Games like: Mega Man
Time played: 7 hours
Considered to be the most difficult game ever released on the Nintendo Entertainment System, Battle Kid: Fortress of Peril never saw the light of day until February 2010; fifteen years after Nintendo canceled any kind of support or production of the console itself. Developed by Sivak, Battle Kid made waves as a homebrew title that is played on original hardware and stayed true to the aesthetics from classic titles but with hard edge grit.
There are times when playing an indie game that I wish I could play the game on the hardware it resembles. Sure the Xbox 360 and Playstation controllers are nice when connecting them to Steam or setting up Joy2Key. But nothing has that same kind of glee you get when you hold the cartridge in your hand and place it in the console and power on the machine. This is the only way to play Battle Kid. (Well, that’s not true. There are roms out there to play with an emulator but do the developer a favor and purchase it here. You’ll be happy you did.)
Three mysterious figures are set on world domination. They have made base camp at the Fortress of Peril, rightfully named due to the castle being previously inhabited by wizards that set traps throughout the entire establishment. It is up to Timmy (yes, that’s the protagonist’s name) to dawn a battle suit clad in green and take down these evil masterminds. Flying in just above the fortress, you’ll journey through catacombs, caves, and strange star filled skies taking out enemies armed to the teeth with interesting weapons and defeat anyone who may have the heart to take them on.
When you start the game, you’ll have your choice of difficulty ranging from Easy to Unfair. Each step up makes things just a little bit harder on you while not changing the main essence of the game and its gameplay. The attributes that change are the amount of continues you have and whether or not you can take advantage of the password system. Normal gives you unlimited continues and the password system while Unfair gives you none of these. One hit will result in your death and ultimately the end of your game pushing you back to the start menu. Easy, with the addition of unlimited continues and the password system, also gives you a power up for your blaster right off the bat. But you have to play the game with your battle suit in pink instead of green.
For all intended purposes, Battle Kid plays like Mega Man on steroids. You arm cannon shoots only three bullets on screen at a time and you have full range over your jump. Changing direction mid jump or the height is controlled by moving the directional pad left and right or by tapping or holding the jump button. Everything is a 1 hit death and you will die. Over and over again. Each room or screen will reload upon entering it resetting all of the puzzles and enemy paths. Patterns reign supreme to whether you’ll make it to the next. You’ll die multiple times to figure out what the enemy patterns are and which is the best way of completing a single screen.
Battle Kid also takes homage from another popular indie title that I’ve spoke about a few times on this site: I Wanna Be the Guy. Possibly the pioneer to all of these popular 2D platformers set to extremely hardcore difficulty, IWBTG had an annoying little feature of the falling lemon. Stepping into its path will make the lemon drop. Much to the players dismay, these lemons may also fly up if you are trying to jump over them. It’s a huge slap in the face to the player when first encountering these lemons and the very definition of a cheap death. After a while you just laugh. Battle Kid enjoys these mechanics as well to set the stage of what’s to come.
The game is fairly open to some extent. It does a nice job is giving reminders to revisit certain areas once you’ve obtained the required weapon or upgrade much like in Super Metroid. There’s even some nice baiting in terms of showing an upgrade in plain sight that you can’t reach just yet without the need for a higher jump or the ability to have unlimited oxygen under water. These stick out in your mind for, once you obtain said upgrade, you’ll remember back to the spot. Which ultimately is the next path you’ll need to take. Others will be keys you can pick up to unlock different numbered doors. Most of these will help you push the plot forward while the last key will help unlock some secrets that are hidden within the game.
There are six bosses you’ll need to conquer before completing this game. These bosses will range from a giant plant monster that shoots thrones at you to a floating archangel. If you think they’d give you a break on the boss battles you’d be wrong. Typically there will be saving points just before these battles to give you a chance to come back again when you die. I’ve easily put in over seven hours into this game and I’ve only been able to make it to the second boss. Yes, this game is hard.
The graphics are perfectly placed for the NES. Due to keeping in the constraints of the hardware itself, it’s hard to break these chains. While there isn’t anything spectacular in Battle Kid, everything looks and feels like it should. The music also has a nice flow for when you are in battle to the save point rooms. There are even points in the game when you’re moving from one area to the next where there’s silence. It’s a calming feeling because you know that the next area is going to be harder than before. Because it always is. It always is.
The one issue I have with Battle Kid is the screen transitions. There isn’t any scrolling because scrolling rooms on the NES is damn hard to program. But there’s a black frame in between each room and the video gives something of a flicker. This becomes even more apparent when the room is closer to the top of the screen and jumping to the next will make the game change rooms three different times.
Playing through Battle Kid (for probably the millionth time) got me thinking. There are loads of these games that are available today: Super Meat Boy, Volgarr the Viking, Blood of the Werewolf. These games that turn the difficulty way up and force you to follow its rules or suffer the penalty of death. Not to say that these games aren’t fun (they really are) but as a developer you run the risk of the player making a choice: is this game fun because it’s difficult or is it not fun because the deaths feel cheap? If the opinion sways in the other direction, you’ll expect 99.9 per cent of your fan base never seeing the more than half of your game because it becomes so frustrating. So much in fact, you’ll end up placing it on your shelf to collect dust. I did and still do enjoy Battle Kid because it gives me the feeling that the more I play the better I can become, but I feel like I am a rare breed. Something to think about.
Battle Kid: Fortress of Peril is easily the hardest game ever to be released on any Nintendo console. Created from the ground up on original NES hardware, this product of blood, sweat, and tears will have you supplying your own as the rooms are brutal, unforgiving, and relentless. Still want to play? I thought you did.
Check out more pics from Battle Kid: Fortress of Peril!
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