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Kid Icarus

Year released: 1986
Company: Nintendo
Genre: Platformer

Talk to any NES fan about the classics Nintendo themselves made, and you're likely to get three answers:1 Mario, Zelda, and Metroid. Now, ask them what are the most popular settings for a video game, and you'll get three answers: the light-hearted fantasy land, the medieval kingdom, and outer space. Now, match each game with each setting. The point I'm making here (you mean there's a point to all this, Tim?) is that Kid Icarus could have added a new atmosphere to the standard rotation of video games. It could have introduced new plotlines, characters, and concepts to the NES fan. It could have, that is, if it didn't botch the opportunities it had to do so.

I review a lot of games that seem to be burgeoning with potential, but none so much as Kid Icarus. Just about every facet of the game seems poised to become one of the greats, but is missing crucial elements required to attain those heights. In some cases the programmers seemed unable to run with the trend, other times they completely dropped the ball.

The plot seems simple enough: a young Greek angel by the name of Pit is out to rescue Princess Patulena from the evil grips of Medusa. By itself, it sounds pretty pedestrian. Looking further into the storyline, however, shows a wealth of Greek mythology just begging to be exploited. They could've had enemies such as the Minotaur, Cyclops, Circe, Scylla and Charybdis, Arachne, Harpies, Griffins, you name it. Items could've been named after Greek gods. Heck, replace the name "Patulena" with "Hera" and all of a sudden you've got an epic on your hands! But alas, the designers of this game were much too thick-headed to come up with any of that. They even named the first boss Twinbellows, when Cerberus would've worked just as well and added that much more atmosphere to the game.

The technical elements are also not quite up to the "classic" level. The background is always either black or a very deep blue. Although I can tolerate the black backdrop, the blue is just too strong for me. The animation of some of the enemies is pretty nice; I like the way the reapers wig out when they see me. But for the most part, the enemies look relatively bland and unexciting. As for the music, this was another case of being almost terrific: Although the melodies themselves are quite good and have a distinctly heroic feel to them, they lack a good percussion track. There seems to be nothing holding the music up except these pitiful little clicks and bonks.

The only aspect of the game that seems to be well done is the play control. Granted, Pit's jumps are a little floaty, but by and large you shouldn't have too much trouble keeping his movement in check. Mercifully, you can shoot upwards, and maneuvering on narrow platforms is not too difficult (which is especially important for reasons explained below). The only real gripe is that you drop through some platforms if you crouch on them. It can be frustrating to instinctively duck under an enemy only to drop through the floor and off the screen.

Which leads me to the next major bungle performed by the programmers. The first level is vertical scrolling. Fine enough, until you discover that once you scroll past something, it won't scroll back down. Instead, if you try to go back down to whatever it is you were going for, you die. Plus you have narrow platforms to negotiate, enemies that can duck arrows, and only one bar of energy that can't be readily healed. And this is on the first level. Moreover, there are no checkpoints; if you die you have to go all the way back to the start of the level. The fortresses at the end of each level are somewhat more manageable, largely because there are hot springs in each one. But something even more irritating lies therein: the Eggplant Wizard. At least 5 rooms in each palace contains these abominations, which chuck their namesakes at you. If they hit you, you turn into an eggplant yourself, and are unable to fire arrows. Invariably, you'll be kicking tail and on your way to the boss, only to be cursed in the next-to-last room and have to retrace your steps - without any offensive capabilities, mind you - back to the Hospital to remove the condition, only to get pegged by eggplants once more when you return.

The advanced level of challenge will probably frustrate a lot of players out of seeing a whole campaign through. Although you will be inspired enough to take down passwords when you clear a level, at some point you'll probably become too irritated with the challenge level to bother completing the game and instead use one of the passwords available to skip right to the last level. The ending isn't too spectacular for the effort involved, either: The "Pit becomes a man" idea seems like a limp version of Metroid's time limit ending. Players might get a kick when they beat a boss, but in the end the lows outweigh the highs.

If Kid Icarus had been a little more fleshed out, we might have seen a lot more games with ancient Greece as the setting. But a combination of missed chances and frustrating gameplay leaves this game on the outside of the realm of eliteness, looking in.

1. Probably in that order, too.

Overall Ratings:

Play Control:
Technical Score: 13
Challenge: (Hard)
Thrill: (Frustrating)
Aesthetic Score: 15
Overall Score: 67%

You are now listening to the Opening Music to Kid Icarus.