Kid Icarus is a diverse adventure that on paper looks good and fun, but in practice it quickly gets more difficult than enjoyable. It’s one of the few games that gets easier as you get further into the game as you upgrade. You first start out with vertical levels, which on paper seems easy enough, but the catch is that these levels do not scroll down, so anything below the screen is a death pit. During the early portion of the first level, platforms are thick enough so there’s less danger, but by the end, there are plenty of jumps to narrow platforms. These can make the game frustrating in the early parts. As the game progresses, you’ll visit labyrinthine palaces and horizontal scrolling levels without nearly as many death pits.
Speaking of death pits, you play as a character named Pit, not Kid Icarus, but it’s really whichever you prefer. I assume you’re named Pit, because you’ve been sent to the pits of Hades and need to climb your way out via platforming. Your ultimate goal is to work your way to the heavens to defeat Medusa to save the goddess (not princess) Palutena. Pit has wings, but cannot fly, or at least in the early parts of the game.
You start with a weak, short range bow to shoot enemies in three directions including up. Throughout the adventure, you’ll discover enchanted items like flaming arrows, a sacred bow for long range arrows and a crystal wand for protective orbs. In time you’ll earn upgrades to your bows and discover more useful items. To make the journey more palatable, you have a good amount of health, and you’ll keep upgrading it to take more damage.
The game is broken into three major sections with three levels for each section followed by a labyrinth to cap it off complete with a boss fight. These labyrinths are stacks of single screen rooms. They’re so big you’ll find a map, a torch to see where you are on the map and a pencil to mark where you’ve been. It’s an extra layer of complexity that makes the game feel like more of an adventure.
The vertical levels make good use of terrain. There are clouds, pillars, columns, and stone platforms hovering in a decrepit landscape. Leaving through the right side of the screen will put you on the left side and vice versa. It’s a forgotten element to the original NES that newer consoles don’t make use of.
The first three bosses consist of Twinbellows (the Cerberus), Hewdraw (the one headed hydra), and lastly Pandora. Defeating each boss will give you a unique treasure that will help you defeat Medusa. These three sacred treasures are the arrow of light, the mirror shield and the wings of pegasus. With all three bosses defeated, Pit will be able to fly through the final level. It adds more diversity to a game that already has so much.
The game includes a bit of Greek mythology in name only if you couldn’t tell with Icarus and Medusa. There’s a cameo from Zeus who will grant you more powerful arrows if you’ve earned them. There are several grim reapers that stalk around on patrol for Pit and they’ll summon minions to swirl after him once he’s spotted. Like all games, it will take liberties and uses its own creativity. Palutena was probably meant to be Athena or more accurately Venus.
On your ascent, you’ll encounter a memorable cast of unique creatures. Things like harpies, Centaurs, specnoses, mono eyes (that aren’t cyclops), the grim reaper and more. Most enemies are so unique and attack you at tough angles that feel more a kin to space shooters. Many flying enemies will come at you in chains and snake around the screen. Eggplant wizards are only in the labyrinths and if their eggplant projectiles touch Pit, he’ll turn into a walking eggplant. From here you cannot attack and you’ll need to find a nurse to remove the curse.
As you trek through the land, you’ll discover several doorways. Some doorways lead to literally nothing, while others put you in enemy dens full of foes, treasure rooms where you’ll need to collect treasures in the correct order, hot springs to restore health, you’ll find expensive shops and black markets to sell you expensive things. Once you exit each room, the door is sealed shut.
The currency of the game is hearts. Lesser creatures grant you small hearts, medium enemies have larger half hearts and big enemies drop big hearts. I say big, when the reality is you probably have to go digging for them if this were realistic. Then again, if this had any realism, Pit wouldn’t be able to leap twice his height.
For all my complaints about death pits, there are angel feathers to purchase that will save you from falling past the bottom of the screen. While Pit has plenty of health, there are chalices to restore him to full health. Collecting a harp will turn each enemy into a hammer. These hammers are used in the labyrinths to break open soldiers turned to statues. The soldiers will then help you ladder on the bosses. As much as these items all sound good, if they’re available for purchase, it’s tough to get the hearts. So you’ll want the credit card. Yes Kid Icarus can get a credit card for large purchases.
One of the best facets to Kid Icarus is how often the color palettes and sceneries change. Since the game starts out with a black background, the game makes good use of purple rocks and blue huess in the second level. Once you reach the second series of levels that make up the over world, you’ll trek across more typical blue skies on your way to defeat Medusa.
The soundtrack is energetic and enjoyable. Everything you’ll need for a grand adventure scaling the darkest depths. Something I always found strange about Kid Icarus is its musical use of Yankee Doodle Boy during the over world level theme. It’s so striking and I wonder if anyone else noticed the ditty among the song. One of the songs sounds like it would fit in quite well with Balloon Fight. Other songs like those of the labyrinth and boss fights sound more sinister. Even an angry grim reaper gets its own theme.
Pit has quite an adventure, even if it’s linear and straight forward for the most part. It’s a good game, it just has a terrible design choice of so many death pits that cause a brutal difficulty curve when you start out. Many players will never see the game open up and expand to how truly good it is.