Outside of Super Smash Bros., the Ice Climbers have only appeared in one game. Ice Climber – released for the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1985 – hasn’t held up too well (at least in my opinion). And it isn’t like Popo or Nana had any character development; they were essentially silent protagonists whose personalities were only partially shown after clearing a bonus level.
So, then, why do I find myself determined to train the strongest Ice Climbers amiibo? That’s a question I don’t have an answer to. Working with the Ice Climbers amiibo is extremely difficult, and of all the characters I’ve ever trained (both in Smash 4 and Ultimate), the Ice Climbers are perhaps the saddest example of lost potential. They’ve got more than a couple issues that hold them back, and it’s unclear if any of them can be corrected or overlooked with further training.
The Ice Climbers’ AI is chock-full of flaws, but let’s cast them aside for just a moment: if the Ice Climbers amiibo did not have AI weaknesses, they still wouldn’t be up to snuff with the rest of the cast. Their base moveset is nothing spectacular, and many of their options are outclassed or straight-up bad. Their neutral attack has a high damage output, but is strangely laggy; forward tilt and down tilt have too much startup, and up tilt and dash attack have limited horizontal range. In terms of smash attacks, they’re all far too slow and short-ranged to serve as reliable counterattacks; down smash is likely their best grounded move, but without Nana, it only hits on one side.
The Ice Climbers’ aerials aren’t great, either, but they still have some uses. Neutral aerial can deal up to 12% damage if both hits connect, but it lacks range and speed. Forward aerial has a bit more range and power, but massive startup lag that makes it difficult to hit. Were forward aerial just a bit faster, it would be one of the Ice Climbers’ best moves and may even make going off-stage worth looking into. Back aerial is solid, as its speed and power is acceptable, but its vertical range is lacking. Up aerial is the Ice Climbers’ best air move and has acceptable range, speed, and power (but still pales in comparison to other up aerials such as from Donkey Kong or Ness). Down aerial is decent but only at the right time; the hammer can block projectiles such as Ness’ PK Thunder, which would help the Ice Climbers return to the stage from being launched vertically, but in turn leaves them vulnerable to an opponent’s up smash. The Ice Climbers have interesting aerial options, but none of them are particularly strong; up aerial and back aerial are acceptable, neutral aerial and back aerial are slightly below average, and forward aerial and down aerial are situational.
Popo doesn’t benefit much from grabs; at low percentages the AI can utilize a simple down throw to up aerial combo. It can also use down throw to forward aerial, but if its trainer tries to teach it this, it will overuse its forward aerial right before landing and then suffer from its landing lag. Their forward and back throws are pitifully weak and only serve to throw opponents off-stage; they cannot KO until ridiculously high percentages that are almost never reached in a match. Up throw has surprisingly high base knockback (cannot KO until extremely high percentages) and can potentially lead into an up aerial chain to cover landing; however, teaching the amiibo this makes it vulnerable to Bowser’s down aerial and down special moves, so it’s a double-edged sword. In general, the Ice Climbers are a double-edged sword but without the positive attributes.
Unfortunately, the Ice Climbers’ special moves aren’t much better, as most of them are completely useless. Ice Shot can be used from a distance, but deals no more than 3% per hit, and if it is attacked it can hit the Ice Climbers. It freezes enemies at high damage, but the Ice Climbers amiibo does not live long enough to get its opponent to such percentages. Ice Shot can also be used to “gimp” enemies, but it rarely stops their recovery and only adds negligible chip damage. Squall Hammer is a decent move that can catch an enemy out of shield, but it becomes predictable fast and the AI tends to self-destruct with it. Belay is completely useless as an attack, as it leaves both Popo and Nana vulnerable. When it comes to recovery, Belay still isn’t reliable; if the partner climber is not close enough to the leader, it will grant almost no distance and leave them helpless. Blizzard deals increased shield damage and can freeze enemies, but has massive startup and ending lag and only freezes victims at point blank, making it mostly useless. An Ice Climbers amiibo trained to rely on its special moves has immense trouble KOing and will often self-destruct before it can close an opponent’s stock (more information on this later).
In addition to their weak moveset (at least in the amiibo metagame), the Ice Climbers also have subpar mobility. Of all fighters in the game, Popo has the 23rd slowest walking speed, the 14th slowest dashing speed, and the 4th slowest air speed. Nana’s walking and running speeds are slightly higher than Popo so that she can more easily catch up when separated, but shares the same air speed. The Ice Climbers are also fairly floaty, as they have the 8th slowest falling speed; this means grounded opponents have more time to react to their aerial moves with an up smash. As a result, characters like Bowser have an easy time smacking them with multiple up smashes to make for quick KOs. In terms of weight, the Ice Climbers are about average and are considered middleweight fighters.
AI Flaws & Oddities
Of all the amiibo in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, I would be willing to say that the Ice Climbers are the most complex to train, as they possess many AI flaws that secure their bottom-tier placement. There are so many problems with the Ice Climbers AI that it’s tough to find a place to begin!
We will start with the AI’s grasp on the character (or, in this case, its lack thereof). The amiibo being trained is Popo, not Nana. Nana cannot be trained and does not change her behavior based on the player’s inputs. Unfortunately, Popo, the aforementioned amiibo being trained, is not exactly aware of Nana’s existence. I can’t say it’s completely unaware of Nana’s existence, as there is one situation that contradicts this.
When both Popo and Nana’s shields are broken, they will become stunned as with all other fighters. However, if one of their shields is broken but the other’s is not, things become more interesting. When Popo’s shield is broken, the AI will take control of Nana while Popo is stunned. It will run, jump, and attack, but will generally stay within Popo’s radius (presumably to protect him from being hit). When Popo recovers, the amiibo begins acting normally (in which it only controls Popo). When Nana’s shield is broken, things become more complicated. Popo, who is still in control, will take one of two actions: he will either stand still and shield until it breaks or Nana is no longer stunned, or he will walk up to Nana and begin charging a smash attack in an attempt to hit her. Because Nana is on Popo’s team (since they are the same character), this proves ineffective. This, in turn, has revealed a new fact: amiibo will charge up a smash attack against any fighter whose shield has broken, even if it is their teammate (or in this case, part of their character). This was one of the saddest, most heartbreaking discoveries I’ve made in Ultimate.
Now that I have explained why the AI is so bad at utilizing Nana, we can understand their most prominent flaw: their recovery. The Ice Climbers’ signature up special, Belay, grants great vertical and horizontal distance if both the leader and partner climbers are present. In fact, it’s nearly infallible if both climbers team up and is very difficult for opponents to gimp. Unfortunately, if Popo is left alone, the move grants absolutely pathetic vertical and horizontal distance that barely rises him half a character-length in the air. Since the AI doesn’t quite know what to do with Nana (it’s somewhere in the middle of “Popo doesn’t know Nana exists” and “Popo thinks he is also Nana”), it does not wait for Nana before using Belay; this means it will use the weakened version even if Nana could have fastfalled to his location prior to the move’s use. Any time the Ice Climbers are off-stage, they are in grave danger, as there is no guarantee they will be able to recover; every successful recovery from them is a miracle in and of itself. I’ve studied many tournament matches that the Ice Climbers have participated in, and over fifty percent of their deaths are due to otherwise avoidable self-destructs. Another point to note is that Popo will occasionally air dodge onto the stage, and because Nana’s inputs are on a slight delay, she will air dodge into the stage and fall too low to recover by herself. If Popo doesn’t self-destruct, he will inevitably lose Nana; several of these tournament games involved Popo losing Nana within the first few seconds of the match (without her even being directly attacked).
As a result of their unforgivable flaws, the Ice Climbers suffer from horrendous matchups – perhaps the worst of any amiibo in Ultimate – making their competitive presence almost nonexistent. Bowser, the strongest amiibo in the game, absolutely annihilates the Ice Climbers and can often win a three-stock game against them in less than a minute and a half. Bowser outranges, outdamages, and outmaneuvers them, and even has a more reliable recovery. Even if the Ice Climbers pull off a miracle and don’t self-destruct, they will often fall right into Bowser’s up smash attack several times in a row until they are KOed. The Ice Climbers have uphill battles against top-tier characters, and even that’s being generous; in reality, these matchups may very well be unwinnable for them. I hope to prove this wrong, but the Ice Climbers even struggle against low-tier characters such as Sheik and Fox. In other words, any time an Ice Climbers amiibo wins a set, it’s an absolute miracle of random number generation gone right. In the end, you can’t play as your amiibo when it participates in a tournament. You have to hope it does the right thing. And the Ice Climbers almost always do it wrong.
Despite everything, I’m still a huge fan of the Ice Climbers. I think they’re very unique characters who bring a lot to the table in Smash Bros., and I’m happy to see that they’ve returned from Smash 4 where they were sorely missed. Personally, I “main” the Ness and Ice Climbers amiibo, meaning I prefer focusing on these two specific characters rather than spreading myself thin between the entire cast. Even though I’m not a fan of Ice Climber on the NES, I’m determined to try and find something with these characters. My goal is to win a standard tournament with them; while I was able to do this with my Ness amiibo rather quickly, my Ice Climbers amiibo haven’t been as fortunate. Any further discoveries involving the Ice Climbers amiibo will be posted here as soon as it becomes available. Thanks for reading, and if you would like to train an Ice Climbers amiibo of your own… I would recommend you reconsider.