Kid Icarus (1987)
Look, we’re all man or woman enough to admit it: when we were daydreamers, back in idyllic times and long before any ambition or aspirations we may have had were crushed beneath the indiscriminate gold-tasseled boot of the bourgeoisie, we wanted to make our own games. It seemed like it’d be the best gig ever, the absolute dream job. Our wish to be the one to actually create Super Mario Bros. 9 and soak up all the plaudits was a wish that took real pride of place in our list of unlikely careers, alongside astronaut… rock star… Hollywood actor or actress… or in my own tragic case, hand-model with some fast-food tasting on the side for extra shekels.
We know now that it’s just about futile and impossible to make any kind of vocation fun, even when it involves our own hobbies. In fact, that’s probably the quickest way to make yourself hate something – depend on it for a living, while still having to put up with incompetence around or below you while at the same time reporting to some obstinate, pig ignorant bottom-feeder above you. Impressionable children as we once were (well I was anyway, you might be tapped in the head for all I know), we thought that a gig making games was a sure-fire thing – you could hardly fail to have the time of your life.
Imagine! Moulding the next Zelda game exactly as you saw fit! Being the brainchild of Final Fantasy XXVIII, on as many discs! It didn’t matter that Japanese developers moreorless held the monopoly on strange games where eating mushrooms gave you healthy powers or where screeching nuclear mechs were out to get you – if the offer was there on the table for you to make a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game where you could beat up infinite Foot soldiers and you could dedicate an entire button to eating pizza, with the theme song playing constantly in the background, then you wanted to snap that opportunity up. “Whosoever could be better for the job?!” you’d cry.
Experience in the real world, combined with bureaucracy and the aforementioned ignorant swines spreading and rolling in their own filth throughout every company, has taught us the needlessly harsh lesson that even a job in game development is fraught with terribly stressful risk. You might really strike the jackpot and get a cushty job with Nintendo, making New Super Plastic Gimmicky Bros for Doomed Console Part 5.
But for the most part you can probably strap yourself in for months upon months of testing and retesting the same areas of some mediocre iOS game your superior has come up with, before reporting on your dismal progress in a thrilling series of mind-crushingly dull meetings. Whatever shameful excuse for a game you’ve thrown up is now due for release, although by this stage, honourable seppuku to avoid bringing great shame on your family has crossed your mind some twelve times. You don’t go through with it (this time) and the game is released to the worst kind of reviews – average ones.
You had already long ago written off any and all chance that the game you’d painstakingly given a year or two of your life to could be one of the greats, but you were just hoping that it wouldn’t be savaged. Now, though, with everyone reacting to your latest oeuvre with an almighty “meh”, you’re beginning to wish you never even re-emerged from under those coats that you hid under one weekend when things really came crashing down; like when some oaf vomited all over the original concept art and the final graphics looked like toilet, or when the collision detection programming was found to be damaged beyond even a Bill Gates repair.
Even a Metacritic score of less than 20 would have been better, because at least people out there actively buy bad games. But who wants mediocrity? Certainly not the little people with all their little dollars. In any case, your name is tarnished forever, if you were good enough to even have a name, and it’s a downgrade to Mahjong games and minor sports simulators for you – if you’re lucky. But hey, at least you didn’t turn up dead, right?
All of that is why, when I hear the absolute legions of unpleasable fans of the Super Smash Bros series giving all kinds of whatfor to its leading man, one Masahiro-san Sakurai-chan, I can’t help but feel sorry for this mild gaming celebrity who I’ll never meet. He has what appears to be an unenviable task: trying to keep about a zillion 12-year-olds happy. Now, you’ve heard such 12-year-olds on online FPS games, I know you have, and you’ll recognise at once what an absolutely thankless task it is to keep their likes happy. Still, the best he can do is try to pander to fans of every represented series by giving them all equal love.
He falls down at this crucial step, however, by historically giving the Kirby series some preferential treatment, owing to the fact that he’s had heavy involvement with the series before. Alright, that’s not so bad. Look, it’s the type of statement that oft sees me forcibly ejected from swanky retro gaming parties, but Kirby wouldn’t exactly be my first love. No problem to turn to what you know, however.
But he really doesn’t help himself with the bias towards another series he’s become affiliated with, this time being the decidedly average Kid Icarus. In particular, the latest Smash Bros game for both Wii U and 3DS borrow heavily from Kid Icarus Uprising for the 3DS, a game that was supposed to herald a grand return to the series and the renaissance of a true Nintendo hero. Now, unlike those 12-year-olds who I enjoy making myself feel superior to, I’m not narrow-minded enough to believe that our Sako being the lead designer of the game means that all of these executive marketing decisions are down to him entirely.
But when DiddyDaKoolKong10201 is screaming on YouTube videos and GameFAQs topics for another Donkey Kong representative to be included in the latest Smash Bros games, and our man Sakurai responds by sticking in some palette swap called Dark Pit as a whole, fully-fledged character, then he really doesn’t help himself. I knew it already to be the case, but I decided to go and confirm it – yes, this Kid Icarus series is a franchise of a whopping 3 games.
That makes it as many Kid Icarus representatives in the latest Smash Bros. as there are games in the series. And the first two were released back when you could slap a few chiptunes on to a glorified DVD menu and call it a game. But it provided me with an interesting experiment: why don’t we see where it all began for the fella, young Pit, and see does he deserve any of the preferential treatment?
So we look at Kid Icarus for the NES. It was either that or a thoroughly depressing looking Game Boy half-sequel to the NES game, which I reeeeeeaaaalllly couldn’t get my mood together for. In Kid Icarus for the NES, you play as Pit the wannabe angel who must journey from the Underworld to the Overworld and become a fully-fledged angel, while also finding some sacred treasures and destroying the villain, Medusa. So you’re not even a proper angel to start off with, as evidenced by your character’s poor controls, jumping ability and overall lack of strength.
But what should trouble you about the premise of Kid Icarus is that you’re starting in the Underworld and you only find your way out to glorious blue skies sometime in the middle of the game. It means that even the start of the game is a bit downbeat and miserable, as you struggle to get up vertical levels with a non-inspiring black background. You must leap all the way up to the top of the labyrinths and avoid falling down the bottomless pit (little pun for you there) that you’ve just created by scrolling the screen upwards. It’s a little like how you couldn’t go backwards in the level in the original Super Mario Bros, but if you tried to do it, touching the invisible wall would just make it fed up and it’d kill you instantly instead.
I suppose that’s the only way they can really create bottomless pits, that much necessary staple of platform gaming, in a vertical scroller. But it’s not as if they needed to make this game any harder. In Kid Icarus, you have two real choices of getting on by: one, try to limp up through the levels as pacifistically as possible and find yourself sorely lacking in health and weaponry as a result; or two, stop and grind in every level, so that you can build up a big enough points tally early doors to bolster your health from the piddly little half-amount you start off with.
Imagine you had to stomp on 50 Goombas in every single level of a Mario game, just so that you wouldn’t buy it in the first five seconds on the very next stage after that. A platform game with grinding elements? Christ, no thanks. You’ve either got to sink a lot of time into moribund level after moribund level with hideously repetitive music blaring on in the background, or suffer the game’s unforgiving difficulty as it never even so much as cracks a smile at you. What’s the point in that?
As for your characters weapon, you’ll not believe it. Do you remember how, for the first 5 mintues of Metroid and Metroid Zero Mission, your beam travelled the length of a gnat’s pube and you had to go find the Long Beam? Well, the weak little arrows that Pit fires travel even shorter, the length of a… gnat’s shorn pube. So you’re there trying to grind points and currency in the form of heart tokens off flying enemies that are far more maneuverable than your angel in the making, and the whole challenge just puts you off.
It’s a game where you’re constantly up against it, and the game’s lack of direction means things hardly get better, even when the action turns to a more conventional side-scolling platformer. Getting caught by a Grim Reaper enemy is probably the nadir of this whole package; his eyes bulge… he sends tough enemies after you… as a truly awful cacophony begins playing that has to be heard to be believed… beyond that, there’s also those enemies that turn your head into an eggplant… stripping you of all your abilities and forcing you to backtrack… and… oh, what’s that? In a fit of rage, you’ve ripped the game out of the console! You’ve fired an Arrow of Light through it! And you’ve put on a different NES game that didn’t decide to flout every platforming game convention and try in vain to succeed at its own thing! And so, Kid Icarus lay as a dormant, forgotten joke for years.
It’s probably just a tiny bit better than Ice Climber, but that means nothing. I don’t care what PR guff poor Sakurai-sama was forced to spout to cover for his team’s shortcomings – if they took wee Popo and Nana out to make room for Dark Pit and his ilk, you’ll find me an extremely cross man.
14 October 2014