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13 Features

History Lesson: Kid Icarus

By Matthew Castle on Sunday 4th May 2014 at 9:00 AM UTC

He loves a bit of destiny, does our Kid.

When Medusa invaded Angel Land in 1987's Kid Icarus it was Pit's destiny to reclaim his territory one arrowed demon at a time. More than two decades later, in 2010, he was destined to take flight on 3DS.

And it's no mere coincidence: Pit was created under the watchful eye of Gunpei Yokoi, the man who famously tried, and failed, to take portable gaming into 3D realms with the Virtual Boy in 1995.

The fact that Pit headlined the stage at when Nintendo revealed the 3DS at E3 2010 wasn't canny commercial strategy - it was fate. But just who is the winged sprog who had the weight of a handheld placed on his shoulders?

Kid Icarus' creation story shares more than a little DNA with its Grecian namesake. According to the Icarus myth, Daedalus, a famed designer, fell out with the king and was imprisoned with his son, Icarus. Many years later, in the mid-1980s, Nintendo's R&D1 development team, under Gunpei Yokoi, was getting trounced by Miyamoto's R&D4 - flying high thanks to Super Mario Bros.

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Daedalus needed an escape plan and R&D1 needed a hit. He opted for wax wings, they picked a joint action project: two games sharing dev teams and tech to ease the burden.

Yoshio Sakamoto created one of these games, a sci-fi adventure about a certain intergalactic bounty hunter with a penchant for door-melting. Satoru Okada directed the other, an intriguing blend of Greek myth, Christian angels and controller-contorting difficulty.

Now general manager of Research and Engineering, Okada is the head honcho of Nintendo's handheld development teams. GBC, GBA, GBA SP, DS - if it can slip down the back of the sofa, Okada's involved. Super Mario Land was one of his, too. Can it slip down the back of the sofa? Yes. Our earlier rule stands.

Although Metroid and Kid Icarus were released months apart in 1986, similarities betrayed a shared gestation period. Pit's vertical climbs clearly came from the same architect as Zebes' platforming shafts. And how about the bit where Pit, er, fights a Metroid? Call them Komaytos if you want, but we'd recognise those sprites anywhere.

Both boast multiple endings. Admittedly, Kid Icarus' range of unlockable hats hardly rivals Metroid's underwear reveal, but the journey is rewarding. Alternative endings are unlocked by finding all of Pit's hidden inventory items. It's not an easy game to begin with, so maximising every power is a true badge of NES honour.

Thank Zeus for the password system, then. It got us through, even if we were forced to scribble cumbersome 24-digit codes on every inch of our bedroom until it resembled a serial killer's lair.

For all its technical ambition, Kid Icarus is something of an enigma in the annals of Ninty history. Radically blending Mario's platforming with Samus' shooting and Link's kit upgrades, this unique Nintendo megamix goes largely unmentioned in the history books. Or rather, largely unexplained.

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The 'best' ending in Kid Icarus

Okada aside, little is known about the development team. In a company where characters and creators go hand-in-hand, Pit is an orphan. At least we'll never forget his jaunty theme. Composer (and old R&D1 hand) Hirokazu 'Hip' Tanaka's Underworld march remains one of Nintendo's most infectiously heroic tunes.

Returning to our Icarus analogy [Do we have to? - Tortuous Metaphor Police], Pit avoided the fate of his flapping forebear, whose wax wings famously melted when he flew too close to the sun. Instead, Kid Icarus left the house of the rising sun and, becoming a US success, is credited (along with Metroid) with solidifying the NES's overseas invasion.

Enough, anyway, to grant them Game Boy sequels. A solid platformer, Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters' biggest revolution was adding a laurel to Pit's head. It's this Pit, rather than the chunky NES version, who inspired the modern look of Super Smash Bros Brawl's 3D Pit.

Brought to Brawling life by Masahiro Sakurai, Pit once again found destiny up to its old tricks, with Sakurai next helming the 3DS's Kid Icarus Uprising. Fathered by the pioneer of 3D handhelds and mentored by one of Nintendo's shining stars, Kid Icarus was surely destined for greatness. Sure enough, Uprising was greatly praised, and remains one of the most visually striking 3DS games two years after its release.


It's the Pits

There may (incredibly) have only been three Kid Icarus games in the past 28 years, but that doesn't mean Pit hasn't had his fair share of cameo appearances in other Nintendo titles too.

Here's the definitive history of occasions where Pit can be spotted throughout gaming history.

Additional reporting by Chris Scullion