Heaven's missing an Angel.
I will be the first to admit the catharsis of excitement I felt when I heard Nintendo was revisiting Kid Icarus for the Nintendo 3DS. Our angelic boy protagonist Pit is back, and this time he’s letting out all his teenage angst. Fans of the angelic teen have had to wait patiently for his return; the last Kid Icarus release being Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters on the Gameboy way back in 1991. But harken back even further to the hey-day of the 8-bit NES and we take flight with the original, sandal-donning soldier angel, Pit.
The plot, as with many games of this generation, wasn’t revealed in the game itself but in the instruction booklet. The kingdom of Angel Land (yes, that is what they came up with) is under the rule of the goddess Palutena, the ever graceful and gentle Queen of Light. As it usually goes in Greek Mythology, someone has to piss off the divine ruler with some evil antics. The dark goddess Medusa decides to keep herself entertained by terrorising the human race by drying up their crops and turning them all into stone, enraging Palutena who decides that Medusa could do with a few eons in the Underworld with a head full of snakes to keep her company. But Medusa, now a hideous abomination, conspires with the monsters of the underworld to exact revenge upon the heavens and catches Palutena with a surprise attack, stealing the three sacred treasures – the Light Arrows, the Mirror Shield and the Wings of Pegasus. These are the items that Pit needs to slay the evil snake-haired, wench once and for all.
Pit begins outside of his cell in the underworld, having just escaped and armed with only his trusty bow and an endless quiver of arrows. He must climb his way out of the underworld, over the surface and into the heavens and collect the sacred treasures from the clutches of three of Medusa’s cronies before sticking it to the Dark Queen. It shall be a long and perilous journey, with a few weird moments along the way.
What weird and wonderful inclusions defined Kid Icarus? Not just your typical Grecian feathered harpies, fire-breathing hell hounds and Grim Reapers, this game had flying noses resembling Groucho Marx, credit cards to unlock essential purchases and of course, the notorious eggplant wizards. Many of these strange inclusions were later attributed to the development team deciding to take the game less seriously and just having fun. The aforementioned ‘specknose’ enemy character was actually a parody of the rather large nose of Hirokazu Tanaka, the game’s composer and sound designer. The theme song to this game was some of his finest work.
Soaring Into The Heavens
Gameplay was of that of a typical scrolling platformer, nothing new at the time but this action adventure game was one of the first to scroll upwards. The seemingly never ending stages would climb ever further and if you made a mistake – game over. Unless of course you were smart enough to buy a feather from one of the game’s quirky vendors, which would hover you back to safety, once. The difficulty in the early stages of Kid Icarus were its biggest criticism, so many tiny platforms (often moving or covered in ice) and always so much void below, ready to engulf you once you made that one directional mistake on the D-pad control. To add insult, some platforms were soft (e.g. clouds) and if you touched the down direction on the D-pad you would fall straight through it. Frustration was clearly a big part of gameplay in this generation.
I honestly can not remember what I found the most frustrating, falling through the clouds or getting hit by the flying eggplants for the twentieth time and having to back track through the fortress to the nurse station.
I honestly can not remember what I found the most frustrating, falling through the clouds or getting hit by the flying eggplants for the twentieth time and having to back track through the fortress to the nurse station. But I do remember the one saving grace of these ‘silver pack’ Nintendo games – being able to save progress. Not in the form of memory mind you, that kind of special technology was reserved for special adventure games like The Legend of Zelda. Silver pack games saved their progress with a 24 digit alpha-numeric password, after which you ran out of lives or quit your session you would have to write it down. A botched scribble or a family member cleaning up the mess of papers scattered across the coffee table would spell certain doom to your progress through Angel Land and prompt a fresh restart.
Although this game never became one of Nintendo’s driving forces to the tune of Zelda or Metroid, Kid Icarus has nonetheless achieved a cult following after selling over 1.76 million copies worldwide. It was never a perfect game, but it demanded a lot from the player and perseverance was rewarded. Developers were not as afraid to step outside the box back in those days, as long as the game was released on time the bosses were happy and the developers got their bonuses. Is Kid Icarus a relevant game today or just more nonsensical nostalgia? If you can handle the first four levels of this game, you will know the answer.
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