1986 was the year I became a Kid Icarus addict. I needed some kind of therapy group to kick the habit, alas nothing like that existed then. I would sit ragged and soiled on street corners scratching nervously at my own arms and cheeks, holding a sign that said “Will fight for hearts.” The sad truth is that a large part of today’s active gaming generation was not even born when I was beating eggplant priests and flying off to fight numerous mythical monsters. Kid Icarus is one of my personal favorite platformers of all time; how can you not love the game’s many iconic musical tracks? My love of Kid Icarus is why Olympia Rising instantly found a home in my Steam Library after its release last week.
You begin the game in a cyan colored backdrop, with strange wisps and contrasting trees. At the edge of Hades you begin your quest to escape the Underworld and back towards the Olympian heavens. As you conclude a level, Charon the boatman of the river Styx awaits demanding coin. After paying him his dues he ferries you to the next level, promising to reveal more of Iona’s past along the way. There are 6 total environments, each with its own lengthy set of stages, and 6 distinct bosses.
Olympia Rising separates itself from its NES ancestor with faster gameplay and vast levels. As much as I love the classics, I was surprised to find that playing Iona was more enjoyable than anticipated. Iona’s basic attack is a forward sword slash that cuts down most enemies in her path. Magic scrolls allow for more powerful elemental attacks. Magic power is not limitless, it is replenished by picking up potions. As the game progresses you are introduced to one of Iona’s signature combat concepts, chaining attacks. Iona possesses the ability to double jump, however if you are able to kill an enemy in the air you are granted another set of double jumps, hit another enemy in the air, and you can do it again. With a little practice, you will find yourself soaring great distances without ever hitting ground. These chain attacks earn massive coin bonuses. The first time I pulled off 12 chain enemy attack I felt my the corners of my mouth curve into a smile.
Olympia Rising’s charms are not without drawbacks. The game is unplayable without a controller. Controller movement is tied to your directional pad not the analog sticks. Now for the sake of going full-on retro I can understand the D-Pad restriction. The higher degree of 360 degree control an analog stick could offer would fit the aerial chain combo idea better. Why not give gamers the choice instead?
Charon’s token limit required to pass a level can get a little aggravating. You will be forced to hunt down wider areas to chain combos and maximize your treasure income. However if enemies do line up just-so, a split second misstep can end an entire level’s worth of effort. Some of the later levels require become burdensome with the unyielding coin requirements.
Difficulty in certain areas can ramp up to irritating levels. In one particular stage, after being introduced to the jump chain combo I was thrust into a wonderful (read: from hell’s heart I stab at thee Paleozoic, seriously) area with rising green goop. Charon laughed at my partial payments, so back to the start I went. I died many times on this level either by a split-second zig-zag error or bouncing off an enemy, which would send Iona plummeting to her doom. Unexplained spikes in difficulty? That’s very Kid Icarus, not one of the iconic elements I thought would be duplicated.
Extra coins carry over, lessening the load required in the next stage. It encourages you to attempt multiple levels in one sitting, as the gold carry-over helps you advance quicker. Boss fights are also retro in nature: identify the enemies attack pattern and vulnerability, then wait for the right moment and strike. Repeat until boss is dead. Not original, but again, a game design concept from decades ago faithfully replicated.
Your reward for defeating these bosses will be entry into a new world, replete with new art, new music, new enemies, and new levels. While I hoped that some of the game’s music was as memorable and catchy as some of my favorite NES games of ol, I was not as hooked on the game’s music as I would have liked. The game’s sound effects were also limited to a few wooshes and splurts, and the occasional ghostly wails of Iona dying.
At a $5 starting price, Olympia Rising offers reasonable value. Some of my favorite retro games blend more modern game techniques, or modern audio work into their titles to provide a deeper experience while keeping faithful to the nostalgic visuals. Olympia Rising is a fun pickup for platform fans and retro gaming fans alike.