Kid Icarus (NES)

Game Review

Kid Icarus Review

Europe PAL Version

Posted by Thomas Whitehead

A demonic angel

The popularity of Pit, even before his triumphant return in Kid Icarus: Uprising, was focused around nostalgia for his first two appearances on NES and Game Boy, with the home console original setting the tone with catchy music, quirky mythological enemies and lashings of creativity. This was impressive in the days of the early 8-bit revolution that Nintendo set in motion, but played in the modern day it lags behind some of its retro contemporaries, relying on the power of golden memories over execution.

Kid Icarus, to its immense credit, is a short experience — common for the time — that is nevertheless full of variation and diversity. After an initial few levels of clambering up tower-style levels you enter a labyrinth, you then move onto side-scrolling rather out of the blue, showing that even over its modest number of levels this is a title aiming to be memorable; it largely succeeds in that respect. You have to use your move-set in slightly different ways as you progress, and shaking up the level design in this way is clever and welcome.

Pit himself is portrayed with that iconic sprite design, and has the good-old run and jump controls as well as a fairly short-range projectile which — eventually — gets levelled up. The physics stand up fairly well, with neat touches such as a minor loss of control when running over icy ground, but nevertheless there is a slightly stiff feel to some of Pit's movements, particularly jumping. As a more primitive NES title there are design quirks such as running off one side of the screen and emerging on the other, which is fine, and inconsistent hit boxes, which aren't fine. Particularly in the vertical stages there are vines that sometimes hurt you, and sometimes don't, and when you combine those niggles with occasional cheap difficulty, the early stages in particular can be an exercise in frustration.

This is a title that, surprisingly, feels easier as you progress. Pit's initially piddly life bar and the constant vertical jumping early on can cause bouts of serious rage, but later levels with more enemies but less platform hopping — not to mention a much more robust life bar — feel considerably less stressful. You level up and become more powerful, and not having enemies tumbling from the top and rising from the bottom, while attempting to climb a tower, allows for some seriously fun 2D gaming. It's also quite a methodical process, working through its levels, as blazing through will only bring premature death; it's pleasing to tackle a challenge that rewards a small degree of patience and strategy. Add to that rooms to explore and some useful extras to discover (such as using a hammer to release assist soldiers in boss stages) and there's more than simple action platforming at this game's core.

A special mention should go to the boss levels, with mazes and obscure routes to the end that are — depending on your personal perspective — ludicrously secretive or brilliant conceived. While we imagine that NES enthusiasts will enjoy finding their way, we can't help but feel that they were levels designed with strategy books and magazine sales in mind, as consecutively putting together a dozen or more exits without a wrong turn is a long shot, while enemies that force you to start again had us making liberal use of the Wii U Virtual Console restore point functionality. Without an online guide you may not know that you need to fall directly to the left from the bottom ladder in the eighth room, for example. That's NES logic, and newcomers may be left baffled.

For those that are happy to tackle these occasional issues, however, this is a fun experience, but not actually the best variation of it that's available. 3D Classics: Kid Icarus on the 3DS eShop offers up improved visuals — such as attractive level backgrounds — and slightly tighter controls. This NES ROM has, in that respect, been usurped, yet remains an option for those either without a 3DS or Wii — which has this same original — or others that simply prefer the real original.

Whichever version you get, enemies will still fly through walls while you can't shoot them, so you don't completely win either way.


Kid Icarus on NES is an iconic part of Nintendo's IP history, and having this original available on the latest Virtual Console reminds us of just that fact. As the years pass some technical and design idiosyncrasies increasingly stand out, while early frustration and difficulty may drive some away. There's also a slightly more polished, visually appealing version on the 3DS eShop, which offers a better alternative over this original. As a fun experience and the debut of Pit and the Kid Icarus universe, this is worth considering in some form, despite its flaws.

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User Comments (25)



Peach64 said:

It took me forever to finish the first level, but once you start getting stronger it quickly becomes a blast to play. I think I enjoy it even more than Metroid.



NintyMan said:

Yep, the 3D Classics version is superior. But, whatever version you play, this is still quite a unique game with unique twists and difficulty. Many games can't show that they started out hard and ended easily. The switch between vertical levels, side-scrolling, and flying is nice. Of Myths and Monsters is technically a better game, but the first Kid Icarus should be remembered well for standing out of the crowd of Nintendo games.



Geonjaha said:

I have the 3D Classics version, so definitely no need for me to buy this one.



FineLerv said:

Oh wow! If the best game on NES gets a 6, I shudder to think how poorly everything else will score!

Jokes. Great review. Very fair assessment. I love Kid Icarus.



ShadJV said:

6? No, an 8 at least. Granted it's hard, prepare for a challenge, but restore points make this better. Of course, I'd recommend the 3DS version over this but it's still a gem.



GearsOfWarU said:

I disagree with this review. In my Opinion Kid Icarus is one of the most original and Awesome games of the early 1986/1987 NES era . I love Kid Icarus and hope to beat it on the Wii U VC ... I had this game back in 1987 and a neighborhood kid stole it so I never got to finish it. I don't own a 3DS so I've never had the opportunity to play Uprising ( which looks Amazing ) I think Kid Icarus is one of Nintendo's Greatest Franchises along with all the Originals like Mario Bros, Metroid, Donkey Kong & Zelda. I Hope & Pray Nintendo will Make a Brand New Game for Wii U ... KID ICARUS U !!!!!!!!!!!!!!



GearsOfWarU said:

@KiDasharus ... I love Kid Icarus also ... I would say its the 2nd Best Nintendo Franchise only Behind Super Mario Bros. I like Kid Icarus better than the more Popular Zelda, Metroid & Star Fox games (although I like them 2) Kid Icarus is by far one of my 10 All Time Favorite NES Games, Kid Icarus, Super Mario Bros. 2 & 3, Castlevania , Castlevania 3 , Contra , Ghost N Goblins, Mega Man 2 & Abodox



WaveBoy said:

WHAT.....should be no less than an 8.
This game was absolutely magical, extremely unique and most importantly fun.
I even prefer it over the 3D Classics version....Playing KI on the go doesn't feel right, most of the new backdrops(which didn't look NES-style by the way) felt out of place and i hated that they used the 'famicom' versions SFX.



Haywired said:

I quite enjoyed it up until the first maze level. Then it completely stumped me...



GraveLordXD said:

For me this game is a 9 and in my top 20 games of all time, yes it has a few minor flaws but for its time it was pretty amazing also love the challenge
True classic



Haxonberik said:

The only justification for this low score is the existance of a better version. This game isnt really hard if you level and power up correctly, you just need a good guide in hand.



Haxonberik said:

The only justification for this low score is the existance of a better version. This game isnt really hard if you level and power up correctly, you just need a good guide in hand.



brooks83 said:

So do the passwords work on this version? The ones that were cut from the Wii and 3DS versions.



Grubdog said:

@Haxonberik if a game needs a guide then yes it is hard. Love Kid Icarus though, but Nintendo has a weird trend of releasing games already on 3DS lately for Wii U. This, Metroid, Kirby's Adventure, Excite Bike. It's not doing them any favours.



aaronsullivan said:

The first series of levels is brutal and it's hard to resist the urge to earn as many hearts as possible for the shops which makes it even harder.

Always did like this one. So weird and making my own maps for the mazes wasn't that unusual back then and much more manageable than mapping Metroid. Plus, the mazes were a nice change of pace. Took me awhile to figure out the hammers and the statues, but I loved that feature.

Will be fun to play through this again and to anyone not accustomed to the challenge go ahead and abuse that restore point functionality.

To anyone who knows, what could possibly make the controls "tighter" on the 3DS? Are we talking hardware here or is the article suggesting that the actual code has been changed... because that seems very unlikely. Plus, there are many controller options on the Wii U. Interested though.

I agree with the cheap hits. Always bothered me, that and how you can hit an enemy still half in a wall, but it will drop a heart you can't get. Lots of games did it back then, but it hurts. lol.

(Thanks for someone noting the 3DS version using the "wrong" sounds. That means I could never just own the 3DS version, myself. Need some of that nostalgia goodness. )

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