The arrow of injustice has made this an overlooked classic.
In the video game world Nintendo built, it is filled with smash hit characters such as Mario, Link, Donkey Kong, and Samus Aran. Unfortunately, in this world where masses of gamers are gobbling up their products, other great characters and respective games are pushed to the wayside (and subpar offerings are also shoved aside, but perhaps that is for the better). Such was the case for the newcomer of 1986. He was young winged bow bearer named Pit, but perhaps he is better known by the title of his game: Kid Icarus! The game was not confined to any particular genre -- it was full of non-stop action, it was packed with adventure and dungeon-crawling; heck, it even had a bit of Gradius heart in it (side-scrolling shoot-em-up action, that is). Kid Icarus amalgamated all three of these genres admirably, but was sadly overshadowed by another recently released NES game by Nintendo: Metroid. But Kid Icarus certainly has a strong allegiance of fans around the world (as well as within the confines of the developer itself, as evidenced by the inclusion of Pit in the recent release of Super Smash Bros. Brawl for Wii). Let's try and figure out why...
Kid Icarus followed a storyline that seems to be pulled straight out of Greek mythology. The game takes place in Angel Land, where gods (or goddesses, supposedly) live amongst humans, maybe not necessarily in equality, but to a certain degree of respect and harmony. There's Palutena, the Goddess of Light, who aided the helpless peasants below in living a healthy and productive life, and Medusa, the Goddess of Darkness, whose goal was to hinder such prosperity with her magical wiles. However, Palutena doesn't seem to want to take much guff from Medusa, so she turned her into a hideous creature and stuffed her away in some deep and dingy region of the Greek netherworld. But before Medusa was banished, she used to powers to summon really annoying creatures to take over Palutena's kingdom, and also seized the Three Sacred Treasures. Palutena became a prisoner within her own lands and asked a young fellow, Pit, to snatch them up and save Angel Land. What a quest! I hope he's up to it.
For many casual gamers, Pit won't quite be up to the challenge. The first thing players need to be aware of is the fact that Kid Icarus is a difficult game. There's no cakewalking it in here; you're going to be barraged by a constant flood of enemies (sometimes even just popping out of nowhere, which can be irritating). So don't ever be overconfident as you traverse the ten "different" levels of the game. And I place the term "different" in quotation marks because there is actually a heavy reliance on repetition in this game. For Levels 1-1 to 1-3 and 3-1 to 3-3, the game is a vertical platformer, where you basically try to make your way to the top of the seemingly everlasting level by climbing various platforms and destroy or avoid enemies in the process without falling into the abyss below or losing all of your life energy. Yes, falling off screen causes death, even though Pit has wings. I guess they are fakes. You'll encounter a variety of strange indeterminate underworld enemies there, including the now legendary Grim Reaper character. Upon making eye contact with this seemingly docile beast, he will go berserk and lure his goons to chase you around. He even gets his own theme song; that's gnarly. Levels 2-1 to 2-3 are similar, but in horizontal format (although creatures still pop up from underneath you, which means you REALLY need to watch your step). The game takes a change of pace with the last level of the first three worlds; they become more like dungeon crawlers where Pit can travel both horizontally and vertically through a maze of single-screen areas until they meet up with a boss fight. This aspect seems heavily borrowed from "The Legend of Zelda", and bears quite strong similarities in its general setup. In fact, it's a bit TOO similar, except for the fact that you can jump and shoot arrows (oh wait, Link's sword in TLoZ could also shoot... hmmm...) The final boss fights are much more epic and difficult, which means you may not be able to handle it alone. Thankfully, if you break statues in the level with a hammer (which I'll probably discuss later), you'll automatically receive backup from fellow angels in the battle. Three at a time will pop up until your supply runs dry, but one hit and they will easily fall. They help out a little bit, but end up being somewhat of a nuisance.
The very last level, which feels three times as long as it ought to be, takes a page from the books of side-scrolling shoot-em-ups. When Pit finally nabs the Three Sacred Treasures, he powers up and can finally put those useless wings to good use by flying. Pit will soar across a scrolling screen as enemies appear that need to be shot. The level is quite repetitious; you'll feel like you're doing the same thing three times in a row. After all that monotony, you'll arrive at the final boss: Medusa, in the form of a giant eye on a gooey wall -- a perfect specimen for a Neutrogena commercial. And just like all other bosses, it is an excruciatingly lengthy affair to defeat the ocular opponent. You are then treated to the conclusion of the game, which is both lame and confusing, especially when Palutena gives you some sort of power and you attain a spear and grow what appears to be a bushy mustache. Now you're ready for pornographic films, but still, it's unusual. Apparently, if you keep playing through the game over and over, you can be further strengthened, depending upon the power level of your bow and arrow which grows the more you play. Be sure to snag a password so you don't have to do it all over again! (That's right -- no saving, just really really long passwords. Poo.)
There are other special features in this game that I've failed to mention, and what better time to do so than right now! The first is the fact that Pit can hold an inventory! Yes, that's right -- Pit's packin'! Now this game is full of so many items that you'll really need to consult the instruction manual just to figure out what the function of all your random purchases are. For example, there's a barrel -- but there is no clear indication as to what its role is in the game. The manual will tell you, though! Apparently, "Pit can carry up to 8 water of life bottles if he has this barrel." Good to know. How come I keep having to buy a new barrel in each world? Why am I always stripped of my barrel? I want my barrel, dagnabbit! Another item is the pencil, which you can use to follow your path in the game's three dungeons on your map in the Inventory screen. Of course, the map lacks so much detail that you will have no idea where to go by looking at it, so it's a pretty futile effort to buy it. Save your money and buy hammers. These are just a couple of the many items that you can purchase at shops located throughout the game, often located inside various doors. But random doors (which I declare as another "special feature") don't always lead to just shopkeepers with elderly facial features! You might also find a random room with a bunch of bags to open -- keep opening them to find treasure, but if you open the one with the little Grim Reaper inside, you lose it all! Mwa ha ha! You might also find a harsh training session where a bunch of tiles fly at you out of nowhere; survive and win a prize! Or, upon going through the door, you might find nothing at all. Oh well.
The graphics are somewhat basic for its time. The sprites are decently impressive for the mid-80s; Pit looks pretty much what he ought to, although the enemies don't always follow suit. Be sure to consult your manual to see what you might be up against! The backgrounds often consist of just one colour, but sometimes contain other elements to give the game a slightly more dimensioned appearance. It could be improved, but back in 1986, these were considered to be "modern" graphic capability. Sound quality is also good for its time: the music is actually quite impressive and somewhat varied. The opening theme and first level theme lies amongst the most easily recognizable tunes among video game afficionados. Even the Grim Reaper gets his own off-key theme song! The sound effects are sufficient as well; Kid Icarus makes a funky squeak noise when hurt though, which is odd.
Kid Icarus was, as I mentioned earlier, overshadowed by more prominent NES releases at the time. However, it shouldn't have been as overlooked as it was, for the game is actually rich in gameplay and spirit. Though not the prettiest game to date, or filled with the most depth, there is enough to enjoy about Kid Icarus that most classic gaming fans would be privileged to play it. Granted, it has its faults, but that's typical of most games. Thankfully, Nintendo saw the light a while back and released the game on its Virtual Console for the Wii so that gamers in the new digital age can get a glimpse of fun gaming from the past. Kid Icarus is a solid platformer/shooter released during the first generation of NES releases, but it has aged well enough over time to become an NES classic that need not be ignored.