It's better than you think.
The original Kid Icarus, released in 1987, has received a lot of flack. The game is stiflingly difficult, hard to control, ugly, and features infuriating dungeons. It received a Game Boy sequel (Myths & Monsters) in 1991 and appeared early in the Wii’s Virtual Console life. For reasons we’re still struggling to understand, NWR gave the game a “recommended for everyone” verdict, when in fact the opposite is probably true. Now, in the Year of Our Arceus 2012, Nintendo got around to releasing Kid Icarus: Uprising, a game that’s infinitely better than the original. However, if you pre-ordered the game through The Black Pit (GameStop), you received a download code for the 3D Classics version of the NES original. For those who didn’t pre-order, Nintendo went ahead and made the 3D Classics version a GameStop exclusive, so you can just go into one of their stores, give the cashier six dollars, and receive a download code. I could go into why this is stupid, but whatever.* Besides, you can now get it straight from the eShop, which I recommend.
Like all the other 3D Classic games, this one was developed by Arika, and features the same front end Excitebike 3D and Kirby’s Adventure 3D have. But they’ve done more than just pretty the game up with 3D graphics. This version of Kid Icarus is actually playable and—dare I say it—enjoyable.
The game now has nice, colorful backgrounds, which improve the 3D effect nicely. Arika has also included an alternate “control scheme,” which isn’t so much a new control scheme as an improvement over the existing control scheme. If you select it (and I suggest you do), Pit will have a faster reaction time, subtly slow his descents if you hold down the A button, and fire continuously if you hold down the Y button. The game also does away with insanely long passwords. Instead, the beginning of each stage is a save point. The continuous fire thing is the real saving grace. Whereas you couldn’t fire fast enough to defeat a formation of enemies under the original controls, you can destroy them all in one pass here. This makes heart harvesting an actual reality, and the more enemies you kill in a stage, the better your chances of getting a health upgrade between stages.
Pit can buy new powers in shops along the way, like a feather that saves him from falling off the screen, or a drink that refills your energy upon dying. You can get a long-shot bow, fire arrows, and orbiting crystals for protection. Certain enemies can also take these items away from you, but luckily they’re offered at almost every shop you come across. Certain rooms will test your dexterity and, if you survive, you’ll get damage upgrades. The non-dungeon levels are either upwardly directed or side scrolling. In upward levels, you can actually die if you fall down, which is irritating, but it doesn’t happen that often. If you find a harp, you can turn all the enemies onscreen into mallets for a little while. What are mallets for?
They’re used in dungeons. Dungeons cap each level, and they are (for the most part) annoying. Enemies respawn every time you re-enter a room. You must find the dungeon map and buy two more items (a torch and a pencil) from a dungeon shop in order to get the most out of your map—and even then, it’s not very helpful. Your goal in the dungeon is twofold: use mallets (which you can also buy) to rescue soldiers turned to stone by Medusa. There are plenty of them in every dungeon, and you will get a better score the more you rescue—but they also fight with you during the boss fight, three at a time, until they’re all killed (by merely touching the boss). The bosses themselves are very easy; two of them don’t even attack, they just wander around. The game’s fourth level is just a single side-scrolling shooter stage and an incredibly easy fight with Medusa.
This 3D Classic is surprisingly good given the base material. I actually recommend it highly. Try playing with classic controls first, then custom controls, and see how much different the experience is. As somebody who’d simply dismissed the game up until now, I’m glad I had the chance to play it because Kid Icarus is unexpectedly enjoyable.
*Full disclosure: I was bemoaning this travesty on Twitter when @LAAG64 offered to grab me a download code when he went to get his copy of Xenoblade. So yes, I indirectly purchased something from GameStop. No matter how many times I scrub my hands, I can’t make them clean again.