There is little that Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters does better than its older brother, and the adventure does not show a lot of effort when it comes to growing past its predecessor
Numerous are the franchises that made the jump between the NES and the Game Boy. And, when one puts those home console and portable entries side by side, the handheld outings are usually able to come out of the comparison with some degree of success. Sometimes, as in the case of The Legend of Zelda, the improvement was blatant, as Link’s Awakening easily trumps the saga’s debut and its problematic 8-bit sequel, The Adventure of Link. Other transitions, meanwhile, such as the one executed by the Metroid series, ended up producing a difference in quality that was much tighter; nevertheless, a certain evolution can still be perceived.
At the same time, there are titles that albeit being unable to reach the excellence of what had come before them, do succeed in packing enough unique quirks into their fabric to create a gameplay experience that is, at least, appealing due to its distinctive charm; Super Mario Land, which comes out rather bruised if matched against Super Mario Bros. 3, falls into this category.
Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters does not belong to any of those groups. The property’s first chapter was by no means a perfect effort, but it did present an interesting mixture of platforming and shooting while also occasionally taking a break from that format to tackle intricate dungeons. It was a varied effort that pulled from many different genres, and those disparate elements were brought together smoothly, even if the game did stumble on a handful of frustrating problems.
The sequel, therefore, had a pretty great opportunity on its hands; with the general gameplay mold set, it could dedicate its development cycle towards solving identified problems and cleverly expanding what was already in place. Unfortunately, though, Of Myths and Monsters does not pull off any of those operations: the fixing it performs is minimal, and the few actions it takes in that regard end up being either ineffective or counterproductive; simultaneously, rather than growing past its prequel, the game alternates between feeling like it is standing totally still or retreading towards a smaller scope. Needless to say, what results from that combination is not overly positive.
Drinking from the source of Greek mythology, Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters takes place in Angel Land. One day, Palutena, its ruler, has a bad dream. A fortune-teller interprets the nightmare as a sign that the demon god Orcos is planning to invade and conquer the peaceful realm. As an attempt to prepare for the war, the goddess summons Pit, who is now the leader of her army, and sends him into a training regime, during which he will traverse the world’s three major regions. His final goal is to enter the temples found in these areas and confront the guardians protecting a trio of sacred treasures – the Arrow of Light, the Mirror Shield, and the Wings of Pegasus. It is by obtaining them that Pit will be powered-up to put up a fight against the incoming evil horde.
For games such as Kid Icarus, both in terms of age and genre, the story rarely plays a major role through the course of the quest, only appearing as brief snippets in the beginning and ending of the adventure as bookends. Despite that lack of prominence, though, the plot seen in Of Myths and Monsters is rather telling of what the game presents. And that is because collecting the three sacred treasures, lying at the end of mazes, is precisely the same objective Pit had in the original Kid Icarus – even if, in that title, the objects were to be used for a slightly different purpose.
That similar starting point winds up giving birth to a game that is uncomfortably close to its predecessor. As it happened in the NES effort, the three areas the hero will go through are The Underworld, The Overworld, and The Sky World, with the last one leading him to the doorstep of the final stage in Palutena’s palace.
Like that game, Of Myths and Monsters switches between gameplay styles, for while the first and third worlds have stages that scroll upwards, the second one boasts levels that progress in a traditional sideways manner; furthermore, as yet another similarity, not only do all of those regions possess three courses each, but they also culminate in dungeons where Pit must find his way through a series of rooms until he reaches the place’s boss.
In fact, everything feels so alike that Of Myths and Monsters sometimes blurs the line between being a remake and a new full-fledged installment. Enemies, platforms, scenarios, and hazards may have changed in appearance, but – at heart – they are the same pieces found in the original, only employed and arranged in slightly different ways.
Meanwhile, the dungeons, although distinctive in their structure, hold rooms whose nature has not been altered, as there are those filled with a mass of dangerous creatures, those that center around avoiding spikes that pop out of walls, and those that are divided into two separate compartments that are accessed from different entry points. In some cases, the overlapping runs so deep that players who have tackled the original may often feel like they have already seen those challenges, since the disposition of ledges and the placement of foes or hazards seem to have been copied and pasted.
Obviously, such proximity is not completely negative, because it allows Of Myths and Monsters to inherit the engaging traits of its prequel. For example, thanks to Pit’s trusty bow, the platforming gains an action-based shooting component that is very appealing. And the game smartly takes advantage of that by turning the taking down of enemies into more than a mere formality, as it has numerous ramifications.
Of Myths and Monsters sports a strong RPG vein running below its surface, and it is – mostly – by defeating the units of Orcos’ army that players will have access to it. Firstly, there is how all of them produce a certain amount of hearts, which work as Angel Land’s currency, when they turn to dust. As a consequence, putting a lot of effort into beating the baddies will allow Pit to be rich enough to buy items available in the various shops scattered around the levels, which hold helpful assets such as potions that regenerate his health if it runs out, and mallets that can be employed to break walls or statues.
Secondly, there is how the shooting works towards making the character stronger. At the end of every stage, Pit is given a score that depends on how many enemies were killed; and as the counter that accumulates the punctuation achieved in all levels goes up, the hero’s health is increased whenever the number reaches a certain threshold. In addition, stages are filled with many rooms of varying nature, including: enemy nests that give gamers the chance to earn a lot of hearts; treasure chambers where Pit can break pots to get hearts and items; and training centers where – in case he survives an onslaught of monoliths that fly around the screen – the protagonist will gain powerful weapons that are activated if his health is above specified levels.
Most importantly, though, and playing into the hands of the shooting, some of those rooms located in the stages are gifted with the presence of Zeus himself, who will give Pit stronger arrows if his performance – measured by deaths, kills, items acquired, and other parameters – is good enough. And with these incentives, the adventure successfully pushes gamers towards striving to face as many bad guys as possible.
Those tricks, however, were – in that exact format – present in the prequel; as such, they do not define Of Myths and Monsters. What sets it apart is what it does differently; sadly, in that specific area, the game falters quite a bit.
Truth be told, technical improvements do exist, but they are not significant enough: the non-existent backgrounds of Kid Icarus have been replaced by actual scenarios, but they are not exactly notable; the possibility to backtrack through a level is a nice addition, but not that big of a deal; and, similarly, the fact both upscrolling and sidescrolling stages offer, respectively, some sideways and upwards movements due to how the scenarios are bigger than the screen is a pleasant progress that is far from being game-changing. Within that same technical front, it is also worth noting that Of Myths and Monsters takes a step back regarding its sound, as the songs that accompany Pit in his quest are not as remarkable as those of the original.
Meanwhile, other changes that the game tries to execute do not have the desired effects. Of Myths and Monsters, for instance, is considerably easier than its predecessor, a characteristic that does make it less frustrating and much more approachable to modern gamers; however, the stages are too short. Consequently, combined with that brevity, the diminished difficulty creates a quest that is very brief, because the game can be cleared in three hours.
These smaller stages are, in a way, a welcome sight; after all, in the prequel, the long length of the levels usually meant that dying, which would take Pit back to the start of the course, would lead to the loss of a lot of progress. Yet, in the way they are implemented here, the result is not satisfying, because the number of levels remains the same. Clearly, the ideal solution would be to either keep them long and add checkpoints along the way or make them shorter while increasing their quantity.
Likewise, in relation to the dungeons, Of Myths and Monsters is only partially successful in addressing the issues identified in Kid Icarus. The dreadful Eggplant Wizards, which turn Pit into the purple vegetable with just one hit and force him to seek the maze’s hospital to get rid of a condition that only allows him to walk and jump, are still abundant and positioned in very frustrating places; namely, close to the boss and far away from the healing point. As such, tedious and infuriating backtracking is bound to occur multiple times.
Contrarily, developers did take a shot at solving the problem related to the navigation in the dungeons; sadly, they did not pull it off completely. The three items that help Pit find his way – that is, the map that shows the place’s structure; the torch that points out where the hero is; and the pencil that highlights the rooms he has visited – are still only truly useful if all of them are acquired.
Fortunately, they are not just available in the dungeon’s shops for obscene prizes, for they can also be gotten for free in the mazes themselves. However, their hiding spots are usually ridiculous, as they are found in statues that have no indication whatsoever they hold important tools; therefore, players are left to navigate blindly, consult a guide, or randomly break statues around the dungeon hoping that they do not run out of mallets before they hit the ones that have the items.
That mixture of failed attempts at improvements, lackluster technical enhancements, missed opportunities, and blatant copying makes Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters be notably unremarkable. Perhaps, to those who did not go through the original, there is some fun to found in how the game combines platforming and shooting while underlining those elements with an RPG component that works in nice synergy with the title’s core gameplay.
However, even to those players, the NES debut of Pit’s saga is far more recommendable, for – regardless of its higher difficulty – it feels more full-fledged. There is little that Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters does better than its older brother, and the adventure does not show a lot of effort when it comes to growing past its predecessor. The result is underwhelming, as the game lands on a weird ledge that stands between the land of uninspired sequels and the realm of unimproved remakes.