System: Nintendo Entertainment System
Developer: Sivak Games
Completed: May 26, 2014
As mentioned in my Raspberry Pi review, the retro gaming community is very active in several fields, such as translation projects and ROM hacking. Generally speaking, I don’t care for hacked versions of games I have already played. There are a few exceptions, such as Mario Adventures and Rockman 4: Minus Infinity, since they provide a brand new experience to an old game.
There are others who create an entirely new game. A number of them can be simplistic (space shooters), and others have graphics and gameplay on par with Action 52 (that was harsh, I’m sorry…).
Then there’s Battle Kid.
I first heard about Battle Kid from the website Screwattack.com. They released a video of the Top 10 hardest NES games, and coming in at number eight was this indie game I had never heard of before watching their video. I checked out the creator Sivak’s website and saw some more gameplay footage. It looked phenomenal! I went over to RetroUSB in order to secure a copy, and within two weeks, I had the green cartridge in my possession.
Battle Kid: Fortress of Peril follows the exploits of Timmy as he jumps, shoots, and frequently dies all over the place. I wasn’t aware of a plot until a few days after I started playing. I was excited to play it! From what I can gather, Timmy is a scrawny nerd working for Dr. Science. For whatever reason in the nondescript Disch Corp (which looks like an observatory), Dr. Science picks up a transmission from a terrorist group whose name I cannot remember, so I will call them Illin’ Villain. Ill Vill designed a super mech that threatens mankind, so Timmy, the spunky scamp that he is, takes it upon himself to take action! Dr. Science gives Timmy a power suit made of an extremely lightweight material, meaning one hit will do him in (I love that they give an explanation on the one-hit deaths!). She further explains that there are cards in the fortress previously inhabited by plot-device wizards that will integrate with the suit. With pep in his step and possibly a sack lunch, Timmy infiltrates the fortress of peril!!
The gameplay is perfection. The controls are completely responsive: Timmy will react exactly as he is told, which is great considering the demands of the player on certain screens. Timmy does not need to gain momentum like in the Super Mario series, going zero to AAAAAAAHHHHHH instantly. Overall, he feels like a quicker Mega Man, including the limitations to shots fired on screen.
Each screen feels like a puzzle. There is a lot of platforming that requires very precise movements, but there is usually one good way of clearing the screen. If too much time is taken, the enemy patterns may become unsynchronized, making it tougher than it has to be. Since the screen does not scroll, but instead works more like the first Legend of Zelda game in screen transition, you can easily reason out the best path, leave the room, and then come back to reset the patterns. Mess up once, and Timmy is thrown back to the last save. Fortunately, the game gives you infinite continues. The save points are plentiful enough to be fair, while spread out enough to make you ecstatic when you happen across one. Just a tip from experience: Always remember to go back to the save point after defeating a boss!
The game’s layout has a Metroid feel to it. Different sections exist which are only accessible after receiving certain upgrades to the suit, while Timmy navigates a central hub to reach them. Like Metroid, it lacks a mapping system, instead using an item to give the Cartesian coordinates of the current screen. Players may resort to using graphing paper to create their own map, though in the age of internet, finding a map online is pretty easy. Quick navigation is possible through the use of teleporters, though some are more useful than others (another hint: Make sure you activate Teleporter IV since it is near the screen leading to Mother Brain the last area).
Also like Metroid, Timmy gains power-ups at certain points in the game. These include a higher jump, double jump, feather fall, and infinite oxygen to transverse water levels. That’s right: Timmy has a limited amount of time underwater before suffocating. Sivak made water levels more fun…
Do yourself a favor: Turn the music up. When I was growing up, my brothers and I would usually listen to the radio or a cassette (eventually CDs. I’m not that old!) while playing a game, but you would be doing yourself a great injustice if you did not listen to the soundtrack while playing. The game may also provide audio cues for some of the traps, and not hearing them makes the game much, MUCH harder…
Timmy lands in the hub, traveling through a forest to some awesome chiptune music. The first area gets the player used to the controls, and it does a pretty good job at that.
And then you find out how heartless the game is:
This screen is where I lost a lot of lives. Fortunately, there are infinite continues on Normal, so you can suffer the humility over and over again! Each of the flying eye guys shoot in three different directions, carefully positioned to where Timmy will most likely be at the time they fire. The clear platform is glass and crumbles in half a second after Timmy touches it. The worst part is based on how you use the teleporters, you may have to go there more than once…
The first boss is a giant plant, with the flower as the weak point. Three spikes shoot from the stem, while a root pops up under Timmy’s feet, meaning he needs to move CONSTANTLY. With careful timing (or wussing out to the relatively safe area on the left), the boss goes down easily enough.
The second area takes place in the sky. Timmy starts to run across fans that manipulate his movement, along with spikes and disappearing blocks a la Mega Man. The boss is a robot owl that shoots Rinka energy donuts from its eyes and releases birds from its chest. There is also a laser that shoots straight down. The first time playing, I dodged frantically, but I eventually figured out that the laser stops just short of Timmy’s face, sooooooo don’t worry too much about it. Apply bullets to face liberally. Hmm, something about the pattern of those green blocks after defeating Owl City looks off…
The third area is the Hall of the Colormancers. That’s just cool to say! The little robed dweebs shoot projectiles based on their colors. The other gimmick is the screen of spikes. I remember seeing screen shots of it before getting the game, wondering how in the world one was supposed to get through! Maybe an item would allow Timmy to destroy spikes? That would be pretty cool! Instead, it goes off a timer where the spikes would appear and disappear. Still a neat concept.
I can’t remember the boss’ name. I’ll call her Lucy. She jumps across the bottom of the screen, being a royal pain in the posterior, attacking different ways based on the color of her robe. Red shoots three gems that converge on Timmy’s position, orange shoots lightening, pink has wavy orbs, blue is a wheel across the floor, purple shoots a few energy waves at three different heights, and green calls down stars at Timmy. Defense is the key to beating her.
The waterfall has Timmy scaling vertically while overcoming new annoying enemies such as frogs. Think hunchbacks from Castlevania, only a bit more predictable and a LOT harder to hit. Often, I would find a way to get the frogs trapped at a wall or time it to jump over and run like crazy! The boss is Nagaconda (I can remember that boss’ name but not the others?), who has a simple pattern. Don’t bother actively avoiding the eel at the bottom, it will kind of happen naturally while dodging the bubbles. Boom, dead.
As if that weren’t fun enough, we get an honest-to-goodness water stage. Fortunately, Nagaconda rewarded Timmy with the infinite oxygen, nixing one annoyance. Several of the enemies follow a simple pattern or chase Timmy down, following a simple pattern. The boss is anything but simple: Four turrets stationed to shoot in seemingly random patterns. Should one turret fall, the others shoot faster. The trick is to distribute the wealth, damaging each of them evenly before dealing the finishing blow; that way, the bullets never get out of hand for too long.
I was surprised at the Amethyst Caverns. It looks like an ice stage, but it’s just psychedelic. There is a lot of tricky platforming that will test Timmy’s limits, especially with carefully placed enemies. The sixth boss, the Amethyst Angel, rains down pain from all over, though it will use only use two of its four attacks while on the ground, and the other two in the air. This at least gives the player an idea of what to expect and plan according to the guardian’s position.
Once all six bosses are defeated, Timmy may proceed to the final leg of his journey. There is an optional area that notches up the difficulty quite a bit, though the reward is a power-up granting double damage for Timmy. If you don’t want it spoiled, highlight the text below:
Timmy will need the fourth key for this one. Go back to the ship and proceed to the highest point before Timmy starts heading right. Jump left, using the feather fall and double jump to maintain his vertical position as much as possible. The cave contains Key IV. Next, head to Owlbot’s chambers. The screen before Timmy drops down the vertical shaft has a strange pattern. He can pass through that wall, and, using Key IV, will enter the Gauntlet of Evil. Good luck!!
Cleo! I just remembered the third boss’ name!!
Now Timmy is ready to proceed to the final leg of his perilous journey. Head back to Teleporter IV, where the hall leading into the inner sanctum will clear itself after showing portraits of the fallen bosses. This area uses all of the tricks from the previous areas, plus a few new ones…
Proceeding as normal, Timmy will come across a save area with an upside-down enneagram. This one robs Timmy of all of his power-ups in a gut-wrenching moment for the player. Now he must brave four different sections to reclaim his power-ups before facing the final two bosses.
The penultimate boss is Zedd, an alien with the ability to freeze time. Based on Zedd’s position, Timmy will have only a few safe areas. For example, if Zedd jumps to the middle of the screen and crosses his arms, you better hustle to be directly over Zedd as he will drop energy waves everywhere else. He also has an attack where he teleports to Timmy’s position while juggling two energy balls around the room. A smart player will inch to the next square, turn around, and open fire until Zedd disappears again. This is one of my favorite fights for creativity, but over too soon…
The final boss is the daunting Supermech. It will assault Timmy with at least five different attacks, all of which require fast reflexes. This fight is made much more difficult due to how high its weak point, the monitor, is. Forget about standing on the platform in the upper left corner of the room, as that makes Timmy a sitting duck for practically every attack. The best strategy is to attack while dodging, much like… every other boss.
If Timmy did not recover the Key IV item, the masterminds will escape. With Key IV, Timmy can proceed to the right and face Chet, a… red Timmy. His two cohorts escape in a ship, while Timmy captures Chet. Dr. Science uses a truth serum that drives Chet coo coo bananas without doing much anything else. This is why I advocate science. The ending is left vague, as if a sequel was planned…
I highly recommend Battle Kid: Fortress of Peril to anyone with a Nintendo Entertainment System functioning. It works within the limits of the NES to deliver an experience that, had it been released alongside Kirby, Zelda, Metroid, Mega Man, and Mario, it would easily find its place in several lists of top games for the system. Give Sivak Games your money.
Battle Kid can be a punishing game for the uninitiated, but if you grew up playing NES hard games, it will feel like home. The graphics do not have near the amount of polish as Super Mario Bros. 3, but it looks better than Super Mario Bros. Everything else is practically perfected, where only a few areas really seem unfair. Sivak himself did a playthrough with commentary, which can be found here. Also, want a challenge? Enter PETUNIAX in the password screen.
My arbitrary rating based on absolutely nothing is 16 out of 18.