The Kid is back: Kid Icarus Uprising
Nintendo has kept the lid on the Kid Icarus franchise since the days of the NES. Over a quarter-century later, the series is getting a full reboot for the 3DS. So how does it stack up?
As we approach the year anniversary of the 3DS, only a handful of titles jump to mind as must-haves. When Nintendo announced that the Kid Icarus franchise was being resurrected for the 3DS, we immediately thought of what the updated side-scroller would evolve into, but Kid Icarus Uprising takes the game we remember from long ago, and throws it in a completely new direction.
You might as well forget everything you remember about the original Kid Icarus game that first debuted on the NES. In addition to making me feel old, the new Kid Icarus is an absolute deviation from its quarter-century-old predecessor, maintaining nothing more than the same main character, Pit, and few recognizable enemies and weapons.
Whether you agree with the decision to change genres, Kid Icarus Uprising is a game built solely for the 3DS from the ground up, making great use of what the system has to offer: precision stylus controls, satisfying 3D graphics, and smart, pick-up-and-play level design consideration.
Uprising is mostly a third-person-shooter, relying heavily on the same controls as games like Metroid Prime Hunters (on the DS) where an awkward hybrid of gameplay-plus-stylus must be carefully balanced. It's perhaps the toughest element of the game to move beyond, as it will require a steep learning curve for some gamers. Even after hours of play time, I still find the whole control scheme tough to master. Most upsetting, however, is the game's lack of dual analog control with the Circle Pad Pro. While the accessory is compatible, it won't let you abandon the stylus.
Behind the odd controls lies a great action-shooter game with tons of achievements and unlockables. There is a lot of content to make your way through, and the pacing is perfect for quick gameplay sessions. Most of the game's production values are way above average for a 3DS title, including some fairly trippy fly-through levels, and a truly impressive score.
It may not be a system seller, but 3DS owners should breathe easy knowing there's a quality title to conquer this spring.
Nintendo, the nonconformist? It wouldn't seem that the company behind Super Mario Bros. and Zelda had this in its blood, but Kid Icarus: Uprising for the 3DS feels almost like an indie import title as opposed to a headlining game for the spring. That's a benefit and a flaw: it's refreshing to see a Nintendo game that's so odd, but the sum of the whole experience doesn't add up to a game I was looking for.
Yes, Kid Icarus is a sequel of sorts to the old NES game. However, it hardly makes any sense on its own; your winged hero is set loose in giant shooter levels spanning what looks like a mythological landscape, but is populated with the weirdest cartoonish monsters, all of which come flying at you in nearly incomprehensible fashion. The goal -- shoot, dodge, collect hearts for future weapon upgrades -- is simple and entertaining, and the levels do look beautiful, but the whole affair feels like a crazy sequel to Starfox more than anything else.
Another major problem are the controls. Using a stylus in one hand and gripping the 3DS in the other, using the left trigger and circle pad, amounts to a colossal oddity. This is a game that feels like it's crying for a second analog pad, something the 3DS natively lacks. The controls work, but barely. It stood in the way of my enjoyment of the game.
Kid Icarus: Uprising is a game I applaud for its risk taking, but it's hardly a system seller. I don't really know who this game is for. I appreciate it as a rarity, but not for its celebration of the stylus.
I'm sure I played the original Kid Icarus, as many young NES owners did, but I'll admit I can't recall much about it (this was 26 years ago, after all). That said, it's one of those cult classic games people always want to bring back, and the game's announcement trailer at E3 2010 was a solid piece of fanboy red meat.
Despite this heavy historical burden, the new Kid Icarus: Uprising ends up being one of the more engaging 3DS games I've played, and one of the few that really takes advantage of the 3D platform. The flying sequences recall one of my early arcade favorites, Space Harrier, more than any vintage NES game. And it's exactly this kind of depth-reliant game design that makes for the best experiences on the 3DS. Driving games and flying games do well, while fighting and puzzle games, or ports from other platforms, can feel like the stereoscopic view is tacked on.
The flying sequences are the game's most successful, with a throw-everything-at-you mentality that makes precise aiming and movement secondary to just firing at anything that moves; it's not the most sophisticated shooting experience around, but it works. And the levels are thankfully short, something many mobile game developers fail to take into account. The on-foot sequences are somewhat less successful. The combination of moving and dashing with the analog stick and steering with the stylus is awkward, and poor Pit sometimes moves like a lumbering tank.
Packed into the box for the game is a small folding plastic stand. That's odd, I thought, why would you need that? It turns out that the way you need to grip the 3DS to hit the left trigger and analog stick is not exactly ergonomic; I started to suffer hand fatigue after just a couple of levels. The stand, while not much more than a cheap bit of plastic, worked surprisingly well (even balanced on my lap in bed).
It also solved another major 3DS problem, helping keep the screen steady; the 3D screen's very narrow optimal viewing angle makes it far too easy to jump out of the stereoscopic view while holding it in your hand. It's a bit of a kludgy solution to a long-term problem, but it did improve the overall experience.
The game's real staying power, for me at least, was actually the writing and voice acting -- not the first thing you'd think of from a game such as this. First, there actually is voice acting, something many modern versions of classic Nintendo games lack. At first, it was stilted and overdone, in that classic bad video game voice acting style. But after I winced at the first few exchanges between the main characters, the tone changed, subtly at first, then more blatantly. The game script breaks the fourth wall, playing up classic gaming cliches for laughs, with Pit and his goddess benefactor Palutena clearly in on the joke, talking about mini-bosses and other game mechanics. Imagine that, a core-audience-targeted game that doesn't take itself too seriously. Now if we could could only get more gamers to do the same.