25 Years of NES Part 19: Kid Icarus.
While this isn’t the last installment of 25 Years of NES, Kid Icarus was the last game chosen. This is because in the nearly a year I’ve been at this, there have been numerous versions of the 25 games. After the first fifteen or so, it is hard to narrow down the rest of the list; I could easily come up with another 25 games worthy of remembering. But Kid Icarus eventually secured the last spot, over a nearly a dozen other seriously considered alternatives. Like Little Nemo or Little Samson, a pair of terrific if little known plat formers. Or Zelda 2, the last game left off of the list, or Dragon Quest 4, which was eliminated because I’ve only really played it on the DS. The best use of this last slot, however, was for a defense of Kid Icarus.
Kid Icarus is the Nintendo series that never was; though with the announcement of the new 3DS game this may change. Sure there was the Game boy sequel, but it never really developed into anything more. For some reason Nintendo never seemed interested in giving the not exactly large but also not insignificant contingent of fans clamoring for a sequel what they wanted. Sure, Nintendo had other games that did not become sustained series, but unlike StarTropics or Ice Climber, Kid Icarus was actually good. It was an early NES game, and it played like it, but it was still a load of fun.
Like its sister game Metroid (Both were produced by the late Gunpey Yokoi on the same game engine), Kid Icarus features simple sprites on stark single color backgrounds. The game plays like a mix of Metroid and Mario, using the sequential levels from Mario and the weapon collection or controls of Metroid. Unlike Nintendo’s big three series, Zelda, Mario, Metroid, Kid Icarus did not start with any sort of big innovation. Metroid and Zelda had expansive, open worlds; Kid Icarus had what? Vertical scrolling stages? This is a defense of the game, but Kid Icarus, while very good, was just not as important as Nintendo’s other series.
Though not as refined as later NES games, Kid Icarus was very mechanically solid. The player controls Pitt, an angel who fights through hell, earth and heaven to save the goddess Palutena from the evil Medusa. If feeling generous one could say that the game uses an interesting mix of Christian and ancient Greek religion, though haphazard is a better description. Still, the mythological trappings do make a nice backdrop. As previously mentioned, the game starts with the player climbing out of Hades with the stage scrolling vertically. Except is only scrolls up, so be careful not to fall. Kid Icarus is a difficult, occasionally frustrating game. The frustration is unfortunately mostly front-loaded. Pitt starts out with a weak bow and arrow and a tiny sliver of health. The upgrades, found in rooms and at the end of stages, are handed out based on points, an unfortunate decision. This means that the player starts out very weak, but as the game goes gets to be very strong. While the game never gets to easy, the difficulty later on comes from satisfyingly difficult platforming and not from the wimpiness of the player character.
After the first three vertical scrolling stages, there is a castle, which functions similar to a dungeon in Zelda. After that there is a horizontally scrolling world and then another vertical one. Though Pit has wings, he is not able to fly until the last stage. Unlike the platforming of the rest of the game, in the last stage a fully powered up Pit flies at the enemy in a stage that resembles a shmup. Seeing his tiny, ineffectual wings throughout the game, getting to fly at the last boss is the perfect pay off.
Kid Icarus is not among the absolute best NES games. It is one tier lower on the totem. But it is certainly not a bad game. It does make you wonder what might have been if Nintendo had made a Super Kid Icarus, a game that fully realized the potential of this first attempt, like Super Metroid to Metroid or A Link to the Past to The Legend of Zelda. That never happened, so we are left with an enjoyable but flawed classic.