Kid Icarus

Publisher: Nintendo
Year: 1987
Genre: Platform, Adventure, Top-Scroll

As a child, I spent many an hour perusing D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths, reading again and again the legends of tragic heroes such as Theseus, Achilles and Icarus. The moral of every Greek myth has always been, “No matter how awesome you are, you only need to fuck up once to ruin it all.” Kid Icarus? Pretty much the same lesson.

I have nothing negative to say about this title screen.
Wrapped in a gorgeous title screen like most Greek myths.

In Kid Icarus, you take the role of Pit, a young angel warrior who used to be the captain of the goddess Palutena’s bodyguard. She’s been kidnapped by Medusa, so odds are you weren’t very good at your job.

And you will feel like you are one tiny angel fighting against an entire army of the underworld, because Kid Icarus is hard.

Expect to see this spot a lot, because this is where you'll either give up out of frustration, or where the game will really click for you.
Expect to see this spot a lot; here you’ll either give up out of frustration, or the game will really click for you.

Controls in Kid Icarus are pretty standard Nintendo fare with a few twists. You can move left and right, jump and shoot your bow and arrow (which you can even fire upward). Kid Icarus has some momentum to his movement, which is made worse in the parts where icy platforms are featured. Small quirks of movement abound – if you bump your head as part of a jump, Kid Ic. will stutter mid jump; looking up slows your momentum; some platforms can be jumped through while others cannot; and, where a platform CAN be jumped through, ducking drops through them. Falling off the bottom of the screen means instant death unless you have a feather, in which case you get to fly back up.

Swarms of evil noses!
Swarms of evil noses!

Everything I just mentioned? The game will use against you, and it’s clear that this was the intent. There are platform puzzles that involve jumping onto very small (or moving) platforms. Ducking will seem most advantageous when you’re on a platform that you can drop right through (into an abyss below). Low ceilings will be placed strategically to make you fall. Enemies will zero in on you from both above and below. Sometimes, they’ll literally spawn beneath your feet. The game will do everything in its power to kill you unfairly.

Well done indeed!
Well done indeed!

“Surely,” you might be thinking to yourself, “this means he will give this game an ugly one-star rating.” That, my friend, is where you would be wrong. Kid Icarus is one of those rare Nintendo Hard gems where the perfect storm of high difficulty leads to a sense of satisfaction unique to games where you legitimately earn everything you get.

If you stick with it, you’ll start to find yourself using the game’s advantageous quirks against it. No more than 4 snakes spawn at any given time, and snakes don’t drop while there are still some from your last batch of 4, so you’ll start to avoid killing snakes in rooms with snake pots (or you’ll exploit the endless spawning of snakes to farm hearts). Some enemies have attack patterns that can be interrupted by just not stopping for them, avoiding them completely. Mercy invincibility becomes a resource, giving you the opportunity to move through entire groups of enemies without taking further damage.

Here's a treasure room to get your started.
Here’s a treasure room to get your started.

Eventually, you’ll start collecting your own list of tricks. “Only the bottom half of the Reaper damages you,” you’ll note, jumping straight through his stupid Reaper face. “Flying enemies don’t loop around the screen.” “The monster lair monsters always move in predictable patterns.” You start taking notes on the arrangement and position of treasures in the treasure room, looking for patterns. You don’t just play the game – you fight it, tooth and nail, until you are able to pry victory from its jaws.

And when you finally do – when you hit Medusa with the last arrow, sending her back to the Underworld from whence she came – you will know that it was you who accomplished this. You didn’t rely on luck, or simply muddle through the game as best you could: you achieved a zen state where you instinctively applied all you had learned through your many, many trials.

Of course, the game also has multiple endings based on “how skillful you have been.” So you’ve got that to look forward to as well.

John’s Rating: 4.5 out of 5. Kid Icarus is hard, which is precisely what makes it so incredibly satisfying to make incremental progress, especially when you know you didn’t pass a point in the game because of luck – you have genuinely mastered that step of the game, and will be able to pass it every time from here on out.

My body is ready...
My body is ready…

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