Any kid that calls himself a hardcore gamer and has never been turned into an eggplant is full of shit. — Jesse Cash
Kid Icarus is easily one of the most difficult games I have ever played.
… … …
I’m going to let that sink in a bit, because many of the games I will talk about from the NES will fall into that category, but Kid Icarus goes a bit above and beyond. Let me explain.
You see, there are many incredibly difficult games for the NES. Ghosts ‘N Goblins comes to mind (or, as my brother believes it should be called, Fuck You, Kid!). The original Castlevania is also at the top of that list. Why, then, does Kid Icarus—a game that has a password system that allows you to continue your adventure at a later date—draw more ire than most NES games of its time?
The answer is hard to describe to any that have not played the game, and goes even deeper than you might realize, if you have ever played the original Metroid. In Metroid, players were challenged to continue the game in record time, unlocking different endings based on how quickly you beat the game, and whether or not you had already played through once before with the best ending.
Kid Icarus was built on the same game engine as Metroid and has a similar gameplay element. Getting the best ending in Kid Icarus is so complicated that it makes Calculus homework look simple. Essentially, every time you do anything in the game, it is translated into an invisible scoring system that you cannot track in the game. This scoring system is used to determine if Pit (your character) will gain Strength when entering certain levels of the game, or instead be told by the god inhabiting the room that you just didn’t make the cut.
This guy will repeatedly piss you off.
On top of that, every time you kill an enemy, you get XP that will give you additional Levels (and therefore, additional health bars) when you accumulate enough XP and finish a stage. Reaching the maximum Level and Strength are two of the things that will get you the best ending. The last two can be either very easy, or very difficult, depending on how you go about getting your Levels and Strength up. One of the other goals is to have 999 hearts at the end of the game. This may not sound difficult, but throughout most of the levels, there are a limited number of monsters that attack you in each area. Once they are gone, you must move on and hope to find more to kill soon. This can make it difficult to reach maximum hearts if you spend too many at the various shops in the game.
The last thing you can do is gather all of the weapon upgrades and keep them through the end of the game.
But to be honest, none of that shit really matters when it comes to what makes this game hard. One thing that truly sets a great Kid Icarus gamer apart from the others is finishing the game with Pit’s proper hair color. Gaining Strength will adjust Pit’s hair color throughout the game, but if you ever get hit by an eggplant thrown by one of the enemies in the dungeons, it’s all over. Once you turn yourself back into an angel, Pit’s hair color will forever be purple, no matter how many Strength upgrades you get. Finishing the game without purple hair requires a great deal of patience, particularly if you are also trying to get the best ending.
However, all of that is secondary to what makes this game great. It’s an action-RPG with all the critical numbers hidden from you (which forces you to work harder than ever to get the best ending). Add to the mix that the music is incredible, and the game is unforgettable. The only shame is that the game is so difficult to complete without failure (as most NES games are), making it very frustrating at times.
There’s also a sequel for the GameBoy, which is every bit as awesome and more. I highly recommend that you give them both a shot.