Rebooting Kid Icarus
It is often said that Nintendo haven’t introduced a new IP since the 2002 launch of Pikmin on the GameCube, but in reality that couldn’t be further from the truth. The Wii line of games covering Wii Sports, Fit, Music and even Chess (remember that?) are all distinctly new IPs, as are arguably the Mii characters which inhabit them. Add to that brand new titles such as Battalion Wars, FlingSmash and Endless Ocean and it is clear that Nintendo haven’t been shy to introduce new ideas over the past decade. The problem is however that none of these titles have lead characters that have become iconic, and in many cases the game has flopped entirely. Taking Miis out of the picture, it has now been 10 years since Nintendo introduced a new franchise which had a strong lead character and proved to be a hit, but that could all change with the return of Kid Icarus.
Kid Icarus is by no means a new IP though, so how can we consider it new when it clearly isn’t? A casual glance at the game shows you exactly why this is the case, as the game plays and feels nothing like the original. Gone are the 2D scrolling designs of the NES original and in come a more Sin and Punishment style shooting mechanic, taking what was a notoriously difficult platformer and turning it into what will certainly be a difficult third person shooter. This is not the Kid Icarus you remember, and beyond the return of Pit and the lead characters from the original, it is almost an entirely new design. And when you take into account we haven’t seen Pit in a lead role since the Game Boy, it is easy to see why Nintendo can start anew.
The story of the return of Pit can be told with one game name – Super Smash Bros Brawl. Prior to the release of Brawl Pit and the Kid Icarus brand was largely unknown and considered dead, much like other Nintendo franchises of old such as Balloon Fight. The return of Pit in a big way in Brawl propelled him back into the minds of gamers everywhere, akin to what the Ice Climbers achieved in Melee. Coupled with Sakurai’s love of the series, the decision was made to bring back Pit and use the series as a lead title for the 3DS; that game is of course Kid Icarus: Uprising.
Probably the best decision Nintendo made when reviving Kid Icarus was to treat it as an entirely new IP and allow Sakurai to do as he wanted with it. What this has resulted in is the Sin and Punishment style gameplay we see before us today, creating a new world and gameplay style and fusing it with a dead franchise. On the face of it the formula should work incredibly well – on the one hand the appearance of a new Nintendo gameplay style which is fast and furious yet retains that Nintendo magic should be enough to draw in gamers, while on the other, fans of the original Kid Icarus will buy the game if only to see all the references back to the original. It’s a perfect mix, in theory.
The problem comes in with how Nintendo, and Sakurai in particular, have developed the game. I’ve now played it twice in its E3 format, and while I am sure the game has been sharpened up somewhat over the past year, my overall of impression of the controls were that they just don’t work well. The idea behind them is perfectly reasonable, but the implementation of turning is just broken; it will be interesting to see how this is received when the game launches.
The other problem Kid Icarus: Uprising has is that the game sends out a mixed message to handheld fans. On the one hand the game is distinctly a handheld title, it is being developed exclusively for the 3DS after all, but it is also being packaged with a stand to make gameplay more comfortable. If there’s one thing the stand makes the 3DS, it is non-portable. It is a reasonable solution to a problem that should never have existed, and it points once again to Sakurai not really being sure how to implement his grand new design for the series. Coupled with the flawed controls and Kid Icarus: Uprising is potentially a game that could ruin the series before it even has a chance to show off its potential.
There’s also a feeling that the game is becoming something of a testing ground for new ideas which utilise the 3DS in some way. We saw the AR card mini-game at E3 last year which appears to just be a crude battle mode, but we are also now learning of things that have never been seen in a Nintendo game before now. A large range of upgradable weapons for instance is something brand new for Nintendo, as is the Fiend’s Cauldron, a difficulty scaler which can be altered to balance the game for you. There’s also the slightly strange inclusion of a battle mode, which, given the unresponsive controls, could be a total disaster. Could this be a case of too many new ideas being put into a game at once? Perhaps, but given that it is a Nintendo developed game you have to believe they have it under control, and they are certainly making the most of the freedom rebooting an old IP gives them.
In the end though, the success or failure of Nintendo’s first foray into rebooting old franchises as new IPs will come down to how 3DS owners receive it. There are a handful of Kid Icarus fans who will love it no matter what, but Pit needs to appeal to the wider market in the same way that Mario and Link do to really become a big title for Nintendo. The new control and gameplay styles are a dangerous and not altogether expected route for the series to take, but hopefully it is one that proves a success. Who knows, if this succeeds we may get that Ice Climbers sequel we’re all waiting for.