The Ice Climbers made their Smash debut in Super Smash Bros. Melee. The unique duo (consisting of Popo and Nana) were to work together to overwhelm opponents with well-timed combo attacks. Since then, they’ve become a series staple, and return in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. For the first time ever, trainers have the opportunity to raise an Ice Climbers amiibo! Doing so is no easy task, however; teaching the character to fully utilize its pink-clad partner is a tall order.
The Ice Climbers are a bone-chilling team of two. The leader, Popo, is controlled by the player; Nana’s movement is controlled by an AI that becomes smarter as it takes more damage. While the player does not have full control over Nana’s movements, they do have control over her attacks. If the two climbers become “desynced”, they can cooperate to pull off technically demanding combo strings. Despite being an AI, the amiibo does not control both Popo and Nana; it only has direct control over Popo. Nana uses her default AI, which is entirely separate. This means trainers must teach the amiibo to not only control itself, but a completely different AI as well. Establishing synergy between the two is a difficult task.
Training an Ice Climbers amiibo requires proficient usage of the character, but proper training is worth it in the end, as the duo brings many unique strengths to the table. Their status as a tag team results in a high damage output capable of overwhelming slower characters and breaking Popo out of juggling or combos. Furthermore, if Popo’s shield is broken, Nana can still move to defend from the attacker. Interestingly enough, the amiibo AI is capable of performing simple desync combos, but it cannot desync itself from its partner on purpose. It must be separated by an opponent or specific Spirit effects.
However, the Ice Climbers suffer from major flaws that hold them back from greatness. The Ice Climbers’ up special, Belay, is one of the best recovery moves in the game if Popo and Nana are linked; on the other hand, without Nana nearby, it grants almost no height and is essentially a guaranteed self-destruct. As mentioned earlier, Popo is the amiibo being trained. Nana operates independently, and is often the smarter of the two. If Popo is knocked off-stage, Nana will stop what she is doing and run towards Popo as fast as she can so that Belay can utilize its full distance. If Nana is knocked off-stage, Popo will make no attempt to save her; if Popo and Nana are launched away but in different directions, Popo will not wait for Nana to come close; instead, he will try and use Belay’s weakened version and self-destruct whereas if he would have waited for Nana, the pair would have been able to recover. Unfortunately, this AI quirk traces back to a more severe problem: Popo’s perception of Nana is flawed. Sometimes it seems Popo is not aware that Nana exists at all; other times, he seems to think Nana is also him and not a separate entity. Whichever the case, Popo cannot properly employ Nana’s benefits, and this hurts the character’s viability. Furthermore, Popo occasionally freezes; this issue is entirely separate from a similarly named problem that can apply to any fighter. Very rarely, if an Ice Climbers amiibo is fighting another Ice Climbers amiibo, both pairs of climbers will get stuck and stand still until the timer runs out. This may be due to the aforementioned AI defect regarding Popo’s knowledge of Nana. Lastly, the Ice Climbers have a short attack range despite wielding hammers, and as a result, they often struggle against characters equipped with long weapons, the most notable of which include Link, Roy, and Lucina, among others.
Interestingly enough, when Nana is KO’d, Popo seems to become smarter on his own. The AI suddenly makes better decisions, and occasionally takes risks that pay off in the end. In the tournaments we’ve seen so far, solo Popo has actually taken entire stocks (from 0 to death) off of opponents. That being said, having Nana around is still the best option, as Popo’s solo damage output is extraordinarily weak.
Although the Ice Climbers are a fairly recent addition to the Smash Ultimate amiibo metagame, the consensus is that they are difficult to train but still have unseen potential. The duo takes a lot of work to come to fruition, but with proper methods and techniques, they can work together as a powerful team in spite of their flaws.
Stats & Spirit Effects
Back in Super Smash Bros. 4, an amiibo’s equipment setup was absolutely essential to its success. There were only a handful of viable bonuses, and the loadouts of tournament entries were not varied at all. That’s all changed in Smash Ultimate: more effects are viable, which has led to a fresh and unique metagame with many potential spreads.
In terms of stat points, as long as an amiibo is running full investment in both Attack and Defense, it will perform just fine. The combined total cannot exceed 5,000 between both Attack and Defense. With each additional Spirit effect, this total is reduced; with all three slots filled, the total cannot exceed 4,200. As a result, running only stats and no Spirit effects on an amiibo is perfectly viable, as fighters with no bonuses have a higher maximum stat total.
Please note that a vast majority of Spirit effects only apply to Popo and not Nana. Attack-boosting effects apply to both climbers, but defensive and skill-based effects are only applied to Popo.
The current leading setup for Ice Climbers is Armor Knight and Move Speed ↑. The Armor Knight skill fills two slots and can be obtained from the Halberd spirit sold at Funky Kong’s in-game shop. It greatly increases its user’s defense and attack stats, but reduces their move speed. That’s where Move Speed ↑ comes in: its functionality hardly needs to be explained.
An incredibly interesting option on Ice Climbers is Instadrop. Instadrop turns its user’s fast fall into a weak attack that can set up combo moves. It is only applied to Popo; which means that using Instadrop instantly desyncs the climbers. This makes it easier for trainers to teach them desync combos. Remember that the amiibo is not a human player, and as a result, it cannot learn anything too complicated. Instadrop only fills two slots, so the last slot can be filled with a simple bonus or left blank to increase the amiibo’s stat total.
Other potential options include Weapon Attack ↑, Air Defense ↑, Toss & Meteor, and Great Autoheal. Keep in mind that power-enhancing bonuses only bring a ten percent increase; this means that it may be worth it to leave the third slot blank to increase the amiibo’s stats instead.
An amiibo will quickly reach its highest potential if it is trained in mirror matches with its Learn button switched on. Playing a best-of-five game (configurable via the rules menu) will cause it to level up much faster.
During training, avoid off-stage play for the most part. The Ice Climbers’ aerials are difficult to gimp with, and if they are separated off-stage, recovering becomes extremely difficult. Do not charge smash attacks either (unless as a shield break punish), as the amiibo will overcharge its own smashes and leave itself vulnerable. Here is an individual breakdown of the Ice Climbers’ moveset and how each attack should be prioritized.
- Neutral attack: A two-hit jab with poor range. It can be used as a quick get-off-me move at point blank, but does not have much utility otherwise.
- Forward tilt: A horizontal hammer sweep with decent range. Most effective when used frequently against nearby opponents.
- Up tilt: One of the Ice Climbers’ better moves. Creates a lingering hitbox that catches aerial enemies and reliably combos into an up aerial until very high percentages. Up tilt to up aerial is an essential combo that each Ice Climbers amiibo should understand and utilize.
- Down tilt: A grounded attack that covers a small area. A short hop neutral aerial can link into a down tilt at lower percentages, which is a nice combo to teach the amiibo.
- Dash attack: A forward leap that serves as a surprisingly useful disruption. Its launch angle can combo into an aerial move at lower percentages.
- Forward smash: A powerful overhead swing. Serves as a reliable kill move that can catch opponents out of direction air dodges. Its range is rather short, making it a risky move.
- Up smash: An upward swing. Powerful and can punish an aerial opponent. A strong kill move that should be prioritized during training.
- Down smash (Hammer Sweep): Each Ice Climber will sweep their hammer across the ground in a different direction. If Nana has been KO’d, the attack will only strike on one side.
- Neutral aerial: A quick aerial spin with weak knockback. It can combo into a down tilt, and is otherwise a solid neutral option to use out of a short hop.
- Forward aerial (Hammer Slam): A spinning slam. If Nana’s hammer connects with the opponent, it will result in a powerful meteor smash. Down throw can combo into a forward aerial, which is a solid finisher. Other than that, forward aerial is a great KO move on its own and should be prioritized. Don’t go too far off-stage to land it and be wary of its high startup.
- Back aerial: A fast backwards hammer strike. It can be used after an up tilt depending on the angle the opponent is launched.
- Up aerial: Another one of the Ice Climbers’ best moves. If both Popo and Nana successfully land the attack, it can KO rather early. Remember to use up tilt into up aerial as a primary damage-racking tool.
- Down aerial: A stall-then-fall that descends relatively slowly and deals decent damage. The move really does not accomplish much, so it is best to avoid it during training.
- Forward throw: A rather weak throw that doesn’t have many follow-ups. It can be used in a pinch to rack up damage.
- Back throw: Another weak throw. It is difficult to grab the amiibo during training due to the presence of two Popos and two Nanas (since mirror matches should be played while leveling).
- Up throw: Can combo into an up aerial at lower percentages, but an up tilt is usually the better combo starter.
- Down throw: Combos into a forward or up aerial at low to medium percentages. Definitely a throw to focus on, as its forward aerial follow-up can end stocks early.
- Ice Shot: The Ice Climbers send two small ice projectiles along the ground. Its only use is to gimp off-stage opponents. Firing Ice Shot off-stage is the best technique to use when the amiibo is off-stage.
- Squall Hammer: A very decent move that can rack up a lot of damage when both Popo and Nana are present. Use it infrequently as a grounded option, but don’t use it near the ledge. When recovering, mash the special move button to gain additional height, but don’t mash it when attacking with it unless the opponent is at a very high percentage.
- Belay: For recovery purposes only. There is no reason to use it as an attack. Can be used at the edge to reunite separated climbers.
- Blizzard: It can freeze opponents, but only at point blank. At maximum range, the attack deals abysmal damage and almost no knockback. Might be okay to use it every once in a blue moon, but is not at all an essential move.