This review was published on 04/06/2012
Kid Icarus is a side-scrolling platform game for the NES released in the late 1980's. It was originally a Famicom Disk System game in Japan, but was released a year later in the U.S. and Europe as a regular NES cartridge. Kid Icarus stars a flightless angel named Pit who is going on an adventure to rescue a goddess named Palutena from the evil clutches of Medusa. Yes, the most annoying enemy of Castlevania is the final boss of Kid Icarus. Pit must also collect the three sacred treasures along the way, so that he can be well equipped to face the final confrontation. The game is very loosely based on Greek mythology, but mostly does its own thing. Kid Icarus is considered a classic among NES enthusiasts, proclaimed by many to be a great game. The good ol' days are not always as good as we make them out to be, and Kid Icarus is a good example of remembering things through rose tinted glasses.
Onwards and upwards is right, because the very first level of Kid Icarus is a vertical climb. In fact, most of the levels in Kid Icarus are vertical climbs. You won't want to look down in the vertical levels, because falling into the bottom of the screen means certain death, even if there were platforms below there. It doesn't make sense, but that's just how this game rolls. There are three main worlds in the game, each one divided into three regular levels and one fortress level, much like Super Mario Bros. Don't think that makes Kid Icarus a short game, though; the length of each level totally dwarfs an average Mario level. The extreme challenge will also ensure that you'll take forever to get anywhere. The first world is the dark and nefarious underworld. You encounter the infamous reaper enemy here. They are quite terrifying, because they call for backup whenever they spot you. These reapers are quite resilient, too, as they take a lot of hits before they die. The next world is the overworld, which is the only non-vertical world in the game. It's a nice change of pace from the dark and gloomy underworld, with colorful environments and quaint enemy designs. While the vertical levels are what differentiate Kid Icarus from other platform games of the time, I have to say that I enjoyed the more traditional design of the overworld. The last world is skyworld, which is another set of vertical levels. I'm not sure why you end up here. Considering Pit is an angel, wouldn't it make more sense for him to descend from skyworld and launch an assault on the underworld? I might be putting too much thought into this.
The last level of each world is a fortress level, and these are the most interesting levels in Kid Icarus. These levels play drastically different from all the other levels, because they're designed like Zelda dungeons, only it's done in a side-scrolling fashion. I suppose you could consider these levels the precursor to Zelda II dungeons. Pit can acquire a map to help him navigate these dungeons, and there is a ferocious beast waiting to fight him at the end of each fortress. The hero doesn't have to go it alone, because Pit can use mallets to break open statues that will sometimes release a Centurion. These little guys will assist you during the boss fight. They're not very useful, but every little bit helps. The dungeons are where the infamous Eggplant Wizards make their first appearance. You may have heard of them. They can transform Pit into a walking eggplant if they manage to shoot him with their... magical eggplant powers. This is one of the most annoying things in the entire game, because the only way for Pit to return to his normal self is to locate a hospital. Yes, there are hospitals inside these fortresses. The nurses in these hospitals will cure Pit's nasty affliction for free. It's imperative that you do this, because Pit can't do anything but run and jump when he's in eggplant form. The last thing I have to mention about the fortresses is that the music is awesome.
This is one cruel, unforgiving game. There are no lives, so one death is all it takes to send you to the beginning of the level. Thankfully, though, there are checkpoints after each level. The Japanese were lucky enough to get a save feature in their version of Kid Icarus, while the U.S. and Europe had to rely on the tried and true password system. I'm generally fine with passwords, unless they're long and annoying. Sadly, Kid Icarus has some of the longest and most annoying passwords ever. It'll take you a solid five minutes to jot down these behemoth passwords, and you have to be careful not to misread anything. As bad as that sounds, at least they give you the option to resume your game after shutting it off. This was a rare luxury in games made in the 1980's. The other nice thing about any password system is how you can use it to cheat by inputting a password that starts Pit off with all the items and best powers already enabled. That certainly makes the game easier. You can also just input the password to start off from the final level of the game. That's worth doing even if you can't muster the patience to finish the rest of the game, because the last level is drastically different from every level before it. At the end of the game, Pit equips himself with the three sacred treasures and flies around in a shooter segment that's not unlike Gradius. It's not as well made as Gradius, but it's still good fun.
Hearts are not used to refill your life meter, oddly enough. Anyone who has played the early Castlevania games won't be shocked by this, but those who haven't will find it a strange decision. Instead, hearts are used as a currency in shops. That's a bit morbid, if you ask me. There's a nice amount of items you can buy and they all have practical uses. The feather and potions are two of the most useful items you can buy at the shops. Feathers save you from falling into a pit one time, and potions automatically refill a bit of your health when you're at zero. The black market is a special store that's hidden throughout some levels, where you can buy more expensive items. I've heard of there being a credit card item you can get, too, which allows you to buy something you can't afford. You'll have to slowly pay off your debt before you can purchase an additional item, though. The shops have a couple of problems, one of which is how the items are too expensive. The other problem is that you can't re-enter a shop outside of dungeons. Actually, you can't re-enter any room outside of a dungeon, which really sucks. Outside of items purchased in shops, Pit can find one of three special weapons hidden throughout the game in challenge rooms. Successfully eliminating all the enemies in a challenge room will allow you to attain one of these special weapons. These are permanent and extremely useful; one is a shield that damages enemies, another extends Pit's attack range, and the last one adds a fireball to Pit's arrows. The catch is that you require a certain amount of maximum health to be able to use them. It's kind of like the sword beams in Zelda. The other thing to note about these weapons is that they don't work in the fortresses. That last one is a serious bummer.
Pit comes equipped with a puny bow in the beginning, which can fire a few weak shots and has limited range. In order to change that, Pit must defeat a certain amount of enemies, collect a certain amount of hearts, not get hit too many times, not fire too many arrows, and reach a particular door inside the current level that normally leads to an empty room. If done correctly, the room won't be empty and Pit will receive a weapon upgrade. The problem with this method is that it's very ambiguous. The game itself doesn't give you the slightest clue on how to accomplish this task. Maybe the manual tells you how, but that doesn't do you a lot of good if you don't have it. Even if this was clearly explained to the player, it's awfully convoluted for an early NES game, if you ask me. Why couldn't they just hide these upgrades in the levels and leave out all that other criteria? It's hard enough to survive in the game as it is, so it's unlikely that the player will be able to keep up with all of that. What's a bit less convoluted is the health upgrade system. Your score is tallied each time you complete a stage. If you get enough points during that stage, then you get a permanent upgrade to your health. This is incredibly useful. The problem with this is that it basically amounts to grinding. If you want to get all the health and power upgrades, then you're going to have to grind as much as you possibly can. I don't know about you, but grinding is not my idea of fun.
Kid Icarus is unique in that it takes a bunch of different game play concepts and tries to put it all in one game. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. When Kid Icarus works, it works well, like the exploration of the fortresses. When Kid Icarus doesn't work, though, then you're left with a frustrating exercise in tedium that involves endless grinding and a degree of luck. It's not hard to see why this game had such a mixed critical reception when it was first released. If you're able to contend with its flaws, then Kid Icarus may be worth checking out. Personally, I wouldn't recommend it unless you're feeling nostalgic.
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