Developer: Sivak Games
Publisher: 8 Bit Legit
Release Date: May 19, 2023 (Switch version), April 14, 2022 (Xbox version)
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S
Price: $9.99 (USD)
Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch
There is no shortage of nostalgia for the bygone days of the NES era among gamers, and games like Battle Kid: Fortress of Peril are here to cater to those feelings. The game was, in fact, originally released on an NES cartridge back in 2010. However, that version is no longer for sale, and if you don’t have your old console from childhood anymore, or you’re too young to have been playing games in the 1980s, then the recent Nintendo Switch release of Battle Kid: Fortress of Peril may just be what you need.
To the game’s credit, but also to its detriment, it plays a lot like older NES games. There are some modern touches and difficulty settings that make the game more accessible, however it sticks to that era’s more common extreme difficulty, making the experience, at times, frustrating. The art and music are also very traditional to the 8-bit era. The story is simple and minimal, providing just enough of a context for the gameplay to get started and push along.
Ultimately, this game will appeal most to nostalgic NES fans of retro-style games, hardcore tough-as-nails 2D platformer fans, and/or those willing to stick with a challenging game.
The primary gameplay of Battle Kid: Fortress of Peril is reminiscent of early Megaman games, although a touch simpler. The game is a 2D side-scroller where you must complete various platforming challenges, and use a projectile attack to defeat enemies and clear a path to safety. Essentially it is a two button game, which of course makes sense given the original NES release. The game also has a Metroidvania-type upgrade system where you continually unlock new abilities and gain access to previously visible, but unavailable, areas.
The Metroidvania-like aspect of the game often lacks the feeling of becoming more powerful. In an ideal Metroidvania game, each new ability not only allows you access to a new area, but provides more fun to the player by giving great feeling movement options or attacks. In this game the unlocks sometimes do that, but at other times simply give you access to previously inaccessible areas.
The platforming itself is fairly straightforward, and the character is a tad floaty, but predictable. I wish the jump had taken more inspiration from modern game design. A 2D platformer really is best when it’s fun to just run and jump and shoot, and this game falls short a bit here. When it’s fun to just control a player, it can help with repeating difficult segments and dying a lot. One trick I missed from many modern platforming games is what’s sometimes referred to as coyote time, which allows players to jump just slightly after they’ve left a platform. The term is a reference to Wile E. Coyote of Warner Brothers cartoon fame, and his ability to stand in the air after walking off a cliff. When the game presented trickier platforming sections, I occasionally found myself making the jump input just a touch too late, resulting in failure and frustration.
While the original NES version of the game shipped with only one difficulty setting, the current console version has multiple difficulty settings. While even the easier modes can still challenging, the lower levels of difficulty grant you additional hit points, with seven being the maximum on the Very Easy setting, and five hit points on Easy. The Hard, Very Hard, and Unfair difficulties are insta-kill with only one hit point and limited, or zero, continues. Normal difficulty, which is what I primarily played with, provides three hit points. The lower difficulty settings also reduce the amount of damage it takes to defeat enemies. Once you’ve selected your difficulty you are locked in.
The game seems to reward slower and patient playing, especially when approaching new sections. It isn’t always obvious the best way to counter new enemies or clear them from afar on your first foray onto a new screen, which leads to a trial-and-error type of approach that isn’t always satisfying, especially on higher difficulty levels.
There is a checkpoint system, which is one nice concession for a modern audience, although I wish the game allowed you to save your progress properly. Instead, the game uses a password system, where it generates new passwords at the checkpoints. While understandable for an NES cartridge, this system provides a layer of friction on the Switch, where I have to take a screenshot and/or write down the password for future use.
Thankfully the checkpoints themselves seem to be decently placed, as I found myself beginning to be overly frustrated with areas right before pushing through and finding a checkpoint.
That said, the game is extremely hard on even Normal difficulty. Many modern challenging games have more generous checkpoints and while the checkpoints in this game are generally fair, I did find myself getting frustrated often. Replaying older NES games on the Nintendo Switch Online, I lean heavily on save states and the rewind feature. This game, with its NES style approach, made me wish for similar options. Having to replay difficult segments over and over can lead to a level of frustration, but simultaneously mastering those challenging parts of the game and making it to the next checkpoint provides a real sense of mastery. Ultimately, if you are a more casual gamer or inexperienced with platforming games, playing on one of the lower difficulty settings is advised.
I tried the game on the easiest difficulty setting, Very Easy, and it makes the game much more accessible. It is a lot more manageable to make it from one checkpoint to the next and defeat bosses with the extra hit points and reduced enemy hit points. If the game intrigues you, but you’re afraid of the difficulty, this setting can make the game worth playing. However, there are still hazards, such as spikes, in the game which will kill you with one hit, regardless of difficulty. That said, the game still feels a lot more forgiving on the lower difficulty settings.
The story to the game is rather simple and straightforward. It’s vague enough to leave some room for interpretation and simple enough to launch the player on the adventure pretty quickly. If you’re looking for a story rich game with engaging dialogue, this is not it. But, again, the story seems to fit with the feel and the throwback nature of the game.
ART AND MUSIC
The aesthetic of this game is overall solid. It is an NES game through and through, which is reflected in both the artwork and the music. If you’re looking for modern graphics or even sophisticated pixel art, this is not the game for you. The artwork is standard fair, if a bit derivative of the games it’s inspired by. However the character portraits in the Switch version are nicely done and reworked from the original NES version. The music is, of course, 8-bit chiptune music, but it felt vibrant and was driving and kept me engaged, even after hearing some of it more than I might have liked due to the difficulty of the game.
Battle Kid: Fortress of Peril is a game well suited to a particular audience. If you don’t find yourself among those wishing there were more, new NES-style tough action platformers, this game probably isn’t for you. While the lower levels of difficulty do make the game easier for people who aren’t experts at playing platformers, this game will likely most be enjoyed most by players who want a next-level, or high degree of, challenge.
Final score: 3.5 / 5 stars.