Review: Kid Icarus: Uprising
There has been so much talk of Pit’s eventual return to video games in the past few years that it’s hard to appreciate how odd it is that it finally came in the form of a mostly on-rails portable shooter. Judging by the differences in genre between Kid Icarus: Uprising and the original NES release, part of the difficulty in bringing the franchise back may have been due to the difficulty in moving what that 1987 version did, and finding how that would fit into Nintendo’s modern franchises as a whole.
Mario, in all his varying forms, has Nintendo covered for platformers. This generation alone, Nintendo has struggled to find room in its release schedule for other platforming based games, and with games like Donkey Kong Country Returns and Kirby’s Epic Yarn, Nintendo's recent releases have differed from each other by specific mechanics, not broad gameplay ideas.
This context might help explain why the latest Kid Icarus, when compared to the original, is unrecognizable. This stands as Masahiro Sakurai’s attempt to create a new identity for the Icarus franchise going forward. Unfortunately, his struggle to find what that identity might be shows through in every moment of the game his team created.
Levels are split in half between on-rails stylus controlled shooting sequences, and ground level third person character action.
While in the air, the stylus controls aren’t revelatory, but they’re painless and get the job done. Not much is asked of the player in these segments as they really just seem to be there to show off the scale the 3DS is capable of rendering, and a venue for the games humorous, but merciless, dialogue. Nintendo is known for keeping conversation to a minimum, but Uprising couldn’t be a harder swing in the other direction, and for the first few levels, it seems really funny. I’d compare this to the way most people can pull of a few hours of seeming nice before a couple off sentences reveal them to be utterly and unbearably insane. It’s not that the writing chops aren’t there (much of the story was penned by SNL and Onion alum Mike Drucker) but by pounding the player with a joke every beat of the way. Uprising loses its humour through complete lack of restraint.
On the ground, things get even worse. Here is where the controls really start to fall apart, not completely with the stylus, which controls camera and reticule, but through awkward character animations which make circle-pad movement of Pit way too clumsy to keep up with the world around him. Movement is read digitally, which means Pit moves at either a sprint or a crawl, neither of which feel appropriate. And the cast of characters keeps talking and talking all the while.
Uprising’s saving grace is that the game proper is the least interesting content on the cartridge. Sakurai, as is his custom, has packed the menus with plenty to do, including an achievement system, AR card reading, item forging, and a staggering amount of loot to collect. Icarus fails on many levels as a game, but somehow manages to be a fun experience as a package to explore. None of the successes of the menu design can bleed into the story mode; why spend time crafting the perfect item for a game I don’t want to play? But the game’s many out of game systems all work together in such a way that the game feels huge, and so satisfyingly cohesive.
The ideas give some indication of the talent that was put up to this bringing this long gone franchise back to life, and would be so much better served if paired with a worthwhile game. That such a strong interface could be paired with such an underwhelming game suggests that this franchise might not have been one worth revisiting.