Friday, October 22, 2010

NES Month: Kid Icarus

Kid Icarus
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Developer: Nintendo/TOSE
  • Platforms/Release:
    • NES: February 1987
    • Wii (DLC): February 2007
  • Genre: Action
  • Rarity/Cost:
    • NES: Moderate (US$10-20)
    • Wii: N/A (US $5)
Kid Icarus is a cult classic.  Why do I say this?  A good indicator of this sort of thing is the length of time between sequels.  Kid Icarus got one for the Game Boy in 1991, and then nothing for twenty years, with a new game scheduled to launch with the Nintendo 3DS.  Let me reiterate that: twenty years.  So quit complaining about Half-Life 3, mmmkay?  But the question is, does Kid Icarus deserve this much fan attention?  Well, that's the purpose of the Strawberry Dragon Project: to ignore the hype and get the true story.

Speaking of story, you play as Pit - note that he's not named Kid Icarus - an angel-like lad who must break out of the underworld and rescue the goddess Palutena and bring peace to Angel Land by defeating her enemy Medusa.  Yes, princesses are so 1985; in this game, you get to rescue a freaking goddess.  Armed with a bow and infinite arrows, Pit must gather three treasures from three dungeons before making the final assault on Medusa.  Your quest is indeed an arduous one, and although you have unlimited continues, you re-start with the stats and equipment you had when you entered the level, losing what you earned during your last attempt.  If you have to end your session, your progress must be retrieved through a 24-character password, just like in the cartridge versions of Metroid.  In Japan, this game, along with Metroid and Zelda, was released in 1986 for the Famicom Disk System, which allowed data to be saved on the game disk.  But the FDS wasn't released outside of Japan, and Zelda was the only title out of the three to have a built-in save feature for the cartridge version.  It's a little better on the Virtual Console version, since you get temporary saves in addition to the password system.

Pay attention to your limitations.1
This game borrows elements from such classics as Metroid, The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Bros., and role-playing games.  It plays like a standard platformer, and you defend yourself by shooting arrows that disappear after flying a fraction of the way across the screen.  You'll have to get used to the range of your arrows, as well as the jumping mechanics, in order to survive.  Enemies leave behind hearts when shot, but they don't restore health - as much as you wish they would - instead, they serve as currency, like in the Castlevania series.  You'll have to spend some serious time grinding for hearts in order to save up for power-ups, and build up experience points to earn strength and max health upgrades.  Unfortunately, you never get to see how many experience points - the kind you need to have in order to get strength upgrades - but keep grinding, don't take damage, and don't miss shots, and you'll be fine.

Your quest will take you through three worlds, each with three overworld levels and a dungeon.  The levels in the first and third worlds scroll up instead of to the right, something which has become a trademark of Kid Icarus, whereas the second world scrolls to the right as normally.  Like in Super Mario Bros., you can't go backwards, which presents a problem in the vertical-scrolling levels in that you'll always have bottomless pits to deal with.  Tricky, to be sure, but the dungeons are a whole other kind of mother.  These are giant mazes where you must find and defeat the boss, and you'll have to take the long way around to get there.  You'll also have to deal with new kinds of enemies in these levels - including the Eggplant Wizards.  These beasts lob eggplants at you, and if Pit gets hit by one, he turns into a walking eggplant and cannot attack until you take him to a nurse somewhere in the maze and to get the curse removed.  (Non-profane) words cannot describe how much I hate them.  There's even a spot in the third and final dungeon - in the first room after the entrance, no less! - where the wizards might hit you before you even get a chance to drop down to fight or evade them.  And if you go to the nurse, you're forced to go through that section again!  This tripped me up so much, I had considered quitting the game for a while, but luckily I was able to push through.  But still... quality control, please?

Eggplant Wizards.  Just... don't get me started.1
Your payoff for slogging through it all is a fun shoot-em-up level, at the end of which you get to fight Medusa (or the game's visualization of such), and then there's the ending.  There are multiple endings, which differ depending on your hearts, stats, and equipment.  Don't bother trying to get the best ending on your first run through, since your stats will carry over when you loop back to the first level, in a sort of "new game plus" feature.  Besides, the endings are way similar, and there's nothing necessarily profound in any of them.  This game is more about the journey, and finally beating each level is its own reward.  If you absolutely have to have some other sort of motivation, then this game is not for you.  Fortunately for everyone else who can handle it, the gameplay is solid enough to warrant a try.  Don't blame me if you get hooked on the challenge.

Control: 4 eggplants out of 5
Design: 3 eggplants out of 5
Graphics: 4 eggplants out of 5
Sound: 4 eggplants out of 5
The Call: 75% (B-)

1"Kid Icarus- NES Screenshots".  MobyGameshttp://www.mobygames.com/game/nes/kid-icarus/screenshots.

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