRIPPING RABBLE
LOOK AT THIS STUPID BROKEN JERK! AND WHERE’S MY GENO, SUCK-URAI?!
If Sakurai's last project had one disappointment, it was on the sales charts. Kid Icarus Uprising was a million seller, but it surely deserved more than that, right? (A billion, I'd say.) If Nintendo wants to make Ice Climber into their next star franchise, they might need to leverage their other star franchises...
They could get a little help from their friends.
Ice Climber isn’t exactly an IP sopping with leftover value from thirty years ago. And two cheery parka kids hopping around a snow-capped mountain isn’t an image that makes the cover of Game Informer, either.
You know the great thing about mountains, though? They’re everywhere. The American northwest. Central Europe. Dream Land. Yoshi’s Island. Hyrule.
This isn't Mountain 01 either. Or wait, is it? I haven't played Ice Climber in so long...
What better way to get the media talking about Ice Climber than with some cross-promotion? Include a stage where Nana and Popo scale Death Mountain, fending off Octoroks and Gibdos and Flipaflaps and all those other Zelda things with ridiculous names. Let them climb Mount Dedede and meet a hammer-toting rival in his palatial peak. Heck, it doesn’t even have to be mountains: the first thing many of us tried to do in Super Mario 64 was climb Peach’s Castle. Whether these bonus stages are included in the core package or held back as DLC, they’d definitely turn some heads and entice hardcore Nintendo fans sitting on the fence.
So there you have it. It just makes sense for the Ice Climbers to breathe new life into this dead subgenre of the 3D platformer. And though they’re not household names these days (and probably never were), they’ve got a shot at making the mainstream look their way with a strong revival and a bit of crossover magic.
Now, I know you're already convinced by now that this is the right path for the Ice Climbers. But allow me to push this proof over the edge. Here's the REAL reason why the Ice Climbers need to come back...
It would usher in a glorious new age of Ice Climber fanfiction.
As Popo packed up the last of what was once their base camp, Nana took one final look at the mountain. The apex stretched well above the clouds: it was impossible to see the flag they had come all this way to plant. That’s okay, she thought, it was never about the bragging rights. And someday, another bold explorer will reach that isolated peak and find a remnant of their spirit, a friendly red fabric waving its congratulations.
After a few days of leisurely travel, their return trip ended at the town gate. It had only been a few weeks since they left, but Nana choked back a few tears when she saw Mom waiting at the edge of town, primed with of hugs and kisses for her babies. It’s a wonderful life we live, Nana decided, as Mom’s soft chestnut hair brushed her cheek.
It wasn’t just Mom there, either. It seemed as though everyone they knew was cheering and clapping from the sidewalk as the trio paraded down the main road, which led directly to the entrance to their home. As the drawbridge lowered, Nana peeked at the archer's tower to the right. She smiled at the trail of cement dots that led up to the window in the second story, plugging holes she and Popo had picked into the stone walls in her earliest memories. They were born to climb. It was that simple.
As soon as the bridge was down, a half-dozen castle aides shuffled towards the trio with letters and scrolls and books, each beckoning for Mom’s attention. One had a crown on a pillow. It always amazed Nana how a circle of flimsy metal could make someone as lively and carefree as Mom look so regal.
And there behind the cluster of aides and papers was Dad, hands in his denim pockets, eyes darting between the commotion and his shoes. The bustle of the palace always did seem to make him nervous. Mom shot him a quick smile and chuckled to herself as she strolled toward the courtyard, faithful retainers in tow.
Dad’s embarassment turned to beaming joy when his eyes met Nana’s. He jogged towards her and Popo with arms outstretched and embraced them both with a great hug, spinning them off the ground in exuberance. He gave Popo a firm pat on the back, and he eagerly pulled his old hat down over Nana’s eyes. Nana wondered if things could be like this forever as she adjusted the green cap back on top of her head.
Just then Uncle Mario burst into the castle, huffing and puffing. “Mamma mia, you guys! Bowser has teamed up with Ganondorf and Dark Samus to invade Ylisse! Many Toads died to bring us this information...”
Just then, a blue blur appeared on the horizon. Could it be? Yes! Sonic the Hedgehog sped into the castle at the speed of sound! “We’ve got to go find Goku, Zorro, and The Great Gatsby if we’re going to stop them in time for Fonzie’s surfing contest!”
Nana ran back into her room and grabbed her lucky penny. Only it wasn’t ACTUALLY a penny, it was a fully armed and functional Gundam fighter that could SHRINK to the size of a penny! Surely she would need all her strength for the battle ahead, but could she keep her identity as an heroic mecha pilot a secret from her family and all the other kids at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters?!
Whoa! I'm convinced. Seriously, I want this game now. I absolutely love the Ice Climbers in Smash and have been wanting a sequel for awhile. In my mind, I pictured a 3DS 2.5-D sidescroller with big bosses and fantastic music and the Sakurai touch, but I'd certainly be onboard for a massive 3D exploration game. I think #7 really drives home the point of how the duo could be differentiated in motive from other Nintendo heroes. Great job!
Nice! I was with you up until point #3, if its another Uprising count me out! Platformers need precise controls, and when I think of Uprising all I can think of was how painful the platforming sections were to play due to the exact opposite of precise controls, probably the worst control scheme ever IMO. I'll probably never buy another Sakurai game based on that, so yes to Ice Climber, yes to a SM64 style game, but no to Sakurai developing it.
@deathly_hallows I'm sure a dedicated platformer wouldn't have the crappy context-sensitive dash-jumping stuff from Uprising. After all, Uprising was a shooter, and the shooting was SUPER precise. Kinda painful...but precise!
@nate38 Well the aiming was great in the flying sections, I have no beef with that control scheme. It's the platforming on the ground that turned me off, and we're talking about a platformer here.
Not to say he couldn't do it, especially if Miyamoto or someone was overseeing the project and forced him to not use insanely weird and convoluted controls, but I fear that left to his own devices he'd do something insanely weird just for the sake of being weird.
I don't trust the man, before I ever buy another game of his he will need to prove himself to me!
@nate38 Well the aiming was great in the flying sections, I have no beef with that control scheme. It's the platforming on the ground that turned me off, and we're talking about a platformer here.
Are we? I think of Kid Icarus Uprising as a third-person shooter first, a rail-shooter second, an action game third, a loot-RPG fourth...really there's a pretty good list of stuff before "platformer" comes to mind.
Sakurai does have a history of bucking control conventions, but it usually works out great. Kirby Air Ride's auto-gas worked fine, and the Sakurai-directed Kirby games and SSB have AMAZING controls. Uprising is the least successful, I'd say, and that's mostly just because it hurts my hand. It has a few other issues (I wish dodging had its own input so I didn't accidentally dodge when I meant to dash and vice-versa) but overall I thought it was a good solution for a fast shooter on 3DS.
@nate38 Well I'm not a Smash Bros. fan, so there's that. I never thought the controls in that game were anything special, and the gameplay Subspace Emissary literally hurt my soul (although the cinematics were awesome).
But for Uprising I definitely consider it a platformer because there were many sections where you had to "jump" (hesitate to call it jump since there was no jump button) from platform to platform (sometimes rotating or moving, often over bottomless pits) and in those sections I found the lack of precision infuriating. Maybe if I had put 100 hrs. into Smash Bros. and was used to the "smash" move of thrusting your analog stick it would have been easier, maybe if the camera would have followed the player better or been mapped to the 2nd slide pad of the CPP, but I found it to be utterly painful and incredibly un-fun, the very opposite of fun (but something I had to do if I wanted to get tot the next flying section).
Even if it had been purely a 3rd person shooter I think the controls could have been much better, they way Pitt moved was awful, the camera was awful, it just wasn't good. It's like Sakurai had never played a 3-D game before or something, just truly bizarre.
If he were to make an SM64 style game I'd want him to play SM64 and study the controls, how easy and intuitive they are, how if you push the analog stick slightly mario walks slowly (how he actually walks like a normal human being and doesn't do some utterly bizarre and awkward side trot gallop) and how if you gently increase the pressure Mario gently speeds up, how there is a jump button, a simple button, and when you press it your character jumps, there are no weird "pads" you have to "smash" onto that will launch you out of control off a cliff and down into a bottomless pit.
If he could actually just do those things, follow those conventions (or break them in a meaningful way that improves that makes things easier, more intuitive, more precise), then I say sure give it a shot. But if he's like... hell no, let's get crazy, you thought spin the globe was nearly impossible to get used to? well you're going to need to spend 200 hrs learning how to control this camera: I call it "shake the upside monkey while standing on your head and eating a banana", and to jump? well how are you at quickly scribbling maps of ancient China on the touch screen and then whistling the first 12 bars of The Rites of Spring and then blowing super hard into the mic for 20 seconds like they did in The Right Stuff every time you want to jump? Its gonna be great! (and Oh btw while you're looking down trying to scribble that map there are going to be 1,000 archers shooting at you and if they hit you you're guy will get knocked back 200 feet and the camera will spin wildly out of control for 20 seconds and/or get lodged in a corner staring and 6 giant pixels while 10,000 more enemies instantly spawn and staring piling up on you. Fun for the whole family!
KIU absolutely had unconventional controls, like all of Sakurai's games, but I really respect the guy for doing that. The game does have a very steep learning curve because it doesn't use a control scheme that's everyone's used to, and I had to use the stand for playing it, but...after 140 hours of KIU, I can absolutely say that the controls are very responsive and precise, and they work beautifully for me. The only sections where I feel they're a problem are in the strict platforming sections, since it's difficult to know the exact difference between walking and dashing and you can fall off. But those are in maybe every fifth level or so for just a few moments.
Otherwise, I think they work great, and I applaud the guy for actually making his own control scheme instead of just sticking with whatever's worked for other games. I can honestly say that I'd rather have KIU control the way it does than any alternative. It was my GOTY 2012, after all, because it was friggin' brilliant.
@TriforceBun Theoretically I want to get behind someone who wants to be innovative and creative and break with tradition. But it's not enough to just be "different" if what you're going isn't an improvement over what previously existed. Some things are tried and true and work well, like stairs in a house, sure if you were an architect you could be "everyone does stairs, so boring, no stairs in my house, instead there are trampolines and you have to launch yourself to the next level of the house" but then the people who move into the house end up breaking their necks just trying to get upstairs and go to bed, maybe it's not so great of an idea and sticking with what works is best in that scenario.
Certain things in gaming, like pressing a button to jump, aren't broke and don't need to be fixed, and Sakurai's idea of "smashing" to jump was not an improvement, IMHO. If he was going to develop a SM64 style game I wouldn't want to see stuff like that in the game just for the sake of doing things differently.
I am all for it. I would rather see it as an eShop game by IntSys or something. So not necessarily in 3D, but just really expand on the gameplay of the original, and also make it not broken. Could be really fun.
I missed this before, but just wanted to say I love this Top Ten, Nate. You paint a vivid picture of what the Ice Climbers could bring to the table, and it sounds very good! It's not exactly a franchise I would have thought of necessarily 'worthy' of a revival, but yeah, it could be done, I think. I miss the Mario 64 type games, I really do.
LOL at your closing fanfiction section.
And thanks for linking to my Top Ten in reason #7!
Upon reading the title of the top ten, I disagreed. What do the ice climbers have to do with Mario? After reading the top 10, I'm convinced you're 100% right. I was playing Super Mario 64 DS today, and it felt like I spent almost as much time climbing as I did exploring horizontally. Even in flat levels like the the desert and lava world, they seem to find some way to sneak in a climbing segment (inside the pyramid and volcano in this case). It seems like a perfect fit. Especially after replaying Tall Tall Mountain.The concept of the ice climbers and the verticle emphasis of the levels in Mario 64 go together so well that I'm surprised nobody has thought of it sooner. Great job, Nate.