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Kid Icarus

1987 Nintendo



Another classic platformer from Nintendo, a good example of a side view action/adventure before such games became too formulaic. The story borrows heavily from various Greek myths (although the story isn't specific to any particular myth.) The hero is based on the son of Icarus, who fell to his death after flying too close to the sun with a pair of wax wings. The main villain is Medusa, who here seems to have been given evil goddess status. Other Greek Gods like Zeus and Uranos make guest appearances. The game is sort of like a mix between SMB and Zelda, the main point of the game is to simply get through the levels while collecting various power up items. The game has a mix of vertically and horizontally scrolling levels, with a dungeon at the end of each made up of multiple rooms.

Throughout each level are different "challenge rooms," where the Greek God Zeus puts you through a trial which you must complete to get a specific special item. These involve you dodging and shooting these flying mirrors and they're a lot harder than they look (although there are safe spots in these rooms.) Some of the rooms involve a guessing game where you have to smash open these mystery chests to get items while avoiding the chest with the unnamed "God of poverty," although if his chest is last it will give a special item instead. There are also the usual shops and such where you can buy items. The power ups involve stronger arrows, bottles for life potions (which are called the "water of life," the same as in Zelda for those who are keeping track,) fire arrows, a revolving shield, etc. The hunt for items adds another facet to the game, problem is if you mess it up and miss the room, that's it, the end, you miss the opportunity to get the item. And since the game is linear with no backtracking it's pretty tough to play through and get everything.

There are some good ideas here that we didn't usually see in games from this time. In the dungeons there are these petrified statues of winged centurions, which after you free them with a mallet they show up to help with the boss battle (although they're pretty useless, it's still a good idea to have backup. They do occasionally block a shot that otherwise would have hit you, kind of like the Secret Service.) There are enemies that don't just kill you but steal your items or turn you into eggplants. The Grim Reaper actually won't attack unless you're in his line of sight, thus it's possible to sneak past him. Small stuff, but this was during the time when bad guy A. I. in games involved walking back and forth and mindlessly colliding with you.

Problems - This is one of those games where you can't backtrack, so if you miss something by accident, it's gone, too late, get on with your life. This is particularly frustrating if you accidentally jump and the screen scrolls up and you end up missing a door entrance or item or something. In fact, sometimes if you're at the bottom of the screen on a platform, you can jump up so the platform is out of the screen, then if you land on the platform again it counts as you falling off the screen and you die. There are some areas where they seem to exploit this non-backtracking limitation. You can jump down from certain types of ground by ducking (like ice blocks) and there are some tricky areas where you instinctively do so to dodge a shot and accidentally fall to your death. They must have realized this problem as they even include a bonus "Feather" item that protects you from these falls. Why not just make the screen scroll backwards just a little bit so things like this can't happen? (Someone has brought it to my attention that at this early time when the game was made the ability to scroll backwards was not technically possible. Baloney, that's an excuse. They were able to do it in Metroid which came out roughly at the same time.)

The game is long enough to require a password, but short enough that an expert could finish it in one setting. Long levels, collectable items, unique, sometimes goofy enemies and multiple endings add to the replay value. The difficulty is such that you cannot just blow through the game, plus the challenge rooms need a lot of memorization and will probably require a few playthroughs until you're able to complete it with all the items. Overall it's thoroughly challenging and enjoyable.

Graphics: Nintendo graphics from this period tend to be full of characters with bug-eyes, and this one is no exception. The sprites look a little flat and blocky, but compare nicely to other games out at the same time. The foreground sprites are adequate, the backgrounds could use a little work.

Sound: The main theme is very happy and lighthearted, and very, very, very audibly addictive. Not kidding, you will hear it in your sleep. Pit has a weird little squeal whenever he gets hit, like a piglet getting a brand or something. Apparently in Japan this was a Disk system game and thus had much better sound effects than the cartridge version we got, but as they are they're adequate.

Gameplay: Very smooth scrolling and tight controls help the game to play well, although in the beginning levels the short range of your arrows and lack of any real offensive power makes it a little frustrating. Some of the characters are a little too tough, the Grim Reaper for instance seems to take like 15 shots before he dies. Later things improve once you're able to fight back decently.

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