Monday, May 29, 2017

My 10 Most Influential Games: Kid Icarus (NES)

Although a number of its initial releases lured me and my older brother to the NES in the year following its North American release, none had a more powerful pull on us than the pair of Nintendo-made "Adventure Series" games known in the West as Metroid and Kid Icarus.

I was especially drawn to the latter title, which was made by Gunpei Yokoi, Satoru Okada and Yoshio Sakamoto, among others, and which first hit store shelves here in July of 1987. (Just a month before Metroid and The Legend of Zelda, in fact.)

There are all sorts of reasons for that, of course. A rather stupidly superficial one is that, right off the bat, I was a fan of Kid Icarus' magenta logo. (Hey, I've never been shy about my love of the color pink.)

Also catching my eye early on: the cover art's depiction of Pit. I was keenly interested in Greek mythology back when Kid Icarus was released, so a game that allowed me to play as an angel who has to traverse a world full of crumbling stone pillars, fantastic creatures and even goddesses--Medusa among them--quickly commanded my attention. (Speaking of the creatures that populate this game, you can see illustrations of all of them in the Hikari Shinwa: Parutena no Kagami GameBoy Advance instruction manual.)

And then there were the write-ups in Nintendo Power and elsewhere that showcased Kid Icarus' colorful locales. Purple bricks and stone, red-checkered floors, pink and green clouds--my younger self thought the game looked like a dream.

I know most folks today don't think Kid Icarus plays like a dream, but I thought it did back in the day. (Hell, I still kind of think it now.) After all, Pit controls pretty darn well, if you ask me. Specifically, he's easy to maneuver--except for when you find yourself on one of the icy ledges that pop up in a number of the game's levels--and he reacts quickly to commands. (I can't imagine anyone describing Kid Icarus as floaty or sluggish.)

Is that why I consider it to be influential? Not really. One aspect of Kid Icarus that did help shape my taste in video games, though, is its difficulty. Admittedly, it's sometimes (some may say often) "cheaply" difficult, but in general I think it just asks a lot of those who decide to play it. In some cases, that means perfectly timing jumps and arrow shots; in others, it means memorizing stage layouts (refer to this site if you need help) and enemy placements.

Regardless, Kid Icarus--along with its silver-box, "Adventure Series" sibling, Metroid--made me realize that while I like my games to be at least somewhat cute (or even simply colorful), I also like for them to be at least somewhat challenging.

Kid Icarus also prompted me to realize and embrace that I prefer action-platformers that dare to be a bit different to those that toe the line. Straightforward efforts that ape Super Mario Bros. are all well and good, but this game took that classic's basic components and built upon them tenfold. Rather than having stages scroll almost exclusively from left to right, Kid Icarus offers up ones that scroll up, down and all over the place. It even features maze-like dungeons that sprawl in all directions and need to be conquered at the end of each four-level world before you can move on to the next one.

Another of Kid Icarus' unique quirks that helped set the tone for my love of platform games that veer from the beaten path: the bow and quiver of unlimited arrows Pit uses to dispatch foes. For whatever reason, that's always struck me as far more interesting and thrilling than, say, Mega Man's "Mega Buster" or Simon Belmont's whip.

Unfortunately, despite all of the above, and despite the fact that Kid Icarus was chiefly responsible for shaping my taste in video games (oddball platformers, in particular), I've barely experienced it and its brilliant Hirokazu "Hip" Tanaka soundtrack in the last couple of decades.

Truth be told, that's mostly because I'm now slightly terrified of it. The last time I attempted to work my way through its technicolor worlds, I struggled to complete its third stage.

Still, I've never been one to shrink away from a challenge, so I'll do my best to boot up some version of the game in the coming days and weeks. Here's hoping this playthrough will be more successful than the quickly aborted ones of the not-so-recent past.

See also: previous 'My 10 Most Influential Games' posts about The 7th Guest, Balloon Kid, Bubble Bobble and Final Fantasy V

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