I have been playing some games lately and I have noticed that a lot of observations I tend to do on aspects like level design often cannot find space in a reasonably sized “review”. Since I do not have anything particularly better to do and I found the button on the emulator that allows me to take screenshots, I have decided that from time to time I will write some long form-article-thingy where I go through random observations about a game’s level design.
Kid Icarus (Hikari Shinwa: Parutena no Kagami in Japan) is a platform game directed by Satoru Okada (Metroid, Super Mario Land). It was released in 1986 for the Famicom Disc System and later in the 1987 for the western NES. Its core gameplay mainly consists in controlling the young angel Pit in a 2D environment, jumping from platform to platform while avoiding and killing enemies with a bow and arrow (which have a relatively short range but are not tied to any kind of ammo resource). Killing enemies will grant Pit two kind of resources: points (which are assigned at the end of each level) and hearts (which are picked up and stay on screen for a limited amount of time), the former will be used to upgrade Pit’s health (the starting health allows him to take seven hits before dying), while the latter can be used to buy items in a series of in-game shops.
The most interesting part of the game is how the vertical scrolling is used as a way to keep a constant level of difficulty. As the player moves upwards the screen will follow him and therefore move lower platforms out of view. As the screen will never scroll downwards, falling below the screen will result in immediate death, regardless of what platform was in the “out of view” part of the screen. While there is some frustration in the fact that falling will immediately kill the player, regardless of his health level, this is a quite elegant way to build reasonably “full” and traversable level, while still keeping a good degree of platforming challenge.