Crazy Climber, Part 1: Joystick Arms

When it comes to arcade games that work outside the box, one of the big names in my mind is Crazy Climber.  Much like Phoenix, it made clever use of limited resources to create an impressive visual experience, but what really makes the game stand out is its innovative concept for the player controls.

Rethinking Controls

Most video games use a control concept where directional input indicates the overall motion of the player character -- if I push the controller left, my character goes left.  In these games, we pretend that our fictional player character already knows how to translate our command into motion.  If they're walking, for example, we don't need to actually direct their legs.

This approach to controls is very easy to understand and somebody approaching the game for the first time should be able to move their character without much trouble.  Additionally, in most game designs, directly controlling a character's limbs could be tedious and even exhausting, especially if your character were doing a lot of running.

Crazy Climber instead explores a scenario where limb-by-limb motion becomes an interesting problem in of itself -- a person scaling a building.  The game provides you with two 8-way joysticks, one for each hand, which you use to make your way up a building while avoiding obstacles.  They do make one simplification in the controls by removing legs from the equation, but for most gamers, learning to use the climber's arms will be challenge enough.

Demonstration of moving your arms in the 1980 arcade game, Crazy Climber.

The general idea is that you're directing your arms to reach for window sills.  In most cases, you'll be moving them in one of the three directions indicated above.  It's possible to move downward in some situations, but these were corner cases, and I didn't find it useful.

How Not to Fall

The object of the game is to scale the building without falling, where you fall when you don't have any hands holding onto a sill.  The one obstacle that persists throughout the game is the closing window.  When a window is completely closed, you can't hold on to the accompanying sill, and if it closes while you're holding onto that sill, you will fall:

Example of a climber falling due to a closed window, from the 1980 arcade game, Crazy Climber.

You can survive having a window close on one hand by holding onto a sill with the other hand:

Demonstration of holding on with one hand in the 1980 arcade game, Crazy Climber.

The rest of the enemies and obstacles in the game work on the same principle -- if both hands get dislodged, you will fall.  Some enemies will knock you off right away when they hit you, while others will just knock one hand loose, giving you an opportunity to recover.

When in doubt, push down on both joysticks to hold on tight.  If an enemy knocks one of your hands off while you're holding tight, it will immediately return to its place, putting you in a position to resist subsequent hits.

Demonstration of the controls for holding onto the window sills, from the 1980 arcade game, Crazy Climber.  Includes a controller graphic with the joystick commands.

Getting a Move On

Of course, in Crazy Climber, it's not enough to just avoid falling off.  If you're going to make it to the top of the tower, you'll need to figure out how to climb.  

One-Two Climb

In general, climbing is just a matter of pushing down on the joystick when your hand placed on a higher sill; that is, you must push down to raise your body up.  If, while you pull yourself up with one arm (by pressing down), you raise your other arm (by pressing up), you can immediately be in a position to pull yourself up again with your other arm.  Alternating in this way leads to a rapid climbing motion that can get you up the tower pretty quickly once you get used to it.

Demonstration of the controls for climbing the tower, from the 1980 arcade game, Crazy Climber.  Includes an animated controller graphic with the joystick commands

Note that this climbing motion works just as well when your arms are spanning two columns of windows.


The climb only works if the sill you're reaching for is available.  If you run into a closed window or an enemy during your climb, you're going to have to make a sideways adjustment.  It took me a while to discover that you can actually make these sideways adjustments really quickly using the simple motion demonstrated below.

Demonstration of the controls for moving left and right, from the 1980 arcade game, Crazy Climber.  Includes an animated controller graphic with the joystick commands

Start with the arm that's on the same side as the direction you want to move.  Direct that arm to move in that direction.  Depending on how your arms are positioned, this may not result in any actual movement, but keep holding the joystick in that direction anyway.  Then, when you want to start your shimmy, push and hold the other joystick in the same direction.  As long as there are sills available for both of your hands, this should result in a rapid sideways motion.

Everything else

Once you get used to them, the two joystick combinations described above should cover most of your movements on the tower, but you'll run into other situations as well.  Responding to these situations will mostly be a matter of developing a familiarity with the arm and body movements of the climber, whether it's adjusting your body sideways to avoid a falling object or climbing between alternate sills to avoid a closing window.

Continued in Part 2.


  1. I thought this control scheme was pretty cool. My first encounter with it was actually with Data East's Fire Trap, which I really like, though it's a bit more awkward with the added shoot button.


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