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Video games are a great way to live vicariously, to experience things we could never do in real life. So if you have a hankering to be a robot fighting aliens in outer space, a Viking warrior riding dragons, or an NFL quarterback, sure, I get why you’d want to play a video game.
But that’s precisely the reason why most climbers don’t enjoy climbing video games. We all can go climb ourselves, and we do. Why would we want to experience a poor rendition of it on a pixelated screen?
Still, this doesn’t stop some passionate programmer every year from plugging away at a climbing game, and while none of them are going to replace Skyrim or Call of Duty, some are worth downloading.
1. Crux [iOS/Android]
I had high hopes for this one. It has the highest production value of any climbing app I’ve seen. Crux was clearly made by a developer who knew what he/she was doing and who spent considerable time and effort on the process, and it shows.
Crux purports to “bring the joy of climbing to your phone.” Lofty aspirations. So let me say, maybe it does that, depending on the type of climber you are. The game consists of controlling a climber progressing one move at a time through a series of indoor boulder problems. The “problems” are a series of dots and squares of varying sizes, set in a grid-like pattern on a 2D wall.
To explain, what I meant by “depending on the type of climber you are” is that Crux is very much a puzzle game. There is no stamina bar, variation in hold difficulty, or any dynamic element. There is no sense of urgency or fluidity. If the reason you love climbing is deciphering problems, looking at a line and calculating the best way up, then Crux was designed with you in mind. If you’re looking for a sense of adventure or danger or excitement or adrenaline, you won’t find it here (although as I type that I’m thinking, if that’s what you’re looking for, maybe you should just go outside).
Playing Crux isn’t the most exciting thing in the world and it isn’t really up my alley, but the production value is extremely high, and solving its puzzles will definitely appeal to some. Also, there are tons of levels and even community-built problems here, so if you like it, there’s more than enough content to come back and play time and time again.
2. The Climber Game: Ascending to the Summit [iOS/Android]
Another iOS app, The Climber Game: Ascending to the Summit, while much more janky and poorly-designed than Crux, offers gameplay more akin to the natural flow of climbing. You control a purple-haired, shirtless avatar free soloing a chossy rock face, clicking on various holds to move your character further upwards.
For some reason, your avatar seems limited to campusing the entire route, like a V2 college frat guy showing off for his girlfriend, with his legs hanging limply below him. You can sort of use footholds, but they don’t seem to do anything to support you.
One nice feature is the stamina bar. Unlike Crux, there is some sense of urgency here, since your character will fall eventually if you don’t complete the route fast enough. Rockfall is also an occasional hazard, among other things, as are random sticks of dynamite (which appear to be some sort of collectible?).
The Climber Game likely won’t interest you for more than a half-hour, but I had more fun playing it than Crux while that half-hour lasted, and at least it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Also, the falls are pretty funny.
3. Getting Over it [iOS/Android]
Getting Over It is awesome. It isn’t exactly a traditional climbing game, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun.
You control the upper half of a ripped dude sticking out from a giant pot, wielding a sledgehammer (I know, right?), and your job is to get this guy up and over a giant mountain. You do this by using the sledgehammer as a sort of pickaxe to vault him over trees and rocks and other obstacles.
Unlike the previous two games on this list, Getting Over It isn’t free ($4.99), but it’s definitely worth it for the laughs. This is an excruciatingly difficult game, one that had me biting my lip as I gingerly maneuvered my pot-man up the mountain. It’s made even more frustrating by irritating commentary from the game’s developer, peppered through the game (just download Getting Over It and you’ll see what I mean).
This game almost made me throw my phone out the window, but it’s definitely unique and worth a few bucks. It may not bring you the “joy of climbing,” but it’ll definitely bring you the frustration of it.
4. snow Cliff climbing 2017 [iOS/Android]
Yes, that is the title of this game, and yes, as you might expect, it’s bloody awful.
You control a mountaineer with arms like Popeye, climbing a vertical ice face with axes the size of chopsticks. That’s basically it. The controls consist of one button to move up, and two to move left or right. There’s also a slew of ads popping up on your screen constantly, and this game is as glitchy as they come.
I can’t really imagine why anyone thought of creating snow Cliff climbing 2017, but it’s here, and I downloaded it, so joke’s on me, I guess. Maybe the Chinese government is hacking my phone as we speak. I’m not sure if there’s a snow Cliff climbing 2018, but if there is I don’t want to know. 2020 is bad enough already.
5. Axe Climber
This is another ad-plagued game, although it’s a fairly fun one. Like Getting Over It, Axe Climber has you vaulting your way up a mountain face ridden with obstacles, although it’s much simpler and less frustrating than Getting Over It. With each swing, you hold your finger down to choose how long you want your ice axe to be (???) and then use it to swing and pull yourself up, avoiding vultures and spiky ice and other traps.
The constant advertisements are a pain, but the ad-free version appears to cost only $2.99 (I say appears because this is one of those games which covers your screen in pop-ups and it’s kind of confusing to figure out what is what). There’s also a “VIP Version” which costs a whopping $7.99 EACH WEEK. Unless Miho Nonaka is coming out of the screen and giving me a kiss, I can’t imagine how that’s worth it, but what do I know. I guess I’m just not VIP material.
All that aside, if you can manage the onslaught of ads Axe Climber is a semi-fun time-waster.
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Owen Clarke is a freelance writer currently based in Puerto Rico. He is a columnist for Rock & Ice, Gym Climber and The Outdoor Journal. He also writes for Friction Labs and BAÏST Gloves. In addition to climbing, he enjoys motorcycles, anime, and power metal.
Feature image from crux-game.com/