One kid, one fortress, and one big adventure awaits!
To Beat: Reach the ending
To Complete: Beat the game on Unfair difficulty
My Goal: Beat the game on Normal difficulty
What I Did: Beat the game on Normal difficulty
Played: 6/11/16 – 6/13/16
My Difficulty: 6/10
The homebrew scene for the NES seems to be one of the largest and most active of all older consoles. The NES is an intriguing intersection of both complexity and simplicity, representing a relatively low barrier of entry for anyone willing to learn the ins and outs of assembly language, limited pixel graphics, and the NES sound chip. There are dozens of existing game releases and a large number of projects in various states of completion. It’s exciting to see new releases on a console that I enjoy. Picking a game to start off this section was pretty straightforward. Battle Kid: Fortress of Peril was the first homebrew game that grabbed my attention enough to buy a cart, and it remains one of the quintessential experiences on the NES.
Battle Kid: Fortress of Peril was released in early 2010. The game was almost entirely created by a single developer known as Sivak. He tells the story on his website, but I’ll note a few highlights. Development started in 2008 after Sivak created three smaller NES games. This was the first major platformer game released on the NES in almost 15 years, and it is quite a lengthy game with a lot of content. Sivak would go on to make a sequel that came out in late 2012. I own and have beaten that game as well so I will be covering it sometime in the future.
Battle Kid: Fortress of Peril is an action platformer game. You play the role of Timmy as he invades a huge fortress in order to stop the creation of a Supermech weapon. I have heard the game compared to a mix of both Mega Man and Metroid, and I think that is a pretty good way to start the conversation. Timmy is equipped with a basic forward shot that is reminiscent of Mega Man’s normal weapon, and he also has little to no inertia in his movement which is another quality of Mega Man. Timmy does not gain the abilities of the bosses he defeats, but he will collect various items that will enhance his skills in order to navigate the fortress. This is where the game resembles a Metroid-style adventure. Each collected item gives you more skills in which to battle and avoid enemies, but it also lets you reach certain areas otherwise inaccessible. The fortress is open-ended and you can explore as much as you are allowed to do with your current equipment.
The controls are very simple. You can move left and right, shoot with the B button, and jump with the A button. The game is very easy to control and you can move Timmy exactly how you want. There are also unlimited shots but only three of them can be on the screen at one time.
The game plays out through this large fortress of many interconnected rooms. There is no scrolling in this game but Timmy moves seamlessly from one screen to the next. Each screen is its own tiny self contained challenge. There are only one or two enemy types per room, but they are introduced gradually and they are often combined in interesting ways that present a good challenge. Some rooms have no enemies and act as platforming challenges.
Battle Kid has a flow to it that is worked throughout the entire game. Timmy will need to cross through roughly 10 to 15 screens at a time with checkpoints in between. You can save your progress here if you choose to activate the continue point. After clearing several sections, there will be a boss encounter. These are typically large characters that have several different attack patterns that you will need to learn well enough to win the fight. These boss battles either open up a new path forward or they lead to a new ability for Timmy. There are six bosses scattered throughout the fortress that must be beaten to unlock the final area. Sometimes the path to the next boss is not always clear, so you must search out a way forward with your current equipment.
There are a total of six upgrades to find in the fortress. The Coordinate Display item shows the coordinates of your current position in the game. There is no map feature in Battle Kid but this item helps identify where you are located in the fortress. The Feather Fall item slows down your falling speed by holding Up while in the air. The Infinite O2 upgrade gives you unlimited breathing capability while underwater. There is a High Jump and a Double Jump to find. Finally there is the Damage Amplifier which lets shots deal double damage. This item is available from the beginning on Easy difficulty but can also be optionally found in the fortress in all other difficulties.
In addition to the upgrades, there are keys to collect. Keys are permanent collectibles that let you destroy key blocks matching the type of key. Most often, the key blocks are barriers that block off various areas of the game map. Sometimes the key blocks are used in clever ways to add to the challenge of some of the rooms.
There are five different difficulty settings in Battle Kid. Easy starts you off with the Damage Amplifier while Normal difficulty does not. Both settings allow for unlimited continues as well as a password system so you can continue your adventure later. The other three settings give you a limited number of continues and no passwords, so you must clear the whole game at one time. Hard difficulty gives 50 continues, Very Hard gives 20 continues, and Unfair has no continues at all.
The number of continues may sound generous, but in reality it is quite limiting. That is because Timmy only has one life and he dies immediately when damaged by anything. So really fifty continues is just fifty lives. Those long stretches between checkpoints become pretty challenging when you need to get through completely unscathed, and the bosses are bullet sponges which make for long, grueling battles. The game map itself is quite large spanning over 550 total rooms, so there is a lot of ground to cover in the game and every continue matters in the higher difficulties.
As mentioned in the introduction, Battle Kid was the first homebrew NES game I bought, and it would be the only one I would own for a couple of years. I was enamored with the game from the moment I started playing it. Back in 2010, I had a lot more time for gaming so I decided to beat the game for the first time on the Hard setting. That meant restarting the game all over after the 50 continue allotment and making incremental progress every new attempt. Now that I think about it, I am not actually sure I accomplished that. I think I stalled out toward progress at the end of the game and ended up clearing it on Normal difficulty first after working at it for a few weeks. I did keep playing and beat the game on Hard not long after that. The neat thing about the difficulty settings is that there are passwords given after the ending for bonus content depending on the chosen difficulty, so there is reason to keep trying for lower death runs after beating the game.
Now in 2016, it has been roughly five years since I last put serious time into playing Battle Kid, and if my current run was any indication, then I have some work to do if I ever want to get back to the level of play I was at back then. The levels and challenges were very familiar and I picked back up on it much more quickly than if I were playing it completely blind, but I feel I died way too many times considering all that. There is no tracking on Normal difficulty, but I estimate I died somewhere around 150 to 200 times trying to clear the game again. It also took me three straight nights to beat the game, so I am thankful for the password system! I know I have so many other games in front of me, but I would love to put in the time to clear it on Hard and Very Hard. It’s the kind of game you want to go back and play again just to speed through it in style.
Battle Kid is still on sale at RetroUSB and it is worth every penny. I own the original 1.0 release but the version for sale is the updated 1.1 version and that appears to be the final version of the game. It includes a few tweaks and bug fixes as well as an additional 10-room demo not available in the previous version. Once you have purchased the game and played it to your satisfaction, then you can check out the developer commentary and full walkthrough. Then play the game again and try to improve!
I know that I am gushing just a little bit, but Battle Kid is truly a well made platformer game and I maintain it is one of the best experiences on the NES. The game is a stiff but fair challenge and the level design is top-notch. I didn’t even mention the music, but there are bunch of great songs and sound effects to accompany you on your adventure. I am glad there are games that continue to be made on the NES and I can only hope that the homebrew scene is going to keep getting better and better so that we can play more games like Battle Kid.