Kid Icarus was a formative NES action game. Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters was the portable sequel that continued with similar, improved mechanics. Twenty years later, Kid Icarus: Uprising was released.
And Kid Icarus: Uprising is bonkers.
Say what you will about things getting stale, but with Nintendo franchises, you generally know what you’re going to get. Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario Bros, two Mario releases separated by decades, might not seem terribly similar to some magical human being that has never seen a videogame before, but, once you start steering Mario around the Mushroom Kingdom/Universe, it’s clear that both games come from the same base run/jump/stomp concepts. This continues through basically the whole Smash Bros cast: The Legend of Zelda is for exploring/swordplay, Donkey Kong is for simple jumping and running, Captain Falcon and F-Zero are for racing, and Metroid is for metroiding. Yes, there are spin-offs and outliers, but Star Fox is always for shootin’, even when your arwing can fold up like origami.
So you’d be forgiven if you were expecting the first Kid Icarus game in ages to be at all similar to the prior two experiences. But it turns out this Pit doesn’t need a jump button. And speaking of which, the control scheme is optimized for this guy…
If you have less than four hands, bad news, you’re gonna have a bad time.
Masahiro Sakurai, creator of Kid Icarus: Uprising, considers his creation to be a shooting game. That is… generally accurate? Half of every level takes place in the sky (or an approximation thereof), with heroic Pit blessed with flight by Goddess Palutena. During these sections, conceptually, you are basically playing Star Fox, and the 3DS adapts well to fight and flight mechanics. Heck, there’s a reason Star Fox 64 3D was one of the first 3DS games: the 3DS seems practically made for 3-D shooting galleries. Pit, with his wings and arrows, adapts well to the role, and you could easily make the argument that this is a “modern” version of Kid Icarus’s iconic final stage. And, let’s be real here, that section probably was the best part of Kid Icarus (or the only part where any kid ever accomplished anything…) . So, yes, okay, let’s make a Kid Icarus shooting game.
Except… eventually Pit lands. Palutena’s blessing can’t last forever, and Pit must explore the second half of most levels planted firmly on the ground. Maybe there’s a tower to scale, maybe there’s a dungeon to explore, but it must be done on foot, and jumping and flying is right out. It’s here that KI:U’s control scheme gets crazy, and… why can’t he just control like a normal Nintendo hero, again?
The on foot sections of KI:U are probably best described as “experimental”. If you’re breaking this down to its core components, you’re pretty much looking at an innovative way to control a FPS hero… but in a 3rd person perspective. It’s… cumbersome. And it takes a little getting used to. Actually, it takes a lot of getting used to, and I swear the level designers know it. Some of the more demanding sections include honest-to-God walking puzzles. For those that missed the fun, that’s a challenge, usually involving narrow ledges, where you can “fail” because you did not walk correctly. That’s not something that should ever be in a videogame, because walking should be as easy as… walking. If a toddler can master something (if Dirk the Daring can master something) it should not be a remote challenge in any kind of videogame. But it seems like Angel Land has a hero or two with some manner of vertigo, so constricted walkways might be a problem. Maybe Pit had eggplants for brains a few too many times.
And it’s not just the controls that might repel a new player. There is a weapon upgrade system that is… opaque seems a little too gentle. Completely insane? You can buy new weapons by offering hearts (currency) as tribute, but all the good weapons are available via a weapon combining system that… I have no idea what is going on. There are star ratings for various weapons, but there are different types of weapons, and Pit’s shooting style changes dramatically from one weapon to another. Yes, this sword is powerful, but it would mean giving up a pair of orbs that shoot homing missiles. And the sword doesn’t “shoot” at all? But it reflects shots? Well, is that going to be at all useful in the next level that I know nothing about? Can I try before I buy? No? Hey, it’s not like the average level lasts fifteen minutes or so…
Oh, and determining the “difficulty” for a level before you play it? And it’s a one to ten incremental system? I’m sorry, what’s the difference between this stage being level 4.5 difficult versus 4.7 difficult? I can understand the difference between “Normal” and “Hard”. I’ll even tolerate a “Very Hard” or “Professional” mode. But decimals? Just show me exactly where the bar is for “world is filled with invincible skull heads”, and I’ll choose the next level lower than that. ‘Kay? Thanks.
But all of this insanity is not why Kid Icarus: Uprising is bonkers. What’s bonkers is how much, despite everything in this game, you will want to play more.
Kid Icarus, more than any other Nintendo game, is a playable cartoon. And that’s not because of dialogue boxes or “the plot”; it’s about the simple, instant rapport between Pit and Goddess Palutena. From the first moment, they’re chatting over the action while “you” are playing the game. Occasionally, a villain breaks into the narrative to hurl insults. As episodes progress, various other characters join the fray, and, while you’re busy with a grim reaper or two, Pit ‘n Pally are going through their comedy routine. And then, as it inevitably must, Pit gets real in later stages, Palutena is absent, and “lesser” goddesses have to pick up the slack. It’s not the same, and that’s not a bug, but a feature. When, after fifteen stages of having Palutena in your corner, she’s suddenly missing, you notice. You notice, and you notice it sucks. Where’d my goddess go!?
And it’s in this manner that Kid Icarus: Uprising worms its way into your heart. Its systems may be dense, its controls may be some manner of hand-torture, but it contains some of the most instantly approachable and sympathetic characters in gaming. Considering Pit didn’t have very much to say in his initial adventures past, “I’m finished!” it’s a rather significant accomplishment that KI:U makes a better case for Kid Icarus: The Animated Series than every other Nintendo mascot. And these are the best mascots gaming has to offer! Pit is standing in the heavens of the gaming hall of fame, and it’s all thanks to one game.
One game that is nothing like its forbearers and is attached to impossibly janky controls. It’s… kind of bonkers.
FGC #252 Kid Icarus: Uprising
- System: Nintendo 3DS. Given the direction of Nintendo’s “handheld market”, this game might never see another release again. It really is 100% geared toward the 3DS, which is kind of an accomplishment in itself.
- Number of players: There’s a multiplayer “fight” mode here (as is proper to Sakurai games), and some sort of co-op thing, but I’ve never met anyone else with a copy of KI:U handy, so I can’t really speak to how it all plays. All I know is that it was mysteriously implicated in a number of cases of boneitis back in 2012.
- Think of the Centurions: Palutena’s army, the noble centurions, are just as fragile as ever. And Palutena notes that they are disposable… but you’ll feel bad if they die. And, dammit, she’s right. Poor lil winged dudes…
- Metroidian: Despite the presence of space pirates and “metroids”, there is no relation between Kid Icarus and Metroid.
- Just play the gig man: It’s a good thing Super Smash Bros. 4 got to reuse a lot of this music, as it is phenomenal. Sakurai doesn’t seem to direct games with half-assed soundtracks.
- Sexual Dimorphism is a Scourge: Male deities seem to come in all shapes and sizes, but I’ve noticed a peculiar trend with the goddesses of KI:U.
With the exception of Medusa, it seems like every heavenly being of the female variety could double as Pit’s “playful” older sister. Actually, to put a point on it, Palutena is the older sister, and the rest of the women are her cool friends that jokingly flirt and tease the dweeby Pit. Or maybe it’s just the spirit of fanfic coming upon me again. Could go either way.
- Did you know? Viridi is the one recurring character that appears in “chat scenes” but is never directly fought. Dark Pit, Hades, Medusa, and even your own allies appear on the opposite side of Pit’s sword-bow at one time or another, but Viridi is always on the sidelines. Guess it helps to have your own army.
Would I play again: My hand is a little knotted right now… Maybe after a little healing…
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze! Guess we’re on a Nintendo kick again, ROB? Or maybe you’re just looking for a banana smoothie? Whatever the case, it’s time to roll around with some Kongs. Please look forward to it!