I’m stuck in this weird conundrum. I can’t put Kid Icarus: Uprising down long enough to write something about it.
It’s been a long time since I felt like this about a handheld game. Nintendo’s 3DS moment has been a long time coming. Early adopters usually know better than to expect too much too soon from a new toy, but the 3DS has certainly taken its sweet time to hit its stride.
But this. This! This is a game I can get behind. Kid Icarus: Uprising is massively entertaining, a title packed to the gills with bite-sized little chunks of enjoyment that make it easy to stop what you’re doing long enough to get in a brief game break or 12.
At first, I thought Uprising was going to be one of those games that I begrudgingly respected instead of genuinely enjoyed, mostly due to Nintendo’s godawful insistence upon shoehorning some cockamamie control scheme into an otherwise pleasant experience. The demands all seemed to be there this time, with a default scheme that forced my left hand into an arthritic claw while my right ignored the five buttons it could easily use in favor of aiming with the 3DS’ touchscreen.
But get this—that whole control scheme is entirely customizable. Yes, that’s old hat absolutely everywhere else, but in the world of Nintendo and its maddening use of gimmicky controllers, the realization that an input method can be set to something besides “utterly frustrating” can be the point where the heavens open up and the angels sing their praises.
Attribute this and the thousand other tiny points of light that illuminate Uprising with their combined healthy glow to Masahiro Sakurai, favored son of Nintendo, whose credits include the Kirby and Super Smash Bros. series. Sakurai’s development style, which manages to successfully bridge the gap between Nintendo’s firmly traditional methods and the tastes of modern gaming culture, made him uniquely qualified to resurrect an ancient series like Kid Icarus.
This gives him an unprecedented level of freedom while working on Nintendo properties. In the tightly-controlled environments in which Nintendo keeps their babies, only Sakurai and a precious few others are allowed the freedom to evolve at all, and fewer still are allowed to do so under the auspices of their own companies like Sakurai has with his Sora Ltd.
Kid Icarus is the perfect franchise for a developer like Sakurai to work on. Almost nothing has been heard from the series since 1991, giving it an air of venerability without much to really back it up. Kid Icarus is a cult classic, but one that Sakurai could do almost anything with without potentially blemishing a better-established series like Metroid. (I’m looking at you, The Other M.)
That freedom is exactly what the series needed; Uprising is a brash, irreverent game with tons of character and several different layers of fun.
And Sakurai’s fingerprints are all over it, from the distinctively Smash Bros.-inspired menus to the deceptively complex move sets to the beautiful backdrops and polished animations.
Uprising plays like the kind of game a guy with a pedigree in cartoonish fighters would develop, broken up as it is into two dozen brief yet robust stages. Its narrative relies on quips and one-liners to push along a story that feels like nothing more than what would happen if Joss Whedon and Michael Bay rewrote Clash of the Titans.
All these sensibilities are perfect for a portable platform. Each stage is just long enough to play during a lunch break or a morning commute without requiring too much heavy lifting from the player, and the constant, frantic action will keep you locked in for whatever duration you desire.
You’re flying—ZOOM!—through the clouds, and then you’re fighting—SLASH! POW! BOOM!—on the ground, and suddenly—KABLOOIE!—there’s a giant boss crowding his way onto your tiny screen, and—ZAP! THUD! CHOOM!—before you know it, you’re off to somewhere completely different.
Even Uprising’s stupid parts are, in their own way, endearing. Between the nonstop mile-a-minute conversations between the protagonist and his foes and Sora Ltd’s valiant effort to cram a record-setting number of violations of the fourth wall into a single game, Uprising has more than its share of silliness. But these somehow add to Uprising rather than detract from it, as though gods and angels talking to each other like a bunch of teenagers could possibly be seen as random in a game that features floating noses and space krakens with a straight face.
It’s a shame that it took this long for the 3DS to get a real system seller that doesn’t involve Mario. But if the rest of the system’s triple-A titles are going to be as good as Kid Icarus: Uprising, well, let’s hope that they show up faster than it did.