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Kid Icarus (NES) artwork

Kid Icarus (NES) review

"Iím here to let you in on a little secret: Kid Icarus isnít actually very good. "

Kid Icarus had the benefit of being one of those first-year NES games that was able to piggyback off of the popularity of Nintendoís new 8-bit console. For the young kids that the system was aimed at, such titles were likely the first video games they ever experienced. I think that gives people a greatly distorted view of this vintage game, and Iím here to let you in on a little secret: Kid Icarus isnít actually very good.

The goddess Palutena has been imprisoned by a jealous and vengeful Medusa. The heavenly realm of Angel Land has been overrun by she with the snaky tresses, and the everyoneís hopes rest on the wings of Pit, a young angel who was imprisoned in the Underworld at the time. Palutena manages to free Pit and gives him a holy bow, but now heíll have to battle his way out of the Underworld and all the way to the heavens to stop Medusa on his own.

Kid Icarus is a very strange little Nintendo game. Released in 1986, it straddles the new console game design seen in titles such as Metroid and The Legend of Zelda, as well as the Nintendo arcade legacy of the very early Ď80s. This is most obvious in the first world of Kid Icarus, which scrolls upwards instead of to the right. If Pit moves too far to the left or right of the screen, he reappears on the opposite side, which was a very common practice in early arcade machines. Itís a little off-putting at first, but as Pit ascends each level thereís a sense of dizzying heights as the tiny angel comes close to falling back to the netherworld.

It takes a long time for this game to take off, and the first couple worlds are a real slog. The levels are simply too lengthy, seemingly stretching on forever. Pit begins the adventure with a miniscule amount of health and a wimpy bow that has a paltry range of a few steps in front of him. This makes the beginning areas far more challenging than they really should be. The enemies are easily dispatched, but they constantly respawn and always seem just out of reach, right up until the point that they do some damage. Enemies often appear from the one angle that Pit canít effectively defend against: below. A few critters will pop up right under his feet, something that Iím really not a fan of.

Along the way, Pit collects hearts from fallen foes, and those hearts act as the currency in Kid Icarus. Once again, things move along too slowly in the early goings. There are plenty of shops along the way that carry important items like health and a bow that actually shoots across the screen, but theyíre prohibitively expensive. I suppose you could spend an absurd amount of time grinding these weaker enemies to get enough cash in the opening levels, but that options isnít much fun.

After getting through a few stages (and especially after finishing the first world), Pit starts to gain enough health and hearts to upgrade in a meaningful way. This opens the game up a bit and makes things a lot more interesting. Killing enemies isnít as difficult, and Pit can mitigate the serious lack of in-level health items by purchasing his own. The levels also switch to a more traditional side-scrolling configuration, as well, which adds a lot of variety to the proceedings.

The first three worlds conclude with a massive dungeon to topple, and this is a bit of variety that I could do without. As in The Legend of Zelda, youíll want to find a map in order to navigate these mazes. After that, Pit still needs to acquire a pencil and a torch to actually keep track of where he is and where heís been. Those items cost--you guessed it--hearts. Unless you already have plenty of hearts in your possession as you go into the level, expect to do a lot of grinding so that you can acquire those essential items. Since enemies donít drop health pickups, buying healing items will also be a priority. The dungeons are designed to sap Pitís health with tricky enemy placement, constantly respawning snakes that fall out of pots attached to the ceiling, and traps that are all too easy to fall into.

And then thereís the Eggplant Wizard.

The Eggplant Wizard is almost as synonymous with Kid Icarus as Pit is, but thatís not because heís a beloved character. Heís a sadistic addition to the game that does nothing but prolong an already too tedious set of dungeon levels. For the uninitiated, this unholy terror throws out eggplants like grenades. If one hits Pit, he turns into a giant walking eggplant, unable to attack. Only by finding the hospital (often an annoying trek on its own) can Pit get restored. Heaven forbid that he gets hit again, causing a gameplay loop that is anything but fun.

Thatís where my patience with Kid Icarus ended. Iíve completed the game in the past, but that was back in a time when I didnít realize that some games arenít as good as others. Like so many kids of the early Ď80s, I placed Kid Icarus on the same pedestal as Metroid, Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda. I was even one of those guys who pined for a modern day sequel. Once I took off my rose-colored glasses, I realized that time has not been kind to this one.

I mean, seriouslyÖ an eggplant wizard? What does that even have to do with Greek mythology?


AlphaNerd's avatar
Freelance review by Julian Titus (July 15, 2013)

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