Don’t be a Kid Dicarus, Check Out Kid Icarus
Last week Nintendo announced the release date for Kid Icarus Uprising, the first new entry in the Kid Icarus series in over 20 years. March 23rd of next year will end Pit’s dry spell in the US, sometime that month in Europe, and at some vague point in the first Quarter of 2012 for Japan.
The original Kid Icarus is one of my all-time favorite NES games, and I’ve been dying for a new adventure with Pit since I discovered this old-school gem over ten years ago. But I have to be perfectly honest, I’m not as hyped for Uprising as I thought I would be…
Kid Icarus uprising was announced at E3 2010. Masashiro Sakurai, the creator of Kirby, Super Smash Bros. and the fantastic puzzle game Meteos is developing the game with his team at Project Sora. By all accounts, this is a recipe for awesome, and judging by the upcoming marketing push, Nintendo agrees. Nintendo has commissioned three different anime studios to produce several animated shorts based on the game, to be released in early 2012 to the 3DS Nintendo Video service. Three will be CGI shorts, and the other three will be done in a more traditional, anime style.
You can check out the other posters and more info on the shorts here.
So other than anime being anime, what’s my damage? How come I’m not completely hyphy for Uprising? I think I can narrow it down to three things: Pit’s character development, the shift away from any semblance to Greek mythology and changes in game mechanics and gameplay. Obviously that last one really is the most important, but the first two aren’t complete nerdy nitpicks either. Before I dig into all that, here’s the E3 2010 trailer to refresh your memory on how Uprising is shaping up:
Even in that short trailer we can see that Pit has changed. Obviously, it’s been over 20 years since his last game, it just makes sense to give the character an updated look. Pit’s Uprising design more or less debuted in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, so it’s pretty well established that going forward, this is Pit. While I’ll always have a soft spot for Pit’s original cartoony, kind of frumpy look, the new version looks pretty cool and decently captures the “spunky, tough angel kid” core of Pit’s character. It reminds me of Link’s changes from A Link to the Past to Ocarina of Time.
So my problem isn’t visual. Hell, if you’ve played Smash Bros. Brawl, you probably already know what my issue is. For some unfortunate reason, Sakurai and co. have grafted a really annoying, cocky personality onto the once-silent, stalwart protagonist. He now has a high-ish pitched voice, and spouts groan-inducing lines like “You’re not ready yet!” And unfortunately we see that tradition continue in the trailer. The opening line about keeping us waiting is cute, I have no problem with that. But then towards the end when Pit faces off against the classic two-headed hellhound boss Twinbellows (who looks freaking awesome now, great update there) he spurts out some lame pun about old dogs and new tricks and blah blah blah.
Another preview has the gruff new mercenary character Magnus ask Pit if he’s fighting to get his share of the pie (reward money… I guess Medusa has a bounty on her head?). Unfortunately our hero responds with a tired gag along the lines of “I didn’t know there was going to be pie! Derp!”
A lot of people give Nintendo static about keeping their characters quiet or mute all together, and keeping the stories in their games slim to nil. And to an extent those critics have a point. Look how awesome Star Fox 64 turned out! Lots of shockingly good voice acting and fun, corny dialogue helped make the shooter a classic, and years later one line lives on as a decently funny internet meme. But there’s a really important detail that’s easy to miss with Star Fox 64: the player character, Fox McCloud, still doesn’t say a hell of a lot. He’s got a few lines, a couple appropriately cheesy zingers and comebacks, but really it’s his team and his enemies that do most of the talking, leaving Fox just enough of a blank slate for the player to project onto a little bit. On the flipside, Pit’s yammering is not only cringe-inducingly written, it also cuts off opportunities for the player to put him or herself in Pit’s shoes. All that said, it seems like Pit will be a little less of a douche in Uprising than he was in Brawl, but I think the attempts at comedy are going to be less than awesome.
Okay, so dogging on Kid Icarus Uprising for not being very true to Greek mythology and ancient architecture is kind of stupid, and maybe on par with criticizing Inglourious Basterds for not being historically accurate. The original game was, at best, a strange mash up of Greek mythology filtered through Eastern sensibilities and general NES “it doesn’t need to make sense, just make it work!” aesthetics. But even then, the original game has a great, ancient Greek-inspired style: lots of classic looking columns and marble statues line the backgrounds, and even the Greek key got worked into plenty of levels:
Don’t get me wrong, Uprising looks gorgeous, it’s colorful and strange, and the flying sections in particular are sure to be mind-blowing in 3D. But… not much about it says “ancient Greece.” It presents a more generic, Japanese fantasy angle. Something you’d see in a JRPG or anime. I think the most Greek-y thing I’ve seen so far is a huge Colosseum in one of the levels. That’s a great start. And really, Laser-Hell-Bone-Cave is probably just a kick-ass interpretation of Greek mythology’s Underworld. Still though, throw me some columns guys, seriously.
And hey, pretty much anything is a refreshing change of pace from the West’s obsession with “gritty” gray and brown. I look forward to playing a shooter that doesn’t look like it takes place inside of a giant dusty turd.
Which actually brings me to the last point that keeps me from going apeshit with excitement over Kid Icarus Uprising. The game itself has changed. A lot. And that makes perfect sense, after 20+ years, a cookie-cutter retread of the original NES or Gameboy games wouldn’t just be unacceptable, it would be laughably ridiculous.
But they’re not just updating, fixing and tweaking Kid Icarus for the modern age, they’re changing what type of game it is all together. Super Mario 64, Ocarina of Time and Metroid Prime were all huge turning points for their respective series--games that had only ever existed in 2D were venturing into the strange, uncharted world of 3D. All of them made huge changes in the translation to 3D: Mario did a lot more exploration, Zelda added an innovative targeting system, and Metroid shifted into first-person. The changes ranged from noticeable to drastic, but they all stayed true to their cores: Mario was still all about jumping and negotiating obstacles, Zelda still focused on exploration and puzzles and Metroid was still rooted in exploration and eerie atmosphere.
The original Kid Icarus isn’t just a shooter like Uprising though. It’s kind of a weird mash-up of things, and that’s what makes it so damn cool. It’s like somebody at Nintendo threw Mario, Metroid, Zelda and some feta cheese into a blender, hit puree and poured the contents into an NES cart.
It’s a sidescroller, but most of the levels scroll vertically instead of horizontally. You do a lot of platform hopping, but you’re also armed with unlimited, upgradeable arrows too. You’re rewarded with sweet items for exploring, but you also (secretly) level up by defeating enemies and shooting accurately. Every fourth level is a sprawling labyrinth that ends with a deadly boss encounter. Oh and the final level is a Gradius-style forced-scrolling shooter.
Compare to Kid Icarus Uprising, which has level variety, but is really a shooter first and foremost. Each chapter is broken up into a flying mission, a ground-based free-roaming combat mission, and a boss fight. The ground-based missions make up the bulk of the game, and the action looks pretty slick. Pit has a variety of weapons he can use and upgrade, and can choose between ranged and melee attacks. He has a fast, slick-looking dodge and with some sweet timing, it looks like you can counterattack as well. Basically it looks like Sin & Punishment, but taken off-rails. This is a very good thing. What isn’t so good is that platform-hopping and exploring aren’t present at all.
If Uprising is done right, it’s going to be a kick-ass action title, and a definite killer app for the 3DS. But I’m still going to miss the things that got lost in the years since Pit’s pixellated adventures… I’m also hoping for Circle Pad Pro support. If any game needs it, it’s this one!