1986: A time of change, hope, and oddball NES games.
In the mythology of the ancient Greeks, Icarus was the son of Daedalus, a skilled builder and designer. After losing favor with King Minos, Daedalus and his son were imprisoned in a tall tower. Realizing that the only method of escape was by flight, Daedalus fashioned wings out of feathers held together by wax. Using the wings, father and son took to the skies. Daedalus cautioned his son against flying close to the sun, but Icarus soared too high anyway. The wax melted, Icarus' wings fell apart, and the boy fell to his death.

Icarus' tale is not a happy one by any means, but the character is altogether an appropriate namesake for Kid Icarus, a once-lofty NES classic that suffered a similar fall. Like the boy of myth, Kid Icarus strayed too close to a brightly burning star -- in its case, the legendary game Metroid. Both titles debuted on the same day in 1987, and are often considered "companions" of a sort. They were the first cartridge games to use a password system to save players' progress. This enabled them to be longer and more involved than other home console games, and so they were. Both were "evolved" platformers -- action/adventure games that relied on platforming for their basic play mechanics, but went well beyond the linearity usually found in other such titles.

Angel Land Story

The setting of Kid Icarus is a sort of bizarre hybrid of Christian and ancient Greek traditions, with gods and monsters hanging around in a kingdom called Angel Land. Medusa, goddess of darkness, has attacked and defeated Palutena, goddess of light, imprisoning her in the Palace in the Sky. Palutena appeals to Pit, a young angel imprisoned in the depths of the Underworld. By using her magic, the goddess arms the youth with a bow and a limitless supply of arrows. Thus prepared, Pit strives to break out of the Underworld, retrieve three sacred treasures that were stolen by Medusa, and rescue Palutena from her captivity.

From the outset, it's obvious that Kid Icarus isn't just a warmed-over Super Mario Bros. For starters, the screen scrolls vertically as Pit climbs his way out of the pits (no pun intended) of the Underworld. Pit leaps on platforms made of brick, stone, plant, and even cloud, as all manner of enemies come at him from all directions. Pit can fire arrows horizontally (parallel to the ground) or vertically (directly overhead). Because enemies can literally come from anywhere, aiming can be difficult. Often Pit must fire in one direction while moving in another, a dangerous situation because one misstep can send our cherubic hero plummeting to his death.

At the apex of Pit's long climb -- indeed, at the end of each level of the game -- awaits a fortress. The fortress areas resemble Metroid in that they require careful exploration; the path isn't clearly laid out for you. Fortresses are made up of a number of single-screen rooms that contain one or more exits. Pit has to find his way through the labyrinthine structure to the lair of a boss monster. After defeating the boss, he moves on to a new area and new challenges.

The second level of the game is a traditional side-scrolling area, only longer and more difficult than in most comparable platformers. This level takes place in the Overworld of Angel Land, where the graphics start to become more cartoonish and offbeat. Kid Icarus has a weird visual style, with things inexplicably floating in midair, funky looking trees and statues silhouetted against sparse vistas, and random architectural edifices all done up in starkly contrasting pastel colors. The visuals fall somewhere between mythological imagery and visions out of a fever dream. The large stable of enemies, containing everything from the Grim Reaper to giant flying noses to a wizard that turns Pit into a walking eggplant, is similarly bizarre. It's crazy, but charming in its own way.

Once turned into an eggplant, Pit can't fire arrows. But he makes a tasty omelet!
Level three returns to the vertical scrolling found in the first area, but the fourth and final round turns the game into something completely different -- a slow-paced horizontal shooter! Armed with the recovered sacred treasures, Pit takes to the skies and flies through the forced-scrolling palace level. Here, he blasts falling and flying enemies with powerful light arrows while on his way to the final confrontation with Medusa. After felling the Gorgon by loosing several light arrows in her giant eye, Pit finally meets Palutena. There are three possible endings, the best being the one where Pit suddenly springs into manhood and tries to excite Palutena by flexing a bulging bicep. (Palutena remains unimpressed.)