The Ice Climbers are strange, unique characters who are often poorly understood by those who don’t play them. However, it is important to understand them to at least some extent since they can be very threatening, mostly on account of their extremely good punish game. I won’t attempt to concisely describe how every character should fight against them, but I will describe some attributes of ICs that many players, especially newer ones, either don’t know about or are incorrect about. Also note that throughout this article, I will describe the secondary IC as “Nana” for convenience, although two of the ICs’ costumes do feature the female IC as the lead.
Nana’s AI in General
While nobody currently has an exceptional grasp on Nana’s AI, there are many strange misconceptions about it that I hear occasionally, even from good players. For example, I have heard, on more than one occasion, that Nana acts as a level 3 computer. In actuality, Nana’s AI doesn’t correspond to any one CPU level. It’s long been known, and easily verifiable, that Nana’s behavior changes as Popo’s percentage increase, and thanks to BigVegeta, this is more precisely understood nowadays. In particular, Nana’s AI level is a function of Popo’s percentage. Many other precise details of Nana’s AI in certain situations remain unknown.
One especially important situation to understand is how Nana behaves when she is recovering. She double jumps very predictably and she can’t do belay or squall hammer on her own, so if you hit her out of her double jump and if she can’t reach the edge, she is frequently dead. Popo can often try to save her, but it is important to be aware that Nana cannot take part in a synced squall hammer or belay when she is in tumble. Hence, if she is offstage without a double jump, unable to reach an edge or surface to land on, and is in tumble, then there is no saving her, so there is no need to try to stop Popo from attempting that. Also, in the case in which Popo does save Nana with belay, be aware that she is invincible until the peak of her recovery.
Chain Grabs and Wobbling
On account of how powerful ICs’ punish game is, people have devoted more effort into understanding it, so misconceptions about chain grabs and wobbling are less common than they used to be, but they still exist, and people still make decisions that suggest they aren’t aware of certain flaws with these.
To begin with simple territory, a common chain grab ICs players of all skill levels use is Popo’s dthrow into Nana’s dair into another Popo grab. Experienced players largely are comfortable escaping this, but many beginner, intermediate, and even some good players who lack ICs practice will repeatedly lose entire stocks to this since they do not understand how to get out. Escaping this chain grab is entirely a matter of good SDI on Nana’s dair. Space animals frequently escape with SDI away on the dair followed by a spot-dodge or roll. Other characters generally do upwards SDI on the dair and double jump out.
Another very important chain grab ICs have is the simple Popo dthrow chain grab, which functions much like a worse version of Sheik’s dthrow chain grab. On the characters it works well against, it is typically inescapable except in the special case of Falcon, whose DI isn’t feasible for most people to react to. Otherwise, your best bet is often to try to condition the ICs player to expect a certain DI from you and then do something different, in which case their expectations might take priority over what they observe. Assuming the ICs player is reacting well, you need to double jump out at a high percentage or DI towards an edge. The latter is dangerous if Nana is around since ICs can convert the dthrow chain grab into a handoff once you’re near the edge. However, if you don’t DI away, it is easy for ICs to convert the next grab into a wobble, which is something I can testify has gotten me easy infinites I wouldn’t have been able to initiate if the enemy were aware of this. As is probably evident, there frequently is no good way out if the ICs player does not make errors. However, if you are able to get to a percentage at which you can escape with a double jump (holding about 128 degrees measured upwards from the horizontal ray in the direction Popo is facing is often best for this, as this will make dthrow send you approximately straight up) before you reach an edge, you do have that escape option.
Wobbling is by far the best option ICs have out of a grab, yet it is also poorly understood by many, and this sometimes inhibits players’ abilities to counteract it. While it is easy to do once it is initiated, there is subtlety in judging how to start it under various circumstances, and sometimes Popo must wait briefly before doing the first headbutt. Some ICs players, predominantly the MD/VA ones, often wait long before starting the infinite in the interest making the initiation consistent and easy. However, whether this delay is essential to make the wobble work or whether it is chosen in the interest of making it easy, it has a huge drawback: people can press buttons. Players who recognize that not every wobble can or will start exceptionally quickly often mash furiously the instant they realize they will be grabbed, and it requires very good wobble set-ups for the ICs player to handle that. See this game from the MLG Anaheim crew battle for a good illustration of how lazy wobble set-ups aren’t always fruitful.
There is an occasionally true notion that hitting ICs or their shields induces more hitlag in the attacker than hitting a single target does. However, this isn’t always the case, and knowing when it is and when it is not can be valuable. Conveniently, this is simple to understand. If you hit both ICs (or their shields) on the same frame, then you will experience normal hitlag. However, if you hit one target before the other, then you will experience more than the normal amount. Since Popo is frequently in front of Nana, this means it is often the case that attacks started distantly will hit Popo and then Nana, meaning it’s more dangerous than hitting a single target might be, but attacks that become active on top of both ICs are quite normal. It is relatively unusual for ICs to exploit this advantage intentionally nowadays, but it is nonetheless something that could get you CC dsmashed or grabbed when you otherwise would be safe. This property being intentionally used is something you may need to worry about more as time goes on, as well.
A Closing Remark
The Ice Climbers are not the best characters in the current metagame, nor are they particularly close to being that. They are also not a main that many people will choose in any case. However, they nonetheless have a nontrivial presence in the modern tournament scene and knowing how to beat them is important if you want consistent, large-scale success. It is no secret that many players dislike ICs, and it’s fine to have such preferences, but ICs are in the game and that is not going to change anytime soon. Some regions are quite vocal in their disdain for the Inuit duo, and hence either implicitly or explicitly discourage their use, but the practical effect of this is easy to predict: people in such a region don’t play ICs, the region gets no ICs practice, and the region never becomes good against ICs relative to their overall skill level, because getting practice against ICs is the most obvious and most important way to understand how to fight against them. Players and regions that discourage use of ICs are only hurting themselves, so if there is a devoted ICs player in your area, be thankful that you are able to get practice against this odd, but important pair of characters.