There are a lot of top first date ideas, but none of them involve hiking

ice climber logo

Ice Climber (1986)

It’s enough to make any man self-conscious. After weeks of pestering and creepy-crawliness, you’ve finally secured a date with that girl and she hasn’t yet deigned to ghost you or cancel right at the last minute with no mention of a reschedule. You’ll now be relying on two things to help make the date go well – firstly, you’ll need to have good patter, otherwise that crucial ‘spark’ will not be there and you’ll be out of pocket forty nicker. Secondly, you need to make sure that you’ve got a good plan as to what you’re both going to do, because you better believe she won’t be making any suggestions. Get this wrong, and you’ll be agonising over it for a very long time once she gives you the bad news a few days later.

So what do you take her to do? Well, the cinema was a common one from my teenage years. Though it’s not exactly a social event, is it? You sit there, you shut up for 2 hours and then you come out afterwards with things no less awkward. There’s a stress involved in picking the film of course, and these days if she’s not into Marvel flicks then you’re pretty goosed. Just pick the least offensive one you can find, a drab, by-the-numbers romcom if needs be, and keep it simple. The film may be an absolute turkey, but at least you’ll have a lot of time to think. Maybe go through your pre-rehearsed talking points in your head.

Now what you could also do if you’re feeling bold, and in these pervert-conscious times of Me Too movements I’d better be careful here, but you could see where your wandering hand goes and what happens after. It might earn you a healthy slap for your troubles and ejection from the cinema, or it may let you keep your hand on a very soft place indeed. Just don’t mistakenly grab her handbag instead. And keep your hands to yourself if at any stage a dog is mistreated or a Disney character dies. The cinema is an okayish choice if you’re both awkward teenagers, but hardly much use for getting to know each other. I fall asleep in the cinema these days anyway.

Minigolf is a good one, one of my personal recommendations. Possibly better as a second or third date though, because if you find each other absolutely abhorrent by Hole 3 then that’s an awful lot of putting greens to get through before you can finally go home, delete all dating apps and join the priesthood or the convent instead.

Also, do you let the opposition win? Or is it more dominant to be the man and stuff them by birdieing every hole? A lot of politics at play here, dangerously early in a budding relationship. Try it, but only if you don’t get butthurt over losing. Any woman I know is a shark at minigolf, and even better at pool, so watch you don’t get emasculated.

Dinner is a nice option, so long as you don’t go overboard with the romance. That said, I’ve heard plenty of girls say that they’ll outright refuse to eat in front of a guy. Perhaps you could be weird and sit alongside them instead? A dinner date will cost you, especially when you get to that awkward, prolonged period when the bill is on its way, the Jaws theme starts playing in the background and it’s time to decide what the split is.

You could swear that the waiter smirks at you as he hands you the vast bill. Obviously, even the most socially raw pilchard will jump in and attempt the pay the full whack, to which she’ll usually bat you away and not have any of it. Then you just have to play the to-and-fro from there, running a tightrope between not being tight, not being sexist, and of course not being out of pocket. Then you have to keep your now bulging gut sucked in as you go outside, in anticipation of the goodnight kiss – if it comes. It may be an awkward hug instead, your lovehandles and belly will be felt, and you will be exposed.

No, the simplest thing you can do is to forego any kind of pretension and just go for drinks. This is especially true in Ireland where outdoor amenities are never a goer given the weather and the distinct possibility that you could get targeted and publicly humiliated by skangers or chavs or bogans. Better still, if she snubs your idea to get wasted or even tells you that she’s teetotal, then you can take the hint and bin her off immediately. It could prove to be expensive of course, when she’s handed the gin menu and you, through gritted teeth, encourage her to be as expensive as she likes. But at least you can join in.

One thing I could hardly see myself getting away with is taking a first date on an escapade up an icy mountain. There are the Everest climbers, there are the general outdoorsy types, there are the people who like an occasional hike on weekends when they’re not binge drinking like crazy. And then there’s me. Nonetheless, mountaineering is exactly what Popo and Nana, the eponymous Ice Climbers, elect to do together in the near-forgotten NES launch game Ice Climber.

I say near-forgotten, it would have been forgotten entirely and lost in the vast ether of bad NES games if not for the Super Smash Bros series. When Smash Bros Melee was being developed, they wanted a representative of the NES days present as a sort of weird throwback. Similarly forgettable games like Mach Rider and Balloon Fight were all considered, with some of their music present in the game and plans for their protagonists to be playable fighters. But in the end, it was the Ice Climbers who got the shout.

You’d have to wonder why. Ice Climber is a vertically-scrolling game where the objective is to desperately coax your little Ice Climber, the blue parka-clad Popo for Player 1 and the female pink equivalent Nana for Player 2, to the top of one of 32 mountains. To do this, you’ll need to use your hammer to bust through ice blocks above you, then jump through these gaps and work your way up. This is what I meant by desperately coaxing your character up, because the jump mechanic is unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

It’s truly vile – the Ice Climbers can jump 40 feet up in the air, but only 6 inches left or right. You must begin each jump in exactly the correct place or you won’t make it, and even then the game will laugh at you and make you phase right through platforms that you should by all rights have landed on. Jumping in this game can be considered, in mountaineering parlance, as an ‘objective danger’.

Even if you do manage to make it up to the top of the mountain, all you do is unlock the “bonus stage”. The music changes, you collect a few vegetables and finally try to collide with the most bipolar condor in the world. The time limit for this bonus level doesn’t appear strict at all, until you realise that every jump has to be fully calculated and it is severely easy to fall right through a platform to your doom.

Then the next mountain begins with little fanfare, and you can repeat this tedious process until you’ve seen 32 mountains. This is the worst nightmare for women, the never-ending date. And it all means that the game is, yes, a worse vertical scroller than Kid Icarus.

Still, as a first date idea, it must have worked out pretty well for the two. They’re still together to this day in the Smash Bros series. Official Ice Climber lore, which I often browse in case there’s new updates, states that Popo and Nana are “more than friends but less than lovers”. What could that mean? What will that mean for the future? Lord knows, since we don’t even know the story between Luigi and Daisy (and more to the point, Wario and Waluigi), but maybe it’s time for these two kids to finally have themselves a second, far more enjoyable date.

30 November 2018

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