As long as you don’t fly into the sun, you will probably enjoy this game!
To Beat: Reach the ending
To Complete: Get the best ending
My Goal: Complete the game
What I Did: Got the best ending
Played: 8/22/16 – 8/29/16
My Difficulty: 6/10
It’s always a good day whenever one of the classic NES titles comes up in my list! It can be a little rough around the edges at times, but Kid Icarus has a lot of neat ideas that come together well for a game this early in the library.
Kid Icarus was first released on the Famicom Disk System in Japan on December 19, 1986 under the name Hikari Shinwa Parutena no Kagami which translates to Myth of Light: The Mirror of Palutena. It was co-developed by Nintendo R&D1 and Tose with R&D1 handling the design and Tose handling the development work. The game took advantage of the expanded capabilities of the FDS by including more game content than what was previously done on cartridge, a save game feature, and enhanced audio. Kid Icarus was later ported to a cartridge for release in Europe in February 1987 and a few months later in North America in July 1987.
Kid Icarus received a sequel on Game Boy in North America in November 1991 and Europe in May 1992. Curiously it was not released in Japan until appearing on the Japanese 3DS Virtual Console. The gameplay is very similar to the NES version but it is an all new game. The series would then go into hibernation for over 20 years aside from seeing a Virtual Console release in 2007. The newest title in the series is named Kid Icarus Uprising released in 2012. In that same year the original game received a 3D Classics remake on the Nintendo 3DS.
Kid Icarus is a side-scrolling platform action game. You play as the angel Pit in his quest to save the goddess Palutena and Angel Land from the evil Medusa. The game takes place over four main areas: Underworld, Overworld, Skyworld, and the Palace in the Sky. The first three areas are comprised of four sections each and the final section is a fortress that plays differently than the rest of the game. The object is to recover one of the sacred treasures in each of the three fortresses and use all three of them for the final battle against Medusa.
The first thing you’ll notice when playing Kid Icarus is that play advances upward with vertical scrolling. This is one of the few early NES games to employ vertical scrolling like this as a main component of the game right from the start. Unfortunately the game only handles one-way scrolling upward, and if you happen to fall back down you will die regardless of what platforms you left behind. This is why Kid Icarus seems to be regarded as a difficult game because the early game platforming must be completed with minimal mistakes. The reasoning behind the vertical level is symbolic as Pit begins at the bottom of the Underworld and must ascend upward to reach the Overworld. Stage 2 switches to more traditional horizontal scrolling before going vertical again in the Skyworld. The overall idea here makes sense from a storytelling perspective but it tarnishes the initial impression of the gameplay experience.
One neat aspect about the vertical levels is that Pit can loop around the screen horizontally. You can leave the screen on the left and reappear on the right, and vice versa. This leads to some interesting level design in a few places where you will need to take advantage of the looping mechanic to overcome some obstacles.
Pit can walk left and right and jump typical of a normal platformer game. He can fall through some thin flooring by pressing Down, which can sometimes lead to unintentional falling to your death. He can also shoot arrows from his bow to the left, right, and upward. Pit also has a health bar and he can take a few hits from enemies before defeat. The enemies tend to appear in groups though there are stray single enemies every once in awhile. When they are defeated they leave hearts behind and these are used as currency. Small hearts are worth one, large half hearts are worth five, and large full hearts are worth ten. Pit can hold up to 999 hearts and there are many items that can be found or purchased with these hearts. You can track just about all of the items on the subscreen that is displayed when the game is paused with the Start button.
There are several types of chambers that appear throughout the levels by way of open doors. Among the most common rooms are two different kinds of shops. The basic shop has items that are fairly priced. The mallet is the cheapest item and is a limited use subweapon that can be equipped by pressing Select during play. It is very strong but each mallet acquired only allows for a single swing before it is depleted. They have a special use in the end of level fortresses that I will cover later. The Water of Life chalice restores some health, and the Water of Life in a bottle will automatically deploy its health boost as soon as Pit runs out of energy. The Angel Feather lets Pit survive a fall off the bottom of the screen by initiating a brief period of flight to recover onto a ledge. These are very useful but are pretty expensive and therefore are not as easy to acquire when you really need one early in the game.
The other kind of shop is the Black Market. This shop is overpriced compared to the normal shop, but these are worth visiting in some situations. The Water Barrel item can only be purchased on the Black Market and it allows Pit to hold more than one Water of Life bottle at a time. If you don’t already have a Water of Life it gives you one for free, otherwise the one you are carrying gets saved in the barrel. There are also some other special items that show up here under special circumstances that I will also mention later.
There is a treasure room that contains eight pots each with a question mark on them. You can destroy a pot to reveal an item but it costs five hearts per pot. You may destroy as many pots as you want. Collecting a revealed treasure removes all the remaining pots but you can grab all the items you found. However one of the pots contains the God of Poverty and if you find him you lose all of the items and are booted from the chamber empty handed. If you break all the pots and leave the God of Poverty for last, the final pot instead contains a more substantial treasure. The bonus treasure can be an Angel Feather, a Water of Life Bottle, a Water Barrel, or the Credit Card. This is the only way in the game to obtain the Credit Card. You can use it in the Black Market to buy items that you cannot afford. Of course if you do so you will be in his debt and are unable to buy any more items until you pay off what you owe him.
Another type of room is the Sacred Training Chamber. A God in this room will summon a bunch of randomly moving enemies that look like floor tiles. The object here is simply to survive, and if you do so you are rewarded with your choice of one of three special weapons. The Fire Arrow adds a little fireball to the standard arrow that deals extra damage to an enemy. The Sacred Bow increases the range of Pit’s arrows. The Protective Crystal spawns two crystals that spin quickly around Pit and give him a way to easily defeat weak enemies up close. Over the course of the game you can acquire all three at once, however you cannot use them until you have enough health. There are some enemies in the game that will steal one of these weapons if they collide with Pit. You can recover the stolen weapons by buying them for very inflated prices in the Black Market, or you can earn it back by completing the training again in a later chamber.
The other three chambers you can encounter are more straightforward. The enemy lair contains a swarm of enemies that all drop big hearts for a quick money boost. The Strength Upgrade chamber contains a God that will give you a stronger arrow. There are five levels of arrow strength and you increase it by one for each God you find in this chamber. However, there are some special hidden requirements defined by how well you play that determine if you qualify for the upgrade at all. Finally there are hot springs that restore your health slowly just by relaxing inside!
To cap off the normal item list, sometimes in the levels you will find a harp that turns all of the enemies into mallets for a brief period. This is the easiest way to collect lots of mallets. You can also find the chalices here that restore health.
There is a scoring system in place as well. The score for the current level and the total cumulative score appear on the subscreen. You get points for defeating enemies, although the enemies inside the enemy lairs do not give any points at all. After each section is completed your points are added to the total score. Reaching specific point intervals here will trigger the message Power Up and Pit is awarded an increase to his maximum health. You begin the game with one segment of health and can get up to a maximum of five.
As mentioned above, the last section of the first three levels is a fortress that mixes up the formula of the game. The fortress is a non-linear maze that contains a boss hidden within. There are even more items here that assist in exploring the fortress. The check sheet is a blank map of the fortress that draws a grid on the subscreen. It must be found in a specific location in the fortress. The pencil can be bought in a shop and marks off each room on the check sheet that you enter for the first time. The torch must also be bought in a shop and it highlights the current room Pit is in. These items are helpful to show both where you are and where you have been so that you can narrow down where the boss is located.
There are a couple of interesting elements in the fortresses. There are statues scattered all around the fortress that can be broken with the mallet revealing a centurion. Each centurion saved here flies away for now but shows up later during the boss fight to aid Pit in the battle. On the flip side, there is an awful enemy type unique to the fortress called the eggplant wizard. They toss eggplants around that turn Pit into an eggplant himself should he be struck by one. While in eggplant form Pit is unable to fire arrows at all and it is a permanent state that leaves Pit defenseless. The goal from here is to find a nurse inside the fortress who will restore Pit back to normal at no cost. The eggplant wizards are often placed along the critical path to the boss and it is a huge hassle to go back and find the nurse.
When each fortress boss is defeated, one of the sacred treasures is left behind inside a treasure chest. When all three chests are collected all treasures are revealed and equipped for the final level and showdown against Medusa. Here the game switches play to an auto-scrolling shooter that is unique to this last area.
Just like Metroid before it, Kid Icarus was updated to include a password system for its NES cart release. The passwords are 24 characters long and comprised of many different characters. The long passwords allow a lot of information to be stored within them. When you continue your game with a password, it saves the level you last played, your heart balance, and all your items, weapons, and upgrades. Even though they are tedious to document and input, it works just as good as a save game and makes it much easier to slowly work though the game a stage or two at a time.
Kid Icarus was one of the titles I have held onto since childhood. I know that I spent some time with it growing up but I could never quite remember if I had played the game all the way through for myself. I definitely beat the game with a password taking me straight to the final level, but I imagine I pulled that out of Nintendo Power or a guidebook. As an adult I have picked it up casually a number of times and I always would stall out prior to the first fortress. The first level is quite difficult with the vertical layout combined with a lack of powerups and abilities for starting out. It took me a dedicated effort this time to finally mark it off as complete.
During my playthrough I really struggled to get through Level 1-3. I did not earn enough points in the first two levels to increase my health bar which really made things harder on myself. I also insisted on clearing the first Sacred Training Chamber since I didn’t how many opportunities I would have later on in the game. It was tough but I made it through after nearly a dozen attempts.
From the first fortress onward, the game eased up in difficulty considerably. In the fortresses all the enemies respawn any time you leave the room. I found an area near the boss that had a hot spring a few rooms away from a room full of enemies that left behind big hearts. Between those two rooms I maxed out on hearts plus I managed to earn enough points to max out the health bar at the end of Level 1. Having full health allowed the weapon I earned prior to kick in which also helped. I focused more on the platforming and I was able to beat the game without too much trouble. I would say the third fortress was the hardest challenge remaining and that took some practice with some of the eggplant wizard placements.
Once I completed the game, I decided to investigate how to get the best ending. I had collected everything except for the credit card and I was missing two strength upgrades. I figured that had something to do with it and it turns out my suspicions were mostly correct. Here is how the endings work. There are four separate goals to complete: Have the maximum health bar, have maximum strength, have all three special weapons, and have the maximum number of hearts. You get a different ending for how many of those goals are completed at the end of the game. I got the middle of the road ending by having all the health and all three special weapons. I would have had enough hearts had I not spent some on a Water of Life right before the third fortress boss, but I missed out on two of the strength upgrades and I couldn’t understand why I missed them.
The easiest way to get the best ending is to start a new game immediately after winning. You will restart at Level 1-1 with everything carried over from the end of the previous game. Since I already had found two of the strength upgrades the first time through I earned those again which put me at maximum strength. Then it was only a matter of making sure I had enough hearts before the final level to meet all the requirements.
Now this replay wasn’t exactly smooth sailing. Upon beating the game the first time, I killed myself off in Level 1-1 and saved my password to play later on. When I started up the next day and input my password, I began at Level 1-1 but I had lost all of my progress. It was the same as starting a brand new game. I thought that I had either messed up my password or the passwords don’t work on subsequent playthroughs. I found out there is a glitch in the game where it does not save your data on any password starting in Level 1-1. If I had gone on to at least Level 1-2 and took my password there, then the data would carry over. I suspect that when the game loads the first stage it always runs the code to initialize the game state even if the game is loaded from a saved password. I had actually started to replay the game from scratch for a little while before using my old password to resume at the start of the final level.
There are some interesting technical tidbits I think are fun to examine for a little while. Some fine folks have deconstructed the system by which you qualify to earn the strength upgrades. It really is based on how well you play. There is a hidden scoring system calculated behind the scenes in each stage and you need to earn a certain number of these “skill” points to trigger the god to appear in the Strength Upgrade Chamber. Some actions add skill points and others take away points. I won’t go into all of them. You earn points for things like defeating enemies, collecting hearts (but not when you are maxed out), buying an item, or just entering any chamber. You lose points for taking damage, shooting arrows, or breaking pots in the Treasure chamber. Typically all you need to do is take your time and kill many enemies and that will be enough to earn the upgrade.
The password system retains all of the data associated with a playthrough, but it also contains information that determines if the password is legitimate or not. The first 22 characters of the password translate to all of the data the game tracks between sessions. For instance, some of the characters relate to the saved score, some of the characters track how many hearts you have, and so on. The final two characters are called the checksum. Basically the game runs some kind of formula against the password and generates the checksum and adds it to the end of the password. Upon submitting a password on the continue screen, the game runs the same calculation and sees if the last two characters of the submitted password matches the checksum. The password is accepted if it matches and rejected if it doesn’t. Many of the more well-known passwords are not hard coded in the game but are just a byproduct of how the password system works.
The final tidbit I want to share is that the endings differ between the Japanese release and the US release. Not only are the endings a bit different but the way to get them is completely different. The ending calculation in the Japanese version is the number of health bar segments plus the number of strength upgrades minus the number of deaths in the game. This number determines which of the five endings is received. The best ending in the NES version is not present in the Japanese version. Instead of that ending, there is an even worse version of the bad ending that takes its place. The Japanese version does not allow you to replay the game with item carryover, so instead you would have to play near perfectly in one try to qualify for the best ending. The save system in the Disk System version was likely the driver behind the ending criteria. The method in the US version works better for me anyway!
Kid Icarus is one of those classic NES titles that I think belongs in any library. The graphics are not too bad and the music is pretty catchy. The controls are a little slippery at times but they perform well enough. The major thing going against it is the uneven difficulty curve. The game starts out challenging and gets easier the further you go. Too bad many people would likely give up before getting to some of the later parts of the game that are a lot of fun to play. I enjoyed the game a lot and I am glad that I can finally claim for certain that I have beaten this game!