Kid Icarus Uprising Revitalizes a Threadbare Series «

Share it:Tweet Masahiro Sakurai was given an unenviable task however many years ago it was that Nintendo assigned him to “Project Sora”: Rebooting the Kid Icarus franchise. This wasn’t simply a matter of updating the art of a long-running series to make its style look a little more contemporary or include a Halo-style shield system or something. Kid Icarus has lay fallow for two decades, ever since Of Myths and Monsters for Game Boy, which wasn’t even released in Japan and therefore probably wasn’t given much thought for this reinvention.
For all intents and purposes, Kid Icarus isn’t a series, it’s a game… and while that game was pretty advanced upon its debut 25 years ago and still offers some nice touches, time has not treated it kindly. So what exactly is it that defines “Kid Icarus”? Sakurai’s source material is a slightly clumsy platformer whose hero suffers from a little too much inertia and falls to his death when he tries ducking beneath flying foes or projectiles. The game alternated between fixed-scrolling vertical and horizontal stages, and every fourth stage was a maze-like fortress designed to be explored. At the end, the action culminated in a single aerial shooter level.

So what on earth should a new Kid Icarus be, exactly? That was the question put to Masahiro Sakurai.

Masahiro Sakurai, as it happens, may be the one person suited to the task. Sakurai’s strength is that while he works with Nintendo, he isn’t Nintendo personnel himself. For all that Nintendo makes great games, the company gives the impression that its talent exists in a creative vacuum; outside of the annual paparazzi photo of Shigeru Miyamoto checking out someone else’s game at E3, Nintendo seems to truck along cheerfully oblivious to trends and concepts that shape the rest of the industry. Not Sakurai, though. On the contrary, he treats the whole of gaming as a sort of buffet from which he’s been invited to gather up the tastiest morsels and find new use for them. I’m not personally a big fan of the Smash Bros. series — Sakurai’s primary claim to fame — but I admire the broad thinking behind its design. Each Smash Bros. sequel incorporates more and more ideas from non-Nintendo franchises; Melee even had the audacity to allow users to create and share their own content. Nintendo eventually shut this down because — heaven forbid! — it was being used in ways they didn’t like. Never mind that unpredictable creative chaos is the whole point of modding culture.

Needless to say, Kid Icarus doesn’t feel quite like a Nintendo game. The closest thing the company has published to it are the Sin & Punishment games, but even those aren’t really comparable. Punishment developer Treasure’s design philosophy is to throw a ton of mechanics and ideas at the player from the outset and force them to adapt or sink. Uprising is more gentle. It seems the height of simplicity at first blush: A rudimentary on-rails shooter. It’s only as you move further into the game that you start to gain a sense of how much is hidden beneath that simplistic surface.

I had the opportunity to play Uprising earlier this week for two full hours, and my impression of the game at the end of that session was considerably different than the preconceptions I took into the room based on my E3 hands-on. For starters, I was surprised that two hours of play time seemed to encompass less than half of the total game (though Nintendo admittedly hasn’t indicated exactly how many chapters comprise the game). For a twitchy action game like this, that suggests an unusual volume of content.

Click the image above to check out all Kid Icarus Uprising screens.
Of course, it helps that Uprising isn’t strictly the on-rails shooter first impressions suggested. In keeping with the original game’s design, the linear air combat is mixed with ground-based action. This part feels slightly awkward; Pit shuffles oddly across the ground, and the 360-degree game camera is controlled with the stylus. It takes some getting used to. While the game would probably feel a lot more natural with the addition of a second analog stick, that’s not in the cards; while support for the 3DS Slide Pad accessory is included, it’s really meant as a nicety to lefties who would likely find the game near-impossible if they were forced to commit their dominant hand to the 3DS control pad. Ideal? Not really, but clumsy play is as much a part of Kid Icarus as Eggplant Wizards and Pluton Flies.


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