STAFF REVIEW of Battle Kid: Fortress of Peril (Xbox One)

Wednesday, April 13, 2022.
by Adam Dileva

Battle Kid: Fortress of Peril Box art Every time I go to play a game that is trying to emulate what gaming was back when I grew up on an NES, I’m always reminded and surprised how hard gaming was back in those days. Many games back in the mid 80’s were brutally difficult and we just accepted it, that’s just how it was. I don’t think it was until decades later that I was actually able to beat the Mega Man’s, Contra’s, Blaster Master’s and more of the gaming world.

Born during the original NES era, I have a soft spot for 8-bit games that I grew up with, so naturally I was drawn towards Battle Kid: Fortress of Peril, developed by Sivak Games. This game was actually released way back in 2010, but as an actual NES cartridge, one of the first early hits of the NES homebrew scene. Published by 8-Bit Legit, Battle Kid: Fortress of Peril is now released for Xbox players to discover and enjoy with the caveat being that you’re a fan of those brutally difficult classic games from the NES era.

Inspired by Mega Man, Metroid and Castlevania, Battle Kid: Fortress of Peril is simple in premise but can be extremely challenging at the best of times, even with numerous difficulty options. I’ve clearly aged and don’t find myself enjoying dying over and over, which is probably why I don’t gravitate towards the Souls games, but I’m unable to fault Battle Kid: Fortress of Peril for being challenging, as that is its premise, as games from this era were simply this hard. I’ll admit, I made a conscious decision not to play with my Elite Series 2 controller, as I knew that I was going to become frustrated and didn’t want any risk of smashing or throwing my controller out the window. I made a good choice, as there were times where I was about to cross that line after dying a few dozen times in the same area.

Retro at its heart, you’re able to choose from a Story or Arcade Mode, depending on how much narrative element you want to sit through. While very few games from this era were very narrative heavy aside from RPG’s, I commend Battle Kid: Fortress of Peril for at least having a story to give you some backdrop and premise of why you’re fighting. Timmy is simply a young kid minding his own business talking to one of the scientists when something seems to happen outside, as it appears explosions are occurring and there’s a commotion. You’re told to stay put while the adults go and investigate what’s happened.

You’re a curious young kid though, so of course you’re going to not stay put and go see what has happened. After some brief exploring you find the scientist amongst the rubble as it appears the base has been attacked by someone, or something. You’re given a special keycard and told to pursue who has done this. You’re just a kid though, what can you do? Turns out it seems as though the scientists have been working on a special combat suit, so now it’s up to Timmy to stop the bad guy and recover what was stolen. This suit of course enhances Timmy’s natural abilities, allowing you be stronger and shoot from a blaster, much like Mega Man. So you take off to go pursue your target, but finding them won’t be easy, as the island you arrive on houses a fortress filled with enemies, traps and a handful of challenging bosses.

Much like Mega Man games, you’ll be platforming by jumping from ledge to ledge while using your blaster to shoot any enemies in your way. Unlike Mega Man though where you choose a certain level to play before defeating its boss and moving to the next, Battle Kid: Fortress of Peril instead has one large world, interconnected with rooms with multiple different branches and paths, many of which won’t be accessible until you have certain keys or abilities like the double jump you’ll find along the way, adding a Metroidvania aspect to the gameplay. This is all well and good, but with no map present, it’s going to take a lot of notes or paying attention to remember which ways you’ve previously gone or haven't before.

Much like games from this era, you’re going to die, a lot, and then even more times. From landing on one-hit death spikes, getting shot by other enemies or falling to the difficult bosses, just be ready to die more times than you can count. This is why Battle Kid: Fortress of Peril actually has a password system, numerous checkpoints and a death counter. Before starting though, quickly go over to the settings and choose your outer edge border, because Battle Kid: Fortress of Peril plays in a classic aspect ratio, so the outer edges can be filled with some artwork or made to emulate what the old classic TV’s looked like back in the day, complete with classy wood vinyl accents.

While there are multiple different difficulty options to choose from, even me trying to complete Battle Kid: Fortress of Peril on Very Easy tested my patience and reflexes at the best of times. Each difficulty up makes enemies harder and gives you less life, so even with a number of life blocks on the easier difficulties, I’d still die to bosses a handful of times before winning, or land on the instant death spikes more times than I can count. How you’re expected to complete the game on the harder difficulties with only one life bar is beyond me, but the challenge is there if you wish.

The first sections of the game will be fairly linear with maybe just a single branching path or two, but eventually you’ll start to hit blocked paths by certain blocks or seemingly impassable walls given how high and far you can jump. You’re going to find special keys, objects and abilities along the way, as well as specific teleport points labeled ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’, etc. Given that the game is one large map, you’re expected to remember where you’ve been or where you should head back to where you were once unable to pass once you have a specific key or ability. Without a map this is of course very difficult if you don’t have a photographic memory, and I can’t even count how much time I wasted going in circles to places I’ve already been simply trying to figure out where I saw that blocked path I should be able to go through now.

Just like classic Mega Man, rooms will ‘reset’ every time you go back to one, even if just for a moment as you transition from one to the next and back. With well over 500 rooms and dozens of enemy types, you’re going to be challenged all the way until the credits roll. Back in the 8-Bit era, games usually opted to use a password system given that not all cartridges had batteries to keep those game saves, and it’s no different here. Every checkpoint you reach here will give you a unique password based on your location, upgrades and unlocks at that point, so get a pen and paper ready if you want to ever take a break from frustration and come back later.

While there are a decent amount of checkpoints throughout the fortress you’re exploring, every time you die you’ll be taken back to the last one you enabled. This is great, except for when you use one just before a boss, defeat said boss, then die before finding another checkpoint. The game doesn’t remember you beat the boss since you haven’t found another checkpoint since, so you’ll probably be fighting a few of the bosses a couple times until you do, something I found myself doing a handful of times.

Aesthetically, Battle Kid: Fortress of Peril looks as though it came straight from the mid-80’s alongside others in the genre at the time. Are you going to be impressed by its graphics, most likely not, but keeping in mind that this originally released on an actual NES cartridge with the same limitations, it’s an impressive feat. Sure it doesn’t look as polished as the greats like Mega Man, but again, for a single developer aiming to recreate a game for that era, it’s remarkable. The audio on the other hand is done very well, with catchy chiptune music that also feels as though it was taken straight from the era, fitting for the different backdrops and biomes as you explore.

Your enjoyment will surely depend on your resilience to frustration when it comes to dying over and over again, and while I would at times border on rage from having to do a certain section dozens of times, finally completing that section or boss was exciting and felt incredibly rewarding. Completing Battle Kid: Fortress of Peril, even on Very Easy, was quite a challenge, and I can’t fathom Unfair where you get one hit and life, but the challenge is there should you desire. While not as polished as some of the greats of the genre, Battle Kid: Fortress of Peril was an exciting yet infuriating time down 8-Bit nostalgia lane.

**Battle Kid: Fortress of Peril was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 7.5 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 7.5 / 10


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