Released on: February 15, 1987
Available Platforms: Nintendo Entertainment System, Wii, Wii U, NES Classic, Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo Switch
Price: Free (With Nintendo Switch Online Subscription)
When talking about the Nintendo Entertainment System (the NES), people will typically have a list of their favorite games pop-up in their head as soon as the subject comes up. For myself, my first console was the Super Nintendo (SNES), meaning I had little exposure to Nintendo’s first proper foray into the home console market. As such, I played most of the famous NES games later in life, either through compilations or with re-releases. One such game, Kid Icarus, piqued my curiosity when I saw my friend playing the game. It looked enjoyable and doesn’t come up in casual conversation all that much, so I decided to give it a shot. Is Kid Icarus an obscure NES gem?
Our story takes place in Angel Land, a world inspired by Greek mythology. Two goddesses rule over Earth: Palutena, the goddess of light, and Medusa, the goddess of darkness. Medusa hated the humans of Earth, so she set out to render humanity’s land infertile, and turn the humans into stone. Palutena did not like this one bit, so she turned Medusa into a monster and banished her into the Underworld. As one could imagine, this angered Medusa, so she joined the monsters of the Underworld to take over Palutena’s palace. Medusa stole the three sacred treasures, rendering Palutena’s army powerless, turned her soldiers to stone, and imprisoned Palutena. With the last of her remaining power, she sends a sacred bow to a fledgling angel named Pit, which he uses to escape his Underworld prison. It’s now up to Pit to save the world and his fellow angel soldiers. Kid Icarus’ story is impactful and concise. The only qualm I have with it is that the game explains none of this. There isn’t even a blub at the beginning of the game telling the player what’s going on. The game’s manual has the plot summary, which either requires the player to have the manual or find the information online. Still, the story is well worth looking up, as the backstory is fascinating.
Kid Icarus’ visuals are incredibly charming. I am a fan of Greek/Roman mythology, so seeing it represented in an early NES video game is admirable. Each stage either has Greek pillars or pieces of dilapidated temples that kept me immersed in the world. My favorite visual aspect, though, is the enemy design. Some of these are hilariously strange, like the Specknose: a pair of eyes with a giant nose. I found myself excited to see what other monstrosities waited for me in different stages.
Kid Icarus has a limited soundtrack, but the tracks it does have are lovely. The intro theme is incredibly catchy, and the first stage music will get stuck in my head periodically. Those are just the ones that come to mind first. The rest of the soundtrack is just as good.
The part that fascinates me the most with Kid Icarus is its gameplay. On the surface, Kid Icarus is your typical action platformer, like Mega Man. Pit can jump and shoot left, right, or upward. At the beginning of the game, Pit’s arrows have limited reach. Along the way, Pit will encounter shop keepers that will sell a multitude of upgrades in exchange for hearts. The player earns hearts by defeating enemies, or by winning them as prizes in particular rooms. The idea of the shops and individual rooms give Kid Icarus a unique RPG feel. At the end of every level, the player will receive points based on which enemies Pit defeats by the time he reaches the end of the level. These points are not just for show, as having a certain amount of points will increase the player’s health. I found the idea of the room and the points system unique, especially for 1987.
Another aspect that makes Kid Icarus unique is the variety of levels. The first world has the player climb out of the Underworld by jumping up from platform to platform. The second world is a side scroller, and all of the worlds have a dungeon as their final level. The dungeons feel Metroid-eque, in that the player goes from room to room fighting enemies, finding helpful characters, and searching for the boss room to move on to the next world. The fact there are so many different design philosophies for each world makes Kid Icarus compelling. I often found myself wondering what kind of level I will encounter next.
It is quite clear that Kid Icarus is an atypical action-platformer. While I admire its originality, it also has a few quirks.
My first gripe might be nitpicky, but I need to get this off my chest: the Eggplant Wizard is one of the most debilitating enemies in video game history. To the uninitiated, the Eggplant Wizard resides in the dungeon levels. He will throw cursed eggplants at the player. What a strange creature this wizard is, right? Here comes the bad news. If the player makes contact with these eggplants, they will become an eggplant themselves, making them unable to attack. The only way the player can return to normal is to find a hospital room. Not being able to dispatch of enemies is incredibly crippling to the player, especially since enemies respawn every time the player enters a different room. Those who’ve experienced the dread that is Kid Icarus’ Eggplant Wizard will be all too familiar with this menace.
One topic I want to discuss is Kid Icarus’ difficulty curve. Typical difficulty curves have the player face off against the game’s easier challenges at the beginning of the game, then get progressively more challenging. Kid Icarus does the exact opposite. The most challenging level in the game is the first one. Pit’s lack of abilities at the start of the game makes the enemies more challenging to defeat. The more upgrades the player acquires, the more powerful Pit’s arrows will be. What’s more, the player will more than likely get more health points as they complete more stages. The weird part is that the enemies follow the same kind of pattern from the first world, for the most part, making them easier to defeat now that Pit has more powerful and farther-reaching arrows. This is the most interesting part of Kid Icarus, as I have a hard time thinking of other games that have a reverse difficulty curve.
This part contains spoilers. Discretion is advised. Interestingly enough, the North American version of Kid Icarus has five different endings depending on specific requirements. I want my readers to imagine this scenario: Kid Icarus is not an easy game as a whole, especially not initially. Climbing out of the Underworld, fighting all sorts of strange creatures, and defeating the goddess of darkness would be arduous for anybody. How does Palutena, the person the player is rescuing and Pit’s boss, reward her savior if he doesn’t fulfill any of the arbitrary requirements? By giving Pit a sickle, making him a farmer, stripping him of his rank as a soldier. While it is funny in the grand scheme of things, that is an awful ending for all that hard work. End of spoiler section
Kid Icarus is fascinating. It has strange creatures, an unusual approach to challenge design, and has widely different levels. Those looking for a unique action-platformer should give Kid Icarus a shot if they don’t mind the less-than-friendly beginning.