The very first entry in this series was the original Metroid, which invented a genre and is regarded as a video game classic, even if it hasn’t aged well. What you may not know is that another game was developed using the same engine as Metroid. While that game was well-received in its day, it fell into obscurity until its main character was included in the Super Smash Bros. Brawl roster, and he got another game on the 3DS after twenty-plus years. Should that have been the game’s fate?
Released in 1986 by Nintendo, Kid Icarus mashes up several Greek myths into its own package. The story in a nutshell is that you play as Pit, a boy with wings, who is trying to rescue the goddess Palutena, the ruler of Angel Land from the evil Medusa. To do this, you’ll have to acquire three sacred treasures before taking to the sky in a final battle with Medusa herself.
Getting the sacred treasures involves traveling through three worlds, each with 4 levels. The first three levels of worlds one and three scroll vertically, while levels 2-1 to 2-3 are side-scrollers. Every fourth level is a fortress level, which features a maze and some of the toughest enemies in the game. These include the dreaded Eggplant Wizards, which will turn you into an eggplant, leaving you unable to attack until you find the hospital elsewhere in the labyrinth. Each labyrinth also has a boss in it, and defeating the boss gets you one of the sacred treasures.
Pit’s main weapon is a bow with unlimited arrows. This arrow can be augmented by various powerups–one increases the range of the arrow, allowing it to travel across the whole screen. Another adds fire to the arrow, and the third creates two crystals that orbit Pit, protecting him from weak enemies. You can also periodically increase the strength of your arrows and acquire more life. Doing both of these things is a key to survival.
Before last Saturday, I referred to this as “The not-good game created with the Metroid engine”. I remembered the game being incredibly difficult–the furthest I had gotten when I was younger was level 2-2. And to be sure, the levels are long, and dying puts you back at the start of a level with whatever you had when you got there (But at either full life if your life level is still 1 or 2, or two cubes of health worth otherwise). Further, the controls sometimes don’t do what you want them to. There were couple instances where Pit simply didn’t jump, and I would have fallen to my death if not for a special item I had, the Feather. Pressing down lets you duck, which is sometimes irritating in the vertically scrolling stages–you’ll duck, and fall through a platform to your death, since the screen scrolls up but not down. Finally, 3-4 has a room where whether or not you get turned into an eggplant comes down to luck, and another room where it’s very difficult to avoid that fate and have to re-traverse the whole labyrinth to de-Eggplant yourself.
But I was pleasantly surprised this time around. I beat the game in about 3 hours start-to-finish. If you know the mechanics of how to increase your strength–take your time, go slowly, kill everything you can, and upgrades will follow–and how important the long-range arrow item in particular is, the game is not that bad in terms of difficulty or quality. There are some frustrating bits, to be sure. There’s the aforementioned Level 3-4, and the Metroid engine wasn’t designed for the precision platforming you’ll have to do in World 3 in particular. But the passwords that start you off at the beginning of each level keep things from getting too frustrating, and with enough power-ups, the game is a lot easier than I remembered from when I was younger.
After you beat the game, and get one of five endings, Kid Icarus puts you back at the start with most of the powerups you earned. This is so you can try to earn a better ending–but be careful, since the password for 1-1 overwrites any “New Game Plus” stuff. It’s not obvious what goes into getting those endings without reading up on them beforehand, though, and the game didn’t engage me enough to want to play through it multiple times.
Still, Kid Icarus isn’t a bad game, although it’s not a great one either. Besides the original NES release, you can also get it on any of the Nintendo Virtual Consoles. It’s worth picking up and giving a try.