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Kid Icarus (NES) artwork

Kid Icarus (NES) review


"Kid Icarus was released on the same day as another Nintendo game: Metroid. The big selling point for both games was that they were "Password Paks"--that is to say, a password could be input at the start of the game so you didn't have to go through everything all over again after turning the system off. The two games have many other similarities: they use the same engine, the same team developed both games, their level designs are highly similar, they utilize the same concept of upgrading your ch..."



Kid Icarus was released on the same day as another Nintendo game: Metroid. The big selling point for both games was that they were "Password Paks"--that is to say, a password could be input at the start of the game so you didn't have to go through everything all over again after turning the system off. The two games have many other similarities: they use the same engine, the same team developed both games, their level designs are highly similar, they utilize the same concept of upgrading your character with new items, they both have upgradeable energy bars, and so on. In 1991, both games received a sequel on the Game Boy. Metroid went on to become one of Nintendo's premier franchises. Kid Icarus was left to gather dust in a corner.

Perhaps the most important thing that both games brought to the table was ambition. Kid Icarus and Metroid both experimented with mechanics that were years ahead of their time. With Metroid, it was a free-roaming world, devoid of level boundaries--in a side scroller (gasp)!

Kid Icarus, on the other hand, essentially invented the idea of melding several different genres into one game. Metroid meets Zelda meets Super Mario Bros. meets Gradius (for one level) in Greece. You progress through platforming levels, finish off worlds with Zelda-esque dungeons, and shift gears into a scrolling shooter at the end, all with the Metroid engine! The concept sounds, well, sound, but none of these elements are executed very well. Actually, they're executed pretty poorly. Oh well. At least Nintendo tried.

The first issue is a big one: the level design in Kid Icarus uniformly sucks. You start out the game in the underworld, which is one long vertical shaft which just keeps going up and up and up. The entire level consists of jumping precariously from platform to platform as you scale the abyss. Like in Super Mario Bros., the screen scrolls only in one direction. Normally, this wouldn't be a problem, but in Kid Icarus, pretty much everything manages to be a problem. Why is this? Because on any given screen, at least half of the "ground" is one giant bottomless pit. So what's a Pit (name of main character, not to be confused with the thing that will cause you so much frustration in this game) to do? Well, hope you don't miss one of your jumps, because if you die, you have to do the entire level all over again. Without exception. And Kid Icarus' levels are lengthy; we're talking up to 10 minutes a pop here.

No one finds this fun. No one. Especially not when the levels are as boring as in Kid Icarus. Unlike Super Mario Bros., which incorporates such elements as swimming and fireball chains into its levels to mix things up every once in awhile, all of Kid Icarus' platforming levels (even the ones that scroll to the right rather than up) are just that: jumping from platform to platform to platform to platform, all the while hoping that you never fall into the perpetual blackness below.

Oh, sure, you'll kill a lot of enemies along the way, but your method of doing so is equally repetitive and boring: you stand beside your enemy and pump it full of arrows until it dies. That is it. After it's dead, you collect the hearts it leaves behind, which serve as the game's currency. You spend hearts at shops for various items, like pencils and torches that track your progress in dungeons, barrels which let you upgrade your HP up to 8 times, etc., etc...but the only item that really matters is the feather. Whenever you fall into a pit and you have a feather on hand, Pit suddenly decides to start flapping his wings and you have an opportunity to haul your ass out of said pit. Unfortunately, these handy items run for an exorbitant 390 hearts, which leads to a lot of boring money grinding by fighting the same enemies over and over again. It becomes even more annoying when one dies while doing so.

After three long, dull levels of the aforementioned platforming, it's onto a dungeon, which are without a doubt the strongest aspects of Kid Icarus. Not to say they're especially good. Or even good period. There are no keys to collect or puzzles to solve, like Zelda; all there is to do is wander around the place until you find the boss. While this approach does lead to some "Eureka!" moments when you realize that you're going the right way, much of the fun is undermined by one incredibly annoying enemy called the Eggplant Wizard. Whenever Wiz's spell hits Pit, you're turned into a helpless eggplant with feet, unable to attack. The only way to reverse this spell is to backtrack along a long series of rooms until you finally find the dungeon's hospital, which will heal you. Then, you have to back-back-track (foretrack?) back across a long series of rooms until you're back in the room where you originally got transformed and hope the Wizard doesn't hit you again. You can call nostalgia, pull out the "it was made in 1987!" card, call me a pansy for not appreciating an "old-school challenge", or whatever, but I don't give a damn, because this is possibly the most annoying game mechanic I have ever encountered in my whole life.

And who the hell designed those boss battles, anyway? All of them just leave themselves wide open to attack as you pump their body full of all 80 arrows needed to kill each one, which is anticlimactic and a waste of time.

After three worlds of harrowing platforming and Eggplant frustration, the game abruptly shifts gears into a scrolling shooter for the finale. There are no powerups; all you do is move Pit's far-too-slow ass around the screen and chuck your magical shield at enemies. If you don't kill at least fifty enemies by the time you reach the final boss' chamber, the stage loops around and you have to do it all over again. After about 30 seconds, you've already seen all of the enemy formations that the stage has to offer, so the game just repeats the same ones over and over again for another four and a half minutes. Or another nine and a half, if you don't kill enough bad guys. And should you die against the final boss, have fun doing that all over again. Whee!

Lots of Nintendo fans have begged for a new Kid Icarus game over the years, and I gotta say that I'm one of them. Metroid didn't come into its own until its third game, so why should Pit just have one dull NES game and a slightly-better-but-still-mediocre Game Boy game to his name? As it is, Kid Icarus is boring, frustrating, and simply not worth playing, unless you want to check out the ahead-of-its-time ideas present in it. I'll give it a couple of points for its sheer ambition, occasionally interesting dungeon design, and soundtrack (which sounds like unused tracks from Metroid--never a bad thing), but other than those, Kid Icarus has nothing going for it.

Rating: 3/10

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Community review by phediuk (July 21, 2006)

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