Top Tier History: Ice Climbers

The Ice Climbers are weird. In addition to being from an obscure franchise, they’re the only character in Super Smash Bros. Melee that requires controlling two people on the screen at the same time.

Other than Yoshi, I would argue that the Ice Climbers are the most bizarre character in the game. They require a whole new perspective to understand, both in their meta development and history.

The Dark Ages (late 2001 to early 2004):
Notable players: Chu Dat, ???!?!?!??!?!?!?!

Early on, the Ice Climbers were considered too strange to be of any use in competitive play. The idea of playing as two characters at once was complicated back then, especially when you could just play Sheik and get started comboing your opponents.

One of the other big problems with Ice Climbers early on was their lack of good range on their grab. In the early metagame, shield grabbing and crossup moves were seen as really important, but the Ice Climbers grab range was too short to be used effectively and they had no good offensive tools.

Out of shield options were not as developed as today, so characters with strong hitboxes to pressure both climbers in shield gave them a rough time. Characters like Peach, Captain Falcon, Ganondorf and even Luigi were considered really difficult for Ice Climbers to deal with. For example, Chu Dat losing to Kamaal, a Deadly Alliance Luigi at DC Super Smash #2.

Watch the video below to see how most people played Ice Climbers back then. Based on what I could find, this is the earliest known footage of the character in a match.

“Degenerate” doesn’t begin to describe what this video looks like by modern standards. As you can tell, the Ice Climbers have a good wavedash, but outside of their strong, but laggy smash attacks, they were limited. This is reflect within many of the NTSC tier lists made – in a tier list made on April 2, 2004, they were ranked No. 15. In September of the year before, they were No. 18.

The Jump/Yahyuz (mid 2004 to early 2008)
Notable players: Chu Dat, Azn Lep, Trail, Kei, NealDT, Tetsuya

The perception of the Ice Climbers’ viability started to change when Chu Dat broke out at Tournament Go 6. Here, he finished third, defeating Sastopher, Wes and double eliminating the legendary Isai. This was especially impressive because these wins were in matchups that were difficult for the character at the time. Some even saw them as previously unwinnable.

Not only did Chu show how strong the Ice Climbers’ punish game was off grabs, but also how the two climbers could position themselves in tricky ways to out range his opponents. It’s important to recognize Chu Dat as the godfather of his character, as well as one of the first relevant Ice Climbers players to use desyncing.

Chu Dat’s run at TG6 and successful 2004 didn’t immediately prove that his character was top tier, but his sustained excellence impacted how people viewed the Ice Climbers. In 2005, the Ice Climbers rose to No. 12 on the NTSC tier list – but by 2006, with many more inspired by Chu Dat’s success, they ranked seventh. At the time, it was the most remarkable jump by a character on a Melee tier list.

Around the MLG era (before MLG Las Vegas 2006), a Japanese player named Tetsuya posted a combo video of several characters performing flashy combos on CPUs. Notice what’s pulled below by the Ice Climbers.

If you’re familiar with competitive Melee, you already know what this is. If you’re not, it’s a grab infinite done by any Ice Climbers player who gets a grab on their opponent. It consists of rhythmically tapping the A button to pummel the opponent mid-grab with the main climber. After initiating this, the Ice Climbers player also tilts the stick forward to forward tilt them (or down to down tilt) with the backup climber, while still pummeling the opponent with the main climber.

This technique is notorious for being extremely easy to pull off, while having an insane reward of either leading to immediate death for the opponent or leaving them at absurdly high percents. At NorCal Tournament 2, known as Wobbles’ breakout tourney (although you could argue his victory at EVO South was also impressive), he used the grab infinite to massive success against a strong Southern California Peach player at the time in Edrees. Because of Wobbles’ success at this tournament, the grab infinite garnered its name: wobbling.

There are a few caveats to wobbling. Though it’s easy to do, actually grabbing an opponent who can outrange the Ice Climbers is extremely difficult. Often, whiffing a grab attempt can expose the backup climber and lead to the main climber being the only one left on stage – or worse, a quickly lost stock. Moreover, this technique only works with the backup climber nearby, otherwise opponents can and will mash out.

Either way, wobbling had a profound impact on the meta, both in terms of how Ice Climbers were perceived and actual tournament ruleset. Some tournaments banned it, due to thinking that wobbling was non-interactive, broken, unintended and loathed by most tourney attendees. Others defended wobbling, saying that it was no more broken than Fox shining an opponent off-stage at an early percent.

Many of the early MLG-era tournaments banned wobbling, due to it being seen as non-interactive and game-breaking. Moreover, because the average tournament back then did not have as big pot bonuses or strong payouts as today, there wasn’t as much incentive for Ice Climbers players to wobble. It was also frowned down upon by most in the community, so many Ice Climbers simply used handoffs – an alternative technique popularized by Wobbles – in tournament.

However, despite technically having a unified ruleset for the first time through MLG, the Melee community hadn’t permanently solved the issue of wobbling’s legality. For example, at MLG Las Vegas 2006, wobbling was made legal, as well as EVO World 2007.

Nonetheless, with the golden age of Melee out of the way and with Super Smash Bros. Brawl coming up, the Ice Climbers had one unquestionable king: Chu Dat. To this date, he is the only Ice Climbers player to ever win a national title (Pound 2).

Flying High, No Lie (mid 2008 to early 2013):
Notable players: Wobbles, Fly Amanita, Chu Dat, Nintendude, Boback, Tomber

Although Chu Dat was still talented and showed up at bigger tournaments (later finishing third at Zenith 2012, beating Hungrybox), moving onto Brawl as a Kirby main certainly drew his time away from Melee. This opened up the path for other top Ice Climbers players to develop new strategies and grow new legacies.

Starting off as one of the rising players within Southern California, Fly Amanita rarely traveled for Melee, but quickly started taking names, even winning a set over Mango’s Captain Falcon in early 2009. Although this doesn’t sound too impressive, this was at a time when Mango easily destroyed most of his contemporaries with secondaries. Taking games off any of his characters was certainly noteworthy.

Ranked No. 9 in the SoCal PR in 2009, Fly Amanita eventually made it to No. 5 in 2010, just below Mango, HugS, Zhu and Lucky, surpassing even the veteran Larry Lurr. By the end of the year, Fly Amanita also boasted a set win over Hungrybox – and he beat Mew2King and Zhu at Winter Gamefest in early 2011.

There’s a common misconception that Fly Amanita chooses not to wobble because he thinks it’s unfair. In fact, he’s gone on record as saying that he’d wobble every stock if he could, but doesn’t because he played in an era where most of the tournaments he attended banned wobbling. As a result, he lost his natural rhythm for the wobble.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Though series like GENESIS consistently allowed wobbling, Apex used to ban it, along with Pound and Don’t Go Down There Jeff. Keep in mind that at this point, even stages weren’t completely agreed upon. Some of the more unusual stages, like Corneria, Rainbow Cruise and Brinstar, had features that made wobbling impractical in some situations. 

Nonetheless, Fly was a pioneer in different handoff setups. While Wobbles is technically the first top player to use handoffs, Fly innovated them far beyond what was initially seen, showing a keener sense for what Nana would do in different situations, like near ledge.

Closer to the South, Wobbles had been around for a while, even taking a set off Ken in late 2007 at Super Champ Combo – just after Ken won EVO. But up to this point, Wobbles was mostly a second tier West Coast player with decent national results and strong regional performances. NCT2 was his breakout tournament for recognition, but Wobbles got even better in the post-Brawl era.

After moderate disappointments at Pound 3 and The Greatest Melee Tourney Since Brawl Came Out, Wobbles returned to form at Mango Juice, where he outplaced Lucky, Forward, Taj, Pink Shinobi, and HugS en route to a strong fourth place finish. It’s easy to remember Wobbles’ performance at this tournament for his infamous ragequit to close a set against SilentSpectre, but this was still a great run for him.

At Apex 2010, Wobbles placed sixth (forfeiting the tiebreaker to Axe), beating Mango (sandbagging as Scorpion Master), DaShizWiz and Silent Wolf. A year later, Wobbles finished a strong ninth at GENESIS 2, even defeating Mew2King, Lovage and Axe in pools. To prove the win over Mew2King wasn’t a fluke, Wobbles beat him again at Apex 2012, where he placed ninth, losing to Dr. PeePee and Hungrybox.

This marked three straight years for Wobbles where he placed top 12 at a national tournament. In the short-lived ELO rankings of 2012, Wobbles actually ranked ahead of Mango as the No. 5 player in the world, likely due to his consistently outstanding national performances and Mango’s penchant for sandbagging.

For most people, this would be satisfactory – but for Wobbles, three years of strong nationals was only the beginning. After an unfortunate Peach-ridden bracket at Apex 2013 garnered him 17th place, Wobbles had one of the best losers bracket runs of all time at Kings of Cali 2, defeating Sung, Westballz, Fly Amanita, PewPewU and Shroomed to get second place to Mango.

As if that wasn’t enough, Wobbles then had one of the greatest cinderella runs in Melee history – one that was initially going to be his last tournament ever.

The Wobbler Era (mid 2013 to now)
Notable players: Chu Dat, Wobbles, Nintendude, dizzkidboogie, Infinite Numbers, ARMY, Drunk Sloth

Wobbles’ run at EVO 2013 may as well transcend time and space. To even conceive of such a tournament from a non-god at the time was ridiculous, considering that Jman was the only person to ever win a tournament with two gods in attendance – no one had ever come close with all five.

Through winners bracket, Wobbles defeated Fiction, Lord, Shroomed and then beat three gods in a row between Mango, Dr. PeePee and Hungrybox to make it to grand finals of easily the most important Melee tournament of all-time. This was the first time an Ice Climbers finished top three at a national tournament featuring four or more attending top five players since Chu Dat in the previous decade. Had Wobbles actually won the tournament, it would have surpassed even Mango at Pound 3 as the biggest underdog run ever.

Though it would be foolish to dismiss Wobbles’ run as a mere account of Mr. Wizard legalizing wobbling again at EVO 2013, it unquestionably played a factor into Wobbles’ success. It also proved that the Ice Climbers had a place in the modern metagame, but weren’t necessarily overpowered with the technique.

Not every tournament was on board with wobbling being legal. Juggleguy, creator of The Big House and one of the Melee community’s biggest tournament organizers, banned it at his tournaments.

However, after a little over a year of community pressure, with tourneys like Apex now legalizing wobbling, along with Ice Climbers still succeeding at his own tournaments without it, Juggleguy caved in. Though he still stood by some of the reasons he held for why he banned wobbling, in a blog post for Melee it On Me, he announced his intention to legalize it for The Big House 5.

Although this hasn’t stopped the decade-long community debate over wobbling’s legality, Juggleguy’s decision concurred with Mr. Wizard’s from 2013 and effectively set the standard for most majors. As a result, the Ice Climbers have seen a bit of a renaissance, with more top level representatives across the world than ever before.

Along with players like dizzkidboogie and Infinite Numbers, who have risen in recent times with other wobbling prodigies, the character’s greatest player of all-time is back: Chu Dat.

Moreover, he’s at the best he’s ever played, consistently placing top eight, boasting a solo climber better than anyone else in the world, taking games off Armada in tournament, winning three consecutive sets on Mango and generally making 2017 look like 2007. You’d be hard pressed to dismiss Chu’s results as unsustainable or coming from only wobbling, given his long-term legacy.

At one point in his career, Wobbles wrote about why he was reluctant to wobble, even in tournament. You can read the post here, but the gist was that Ice Climber players had a tendency to rely on it too much and struggle in other areas of their game, like tech chasing, DI, etc because they were too one dimensional.

Today, not only are Ice Climbers players more intelligent, balanced and varied in their wobbling setups, but they also have other tools that keep them successful, even if they don’t opt to do it. For example, take Infinite Numbers, whose game against Falco is so strong that he once boasted how he’d never lose to a Falco again. 

It’s hard to say whether Ice Climbers are actually top tier or not. By results, they are inarguably up there, but many argue about how sustainable their success actually can be at the top level. Just as easily as they can exploit a grab infinite, players can still exploit many of the Ice Climbers’ weaknesses, making them an innately high variance characters. Ask Kira and Mew2King about where they’d place them on a tier list and you’d get two wildly different answers.

Whether they’re simply a high-execution test level opponent or a broken gimmick, the Ice Climbers are here to stay – and they deserve a place in top tier history.

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