Kid Icarus review
Man, these bosses are a joke!
Back in the late 80s, somebody over at Nintendo decided to have a look at the three biggest games Nintendo had going for them then - Super Mario Brothers, Legend Of Zelda, and Metroid. That same person also took a bit of a look at Ice Climber and Gradius. Then an idea popped into that person's head: What if there was a game that combined the five together!? Thus, Kid Icarus was born. What sounds like the best of all worlds, at least for a game back in the late 80s anyway, it's actually just a pretty good game... although you wouldn't think that then, because it was one of those games that actually got dismissed as being "meh, it's good, but Mario and Metroid are better" or "it's too hard without being interesting". Yep. People didn't want to like it then, but lately (like within the last 5 years), Kid Icarus has been praised universally by the old guard and gamers who aren't too fussed with 8-bit graphics. Now, I've always liked this game, but will admit, it was too hard for me back when I was like 3 years old. But now as I approach my 19th birthday, I have to be honest - it is hard at first, but later on, with some complications aside, it's actually kind of easy. It's also fairly well made with some problems here and there, so the dismissal of it back in the 80s was silly, but this is far from a perfect game.
Story: In ancient times, two goddesses had ruled the kingdom of Angel Land - the goddess of light Palutena, and the goddess of darkness Medusa. Palutena had been helpful to the mortals, but Medusa went out of her way to destroy crops and turn everyone to stone. Palutena transformed Medusa into a horrible monster and banished her to the underworld, but Medusa isn't taking that lying down, so she raises an army to take over the Palace in the Sky, where Palutena resided, and seized her and the three Sacred Treasures. Using the last of her strength, Palutena gives Pit, who is trapped in the underworld, a magical bow so that he could rescue her and get back the treasures. Not really much to say, because other than the Greek mythological theme, it's your standard "rescue the princess" scenario that damn near every NES game has, and it's all from the instruction booklet - no intro scene if you wait at the title screen. There IS an ending scene - in fact, TWO ending scenes, depending on whether you collected everything or not.
Gameplay: Kid Icarus is made of many different elements, which was something unheard of back in its day. I mean, nowadays, developers combine different genres together kind of often (like how Borderlands is a first person shooter with RPG elements), but back then, it was a new concept. The individual elements weren't, but together, damn, this was innovative. But an innovative concept does not make a good game (this isn't an excuse to remain unoriginal, though); execution does, and for the most part, it's on the right track, but it has its share of issues.
The first concept you'll encounter is platforming. Whether it's vertical like Ice Climber or horizontal like Super Mario Brothers, you'll be jumping across pits and heading from Point A to Point B. Oh, and you'll have to kill enemies, but not by stomping on them. You did get that bow for a reason, you know. At first though, the arrow only goes a few inches away from you before disappearing.
The second is inspired by Metroid's non linear design and platforming, but with Zelda's dungeon sizes. Basically, each room is one screen big and contains a boss at the end. Before you can fight the bosses though, you'll need to actually make your way through these dungeons, and here's where the Metroid influence can come into play, as it's quite possible to get lost in these dungeons. Unlike Zelda, there are no keys, therefore, no locked doors, and unlike Metroid, there are no power ups that can destroy things that block your path, so all of the rooms are open. However, like Metroid, it's actually pretty easy to get lost your first time through. Nothing to do with bad design, because that doesn't exist here; just that because of how open the layout is, especially as there are often multiple paths to the boss room, unless you find a map (either in game or on the internet), you'll have a bit of a hard time finding the boss room. To make things trickier, you will inevitably run into the infamous Eggplant Wizard, who will turn you into an eggplant if it hits you with its projectiles, and then you'll have to find the cure room so you can lift the curse, which will get you lost even more. That's where I end up drawing the line, because it's one thing to get lost just because you're unsure of where to go at first, and it's another to get lost because you're having to go to another room to lift a curse and forgetting which way you're meant to go!
Speaking of finding a map, if there's another thing Zelda inspired Kid Icarus to include, it would be the item shop. Like, I know item shops are very commonplace today, but not back when this was released. Anyway, the item shop has a fair few things for sale. Obviously, it has a map (of sorts) for sale, as well as a hammer to crack open some kind of angel prison so an angel can help you out for the boss battle, upgrades to your arrows, among many other things I won't spoil, but they can really helpful. Actually, there is one item that can be pretty interesting - the credit card. It lets you just buy stuff even if you lack the funds (in this case, hearts), but then you start collecting more money, and your money count doesn't go up... that's debt for you, kids! But if there's one downfall to this, it's the cost. A lot of items cost a lot of money, and you don't get much through simply progressing, so... yeah, this opens the game up to a problem that should only exist in RPGs made in this time period - GRINDING!
The bosses are a *bleep*ing joke. Most of them have really simplistic patterns, which should be forgiveable given the technology and whatnot, but even the first time you'll encounter them, they're still really, really easy. For the most part, they have simplistic movement patterns that are easy to counter, and actually taking them down just requires you to study their movements for about five seconds, and then unload like seventy arrows where the sun don't shine. This isn't exciting or anything tricky; the bosses leave themselves wide open, and when the only strategy to use is unload arrows against bosses that leave themselves wide open, then it's either a case of poor ageing, or poor design, and I'd actually say it's both. They might've been fun back in the day, but.. you know, Zelda 2 has better bosses - in fact, the first Zelda game had better bosses. Yes, they also had simplistic patterns, but they weren't complete pushovers. Maybe Zelda 1's bosses were a bit on the easy side, but not to the point where victory is shallow as hell, and don't get me started on how hard Zelda 2's bosses were! The last boss fight, which has the Gradius shoot em up playstyle where you use the treasures you get from the other three bosses, is so anticlimactic, that it makes everything else feel like a waste of time. Medusa, the final boss, makes Ganon look like Dark Link from Zelda 2 for *bleep*s sake...
The final gameplay related thing worth mentioning is the ability to save. Oh no, not like with today's games how you can just save on the fly. Nope. It's all done with passwords. The passwords are fairly lengthy, not to mention that it not only uses uppercase letters, but lowercase letters, numbers, and the "?" and "!" symbols. Write them down carefully... or *bleep* it, just use save states if you're playing this on the computer or the Wii's Virtual Console. But at least you can save... AM I RIGHT, RYGAR AND BLASTER MASTER!?
Controls: For the most part, Pit controls pretty well. He can move and shoot well enough. He can also jump well for the most part, but it's a bit on the floaty side, meaning that it's a bit tricky to properly gauge your jumps at first... but better that, than really stiff jumping controls, ala Ghosts And Goblins and Castlevania. Not much else to say other than tight and responsive.
Graphics: The graphics are pretty good. Although the backgrounds are a single color, at least it's black, and black is awesome... in a sense, it looks less plain than a simple blue background, though it is a bit plain and it felt like more could've been added... oh well, that's early NES games for you. The foreground objects and sprites look pretty good, with some pretty slick designs. The enemies and bosses actually look kind of menacing, especially the grim reaper. Seriously, his expression upon finding you is just priceless (sadly, he's not a boss – there are heaps of reapers) as he sends his minions (or children) to kill you. It's also disappointing when you realize that the bosses are only menacing superficially...
Audio: The soundtrack is *bleep*ing excellent. Each of the tunes are not only catchy and memorable, but they're also quite ambient. They manage to set the right moods while providing something you wouldn't mind putting in your CD player... with the exception of the boss track. Yeah, it provides a steady ambience, but good god, does it get annoying with time... it's short and repetitious, yet composed in a way that should've been given an extra half a minute. Other than that, the soundtrack kicks serious ass. Oh, and if the grim reaper's expression didn't do you in, the music will. That's all I'll say... what, I heard you all like surprises!
Replay Value: There isn't much that'll keep you playing... except to get the best ending! What that requires is for you to get all of the upgrades and shit like that. That seems awesome, but this will take a long time... remember, a lot of stuff in this game costs a lot of money, and you don't get a lot from individual enemies. Thank god for password saves!
Overall: Kid Icarus is a good game. It was pretty innovative for its time, and also hosted some interesting level designs. Unfortunately, the Eggplant Wizard, crappy anticlimactic bosses and slight emphasis on grinding for items and upgrades really bogs this game down. I know many retro gamers love this game, and to be fair, I did at some stage myself, but when I review a game, I have to be critical, and to be honest, this game is merely good. It was ahead of its time, but some things could've been a lot better. Oh well. There's always Kid Icarus: Uprising to look forward to.
Replay Value: 6/10
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