I’m glad I never played Kid Icarus on the NES as a child. If I had, I probably would’ve grown frustrated immediately, and I would’ve felt like an absolute failure. No need for that when you’re but a small kid just barely getting into the coolest form of entertainment. But I’ve been around for 27 years, playing everything from great retro classics to absolutely repulsive old school titles. Kid Icarus falls somewhere in between.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some things to appreciate about the game. For starters, the Greek mythological setting and characters are a fine choice, especially given the time period of the game’s release. There’s also this constant sense of evil in the game. Mythology doesn’t mess around, and Kid Icarus is good at presenting an 8-bit theme and characters that are actually kind of spooky, even if they are totally cartoony.
Then there’s the fact that, for the most part, the game is mechanically sound. There’s clever platforming, tough enemies, and a nice upgrade system. Unfortunately, that’s where the pleasantness ends, because Kid Icarus actually suffers from some truly awful “bad game tropes” not unlike what someone like The Angry Video Game Nerd would rant feverishly about.
Notice I said Kid Icarus is mechanically sound for the most part. Though a lot of what the game does works pretty well, it also falters in some very noticeable departments. Let’s break it all down, shall we?
Controls are only okay: Protagonist Pit can certainly get around, but his movement leaves a lot to be desired. The little bugger’s a slippery devil, and it’s easy to jump from one narrow platform to another, only to slide right off. It’s obnoxious, and it’s something people constantly complain about in other games. I have no idea why Kid Icarus gets a pass on its controls, which are just barely okay.
Scrolling camera means imminent death: If you climb upward and the camera moves along with you, it should move right back down with you when you descend. It’s a simple formula, and one that’s worked for games like Super Mario Bros. 2. In Kid Icarus, if you move upward enough, everything below you becomes an instant pitfall. It doesn’t matter if you land on a spot where there was previously a platform — if the camera scrolls upward and takes it off the screen, it no longer exists. Where’s the logic in that?
Enemies respawn if you return to an area: Okay, so this can actually work in your favor if you’re trying to accrue hearts, the game’s currency. Still, I can’t count the number of times I barely survived an area, only to backtrack and meet my demise on account of the respawned hordes of enemies. Speaking of which …
Groups of baddies can feel cheap: You’re always outnumbered in Kid Icarus. Normally, that would be okay because it gives a game challenge. But in this blasted game, you’re bombarded by baddies from every angle. If you’re shooting arrows at a beast in front of you, something could suddenly fall on top of you or pop out underneath you. Twitch reflexes can only help you out so much when you’re battling against cheap enemy placement.
The music makes fun of you: Finally, I think Kid Icarus is a game that’s meant to be a pain in the butt. It’s more than just NES hard — it’s kind of cheap in its difficulty, and it likes to make you feel like a fool. The tune of the song that plays when you die is more than just a song, it’s a tune with a very specific “Haha! You suck! Here’s an atomic wedgie!” sound to it.
Given that there were so many great games during the NES’ heyday, it’s hard for me to comprehend how Kid Icarus gets quite a bit of love. Sure, it’s never received the praise of actual classics like Super Mario Bros. 3 or The Legend of Zelda, but for a game that goes out of its way to piss you off by being not-very-good, it’s strange to see it spoken of so much when people bring up the NES in conversation. Kid Icarus isn’t bad, but I’d hardly call it a good game.