Saturday, February 17, 2007

Kid Icarus - Review

I guess since I just played through Kid Icarus, I may as well put up a review of it. It was also recently released on the virtual console (which is a reason I was playing it), so my four or so readers may be wondering if it is worth getting for the virtual console.

Kid Icarus was released along with Metroid for the NES and it seems they were intended to be sister games. They both came in similar packaging, they both allowed you to resume your game where you left off (by password in the US, by saving on the Famicom Disk System that they original came out on), and they were both designed by Gunpei Yokoi (who would later go on to create the Game Boy and Virtual Boy). While Metroid introduced more revolutionary ideas like open-ended exploration and showing players areas they could not reach until they found a new item, Kid Icarus stuck a little closer to the platformer roots, but attempted to add a little more story and characterization with items that could be found and used along the way.

In Kid Icarus, you control the warrior Pit, a loyal servant to the Goddess Palutena. Palutena is kidnapped by Medusa and imprisoned in the Sky Tower. Pit escapes from his underworld prison and must traverse through the underworld, overworld, and skyworld to reclaim the three sacred treasures and becomes strong enough to take on Medusa. This plot is all from memory, so it may be slightly inaccurate. One of the interesting things attempted by Kid Icarus is story through gameplay. While some games had taken the approach of having characters talk to you between levels or otherwise in between action, in Kid Icarus, you see the story unfolding as you progress through the levels. Let me quote from alexb on the forums:

When the game starts, Pit has just broken out a prison at the bottom of the Underworld. So you make your way through three vertically-oriented stages. In the first level, everything's very dead and brown, but as you progress through these early levels, the surroundings gradually become more verdant, showing that you're getting closer to sunlight and the overworld.

After you beat the first fortress, you find yourself finally in the overworld, in a bright day scene. In contrast to the climbing underworld levels, these next three levels are completely horizontal. They're also longer, suggesting that you're traveling a very long distance. In fact, over the course of these three levels, the sky changes from day to night. The enemies here give you a lot more money than they did in the underworld and the rooms where you can receive upgrades are also more numerous. Now that Pit's broken out of prison, he's regrouping, regaining his strength. Reaching the end of the overworld, you've got another dungeon.

And then the sky, another set of vertically oriented levels. As you continue up, there are more and more Greek-style buildings, suggesting you're travelling back into Angel Land and nearing the Sky Palace. After taking out the final dungeon, you finally get the Sacred Treasures and become an armored, flying badass. This last level is basically a set piece level, one of the earliest I know of. You totally obliterate all opposition with your new toys. You then make short work of Medusa, and, depending on how well you played, are rewarded accordingly by Parthena, the goddess you've been fighting to save.

The gameplay of Kid Icarus is a platformer with some twists. It was the first NES game (well, again, concurrent with Metroid) to scroll veritically upwards. Basically, you move and jump to get to the top of the screen. The jumping in Kid Icarus takes a little getting used to. You don't have nearly as much in air control of your jumps as in typical platformers. Also, you have momentum, so you will take a step or two forward when you land. Pit is equipped with a bow and arrows with which he shoots enemies. You have a health bar and lose health by getting hit by enemies or certain environental hazards. Throughout the levels, you will find various chambers you can enter that may hold shops, treasure rooms, enemy rooms, and more.

Kid Icarus was one of the first platformers to have an inventory system and some RPG elements. You can collect bottles of life that will automatically restore a bar of your health if it goes to zero. You can collect feathers that will give you a short period of flight if you fall to the bottom of the screen. You generally get these items by buying them in the shops you come across throughout the levels. The currency in Angel Land is hearts, which are dropped by defeated enemies. The RPG elements comes into play because the game keeps track of how many and what types of enemies you have killed and if you do enough, you get health upgrades at the end of levels or can upgrade your arrow strength in certain rooms.

Most of the game takes place in scrolling levels, that scroll upwards in worlds 1 and 3 and horizontally in world 2. These levels are typical platforming affairs which you do while avoiding enemies that come at you. At first, you only face a few different types of enemies, but the variety gets much greater as the game goes on. The signature major enemies you face in world 1 are the grim reapers. These guys (possibly your jailors?) take many hits to kill and if they see you, they freak out and send the reapettes after you.

At the end of each world is a fortress. These are labyrinths of individuals rooms that take up the entire screen and do not scroll. You can pick up a map to help you find yourself through them, although you will have to purchase the torch and the pencil from the shopkeepers to make good use of it. Fortresses generally feature completely different enemies from the levels. The marquee enemy in the fortresses (besides the boss in the final room) is the eggplant wizard. These enemies are big and tough like the grim reapers. These guys fling eggplants from their staves and if you are hit, you turn into an eggplant with legs. You cannot fight while an eggplant, only run around and so you must seek out a nurse who can cure your condition. In the fortresses, you can also use the mallets you have acquired during your journey to free the centurions trapped in stone around the fortress. These centurions then come and help you during the boss battle.

Kid Icarus has quite a charming art style. It is more or less taken from Greek mythology, but a decidedly Japanese video game take on Greek mythology. The characters are certainly all present in Greek mythology, but their stories are completely ignored so as to basically mash them all up in one game. There is quite a bit of attention to detail in the background graphics of each level, plenty of which serves no practical purpose but to set the mood. While the sprites aren't as detailed as in later NES games, each one does have plenty of details, such as faces with expressions or other quirks. The metroids in world 3 are a nice touch.

The sound in this game is polarizing to many. All music was composed by Hip Tanaka who is well known for his Metroid tunes. Kid Icarus music is more experimental. There are some very interesting harmonies in the music and it is often chromatic. All that said, a lot of the sound is very high-pitched. Sometimes annoyingly so. Until a few days ago, I had forgotten how the title theme (which I love as a theme) is incredibly high-pitched in this game (which I don't love so much). If your ears are sensitive, this game can make you want to stab an ice pick into them.

Kid Icarus is good. It isn't great, and it isn't a game I would say every person who owns a NES should have. It is at least as good as the original Metroid and has stood the test of time better. I'll grant that I like my platformers to be challenging and Kid Icarus certainly lives up (though once you pass the first fortress, it becomes a lot easier). Kid Icarus shows the evolution of platformers and is interesting for that alone. Fortuantely, it is also a good game.

Rating: 7 / 10

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