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Kid Icarus (NES) artwork

Kid Icarus (NES) review

"There is no doubt you have heard the phrase, “Whatever goes up must come down.” Yet in Kid Icarus, there is only one direction, and it’s up. There is no such thing as down in Kid Icarus. "

There is no doubt you have heard the phrase, “Whatever goes up must come down.” Yet in Kid Icarus, there is only one direction, and it’s up. There is no such thing as down in Kid Icarus.

The Icarus in question is Pit, and his ascension into the sky is a long and arduous one. Despite Pit’s pair of wings, there is very little flying in Kid Icarus. Flight would make a platformer far too easy, and “easy” is most certainly not the right word to describe this game. If Pit wants to make it into the heavens, he’s going to have to climb there, one measly platform at a time.

His adventure brings back memories of the days when games weren’t afraid to challenge their players, when the good games could kick our asses without making us feel like fools. Challenge was the motivator, and no matter how grueling Kid Icarus became, I was so consistently mesmerized by the game’s perfectly fine-tuned mechanics that I walked away out of exhaustion rather than frustration. It’s a remarkable and criminally overlooked platformer/shooter that is reminiscent of such classics as Metroid and Mega Man – and for my money, Kid Icarus tops both of those games.

Pit is not armed with a gun, but with a bow – however, do not let this distract you from the game’s true battle. Throughout your journey, you will encounter snakes, flying beasts, fireball-spewing blobs, grim reapers that can summon armies of personal Death Juniors, and all assortment of bosses and such. They move in randomized motions and attack of their own accord, so taking them down is not so much a matter of memorizing patterns but of utilizing raw power and combat skills. But these are not your enemies in Kid Icarus. Your enemy is the environment.

Kid Icarus's levels run vertically, and as Pit climbs each stage, the camera scrolls upward, never to drop back down. As you make your way to the top of each level, the world below you gets swallowed up and disappears. There is no turning back in Kid Icarus. Once you ascend, you continue to ascend until you win or die.

A careless misstep in Kid Icarus can mean an instant death. Let's say you come to a series of small, skinny platformers that lead up (like stairs) to a region above you. The platforms in question are considerably spaced and quite narrow to land on, but you don't initially worry, because there's a much larger platform below them to break your fall, should you miss a jump. But then, as you reach height of the stepping stones, the platform beneath you vanishes and becomes part of the bottomless pit that is slowly engulfing the entire level. Now, a poorly-placed jump will send you to your death, and put you right back at the beginning of the level. Not so easy anymore, is it?

Is it too harsh to send players back to square one of the current level when they die? Perhaps. But Kid Icarus provides you with unlimited lives, as well as checkpoints in between stages. You'll curse when you come oh-so-close to completing a level only to make a simple slip-up and be forced to start over, but the sense of unfairness that plagues so many difficult games is not found here. Kid Icarus never asks you to do anything unreasonable; it just presents a number of difficult platforming challenges, packs them with enemies that actually make a passing effort to kill you, and asks you if you can handle it.

As you grow closer and closer to each end-of-the-level door, the increasing tension is nearly unbearable. The further you get, the more you lose should you make one little mishap. The rising stakes, combined with the ever-present enemy bastards, will test your patience and concentration to their max. My controller would shake more and more as I rose higher. My heart would pound in my chest, but would soon ease up due to either success or failure. Should I reach my goal, the sense of satisfaction is remarkable. Should I die, I would aim for that satisfaction once more.

"Whatever goes up must come down." Yet whatever goes up in Kid Icarus keeps going up, and the game's nerve racking challenge and startling variety brought gaming to a height it would rarely rise to again.


Suskie's avatar
Community review by Suskie (August 29, 2007)

Mike Suskie is a freelance writer who has contributed to GamesRadar and has a blog. He can usually be found on Twitter at @MikeSuskie.

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