Review

Kid Icarus: Uprising

Like A Kid Again

How does Kid Icarus: Uprising deal with decades of pent-up expectations? By laughing at itself.

By Anthony John Agnello • April 3, 2012

That Paul McCartney hasn’t gone insane is a miracle. He’s lived through half a century where every day involves hundreds of thousands of people exalting things he did when he was 20 years old. The only way McCartney seems to have gotten past it all is by having a bit of fond self-awareness about those imperfect, brilliant early Beatles songs and winking at the classics in his new ditties. Kid Icarus: Uprising is a lot like McCartney’s 1997 record Flaming Pie in this regard. This is the game where Nintendo gets over the trauma of having its first works placed on high pedestals and gets on with the happy business of making something new.

Twenty-five years after its predecessor hit the Nintendo Entertainment System, Kid Icarus is still playing fast and loose with Greek mythology. You play as Pit, the winged but flightless hero of Angel Land and servant of light goddess Palutena. He’s not the son of a tortured labyrinth builder, more of an enthusiastic dork who’s thrilled to be back on the job after a quarter-century on the bench.

Kid Icarus: Uprising - Flying eyeballs

The same time has passed in the game—a world where its characters gleefully break the fourth wall—and now Medusa, ruler of the underworld, is back and wreaking havoc with her hordes of floating eyeballs, giant Groucho Marx noses, and spastic grim reapers. Pit and Palutena set out to put down Medusa’s legions across two dozen stages. In each one, you fly over landscapes dotted with evil minions before reaching a fortress you explore on foot. The goals are, as you might expect, old school: Survive to the end and finish off huge bosses, some of whom are tricky to beat. Effete shape-shifter Thanatos, for instance, can turn into a nesting doll and lose himself in a shuffle of twins.

Uprising is deliberately goofy, going so far as to canonize the garbled translations of the original game. When you go up against a flying three-headed dragon, he’s still the “Hewdraw” rather than the Hydra. (The game even shows a little picture of his old pixel self on the 3DS’ bottom screen, as it does for most returning characters.) There’s a pervasive warmth here, too. Palutena and Pit gab their way through each of the game’s chapters, slinging puns and coming off more as fond co-workers than tittering anime stereotypes. When the goddess teases Pit, saying she can read his mind and knows all his dirty thoughts, it’s charming even when it risks getting too precious.

Kid Icarus: Uprising - Scorn

Pit can’t fly on his own—Palutena can only give Pit the power to fly for five minutes, and she’s the one propelling him forward. She also justifies some of Icarus’ gamey quirks when he’s on the ground. At one point, Pit wonders aloud why there are always piles of health-replenishing meat, donuts, and fruit piled in places like Pandora’s fortress of illusion. Palutena replies, “Well, I thought you’d like some snacks!”

Icarus may be lavish, with glittering landscapes and a legitimately bitchin’ score, but it’s also awkward. You move Pit with the 3DS’ analog stick while adjusting his perspective with the touch screen. This setup is manageable—if uncomfortable—when Pit’s in the air, and your path is set. On the ground, though, when you’re exploring castles and space pirate ships, the combination of Pit’s jerky movement and the slippery touch-control camera becomes a problem. It’s impossible to enjoy moments of comedy, like walking in on a reaper taking a bath, when you’re struggling to walk and see straight. The game actually comes with a plastic stand that holds the 3DS for you to free up your hands. It works nicely, but wouldn’t it have made more sense just to make the game control differently?

How your hands get inside Icarus, though, is just one more of the game’s idiosyncrasies. Not all of its ideas are great, but it doesn’t seem to care. Kid Icarus is having fun just being itself, which in turn makes it a pleasure to play. It isn’t trying to live up to some grand legacy, magnified by 25 years of nostalgia. The original Kid Icarus is remembered as the game where a dildo-shaped cyclops throws eggplants that can turn you into an eggplant yourself. Rather than transform those memories into a modern epic, Nintendo doubles down. It winks, plays “Blackbird,” and then does a new number with a smile.

Kid Icarus: Uprising
Developer: Project Sora
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Price: $40 (includes that goofy stand)
Rating: E10+

Share this with your friends and enemies

Write a scintillating comment

  • doctuar

    I’m glad you mentioned the controls. I bought this up on another website and was accused of being a sub-par gamer (ouch!) or not putting the effort in and persevering with the stand.

    I’m left-handed, and when I’m not being ostracised by society or being scolded by Victorian-era schoolteachers (I’m English, see) I find it difficult to wield a pen-style device with the opposing hand whilst finnegling the control pad with the other. I didn’t realise there’d be an entrance exam involved for the bloody thing.

    But it looks nice (though I think I accidentally skipped the intro as I don’t have a clue what’s going on) and I’ve suddenly got a collection of AR cards that will further repel ladies from my bedroom.

    Now, I’m off to tie my left-hand behind my back and try and try and do things the proper way. YOU WILL ENJOY THE CONTROLS, BOY!

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

       Apparently, the game is compatible with that kind of ridiculous 2nd-thumbstick add-on. I have no idea if that’s available in the UK, or if you want to bother paying for one, but I imagine your case is one where it actually serves a purpose.

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/I6JDHEYOXJX435LLM2AQ5QJITM Stoned

        According to IGN, this game is not compatible with the dual analog stick:

        http://ds.ign.com/articles/122/1221062p1.html

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          You’re misreading the article. It doesn’t support “dual analog” play with the stick, meaning you can’t just use two sticks and no touch screen.

          You CAN use the extra circle pad pro, and hold the stylus in your left hand, as per this article at 1-Up:

          http://www.1up.com/news/kid-icarus-supports-circle-pad-pro-lefties

          And the interview they quote is from Nintendo Magazine U.K., so @doctuar, you’re probably good to go!

        • doctuar

          I have the dual-stick thingy. The back is all curvy and swooshy though, so it renders the stand obsolete. It’s ok, I’ll soldier on though!

    • Spacemonkey_Mafia

      One of my biggest hesitations for picking up a 3DS is being left handed.  For all the good times I had on the DS, there would be games that would be rendered unplayable by the awkward alternate left-handed iteration of the button layout.  Metroid Hunters in particular sticks out, though that might have just been that game.
         For that reason alone, I’m hoping for a redesign of the 3DS with dual pads.
         But other than my trepidation over the control scheme, this game looks pretty damn delightful.

    • whataworkout

       I don’t think it is an issue of anti-left handed design, pervasive as that may generally be.  There really isn’t a comfortable way of holding the stylus to the screen constantly and using the analog stick.  I am inclined to think the design fault starts with the rather short stylus. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003632734681 Max Cameron

    Actually dont mind the controls in this one. I just think they have a bit of a learning curve.

  • DestroyHimMyRobots

    Probably the next game I’m gonna buy. Question: Exactly how great is the soundtrack? I mean.. Motoi Sakuraba, Yuzo Koshiro, Masafumi Takada, Noriyuki Iwadare and Yasunori Mitsuda is, I think, probably the greatest composer all-star team in history (non-rearrange category).

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Anthony-John-Agnello/1362601810 Anthony John Agnello

      Exactly how great? Totally great. You can really hear their styles in there too, particularly Koshiro and Mitsuda. The whole audio presentation is actually spectacular. Voices, sounds, music. This game likes your ears.

      • DestroyHimMyRobots

        Oh boy. That does it. I need new headphones. Thanks for the reply!

    • whataworkout

      Nothing is quite as catchy as that original theme, which has a pretty great modern version in the first level, but I am a fan of the soundtrack.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

      Actually, the total brilliant Hero 30/Half-Minute Hero series has the best.
      http://vgmdb.net/album/13463  Most of the missing greats (Shimomura) show up on the sequel’s. 
      I mean, really: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Yim51f0Bbs is by a guy who looks like http://www.musicasia.net/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/Toshihiko_Takamizawa_01.jpg and did http://vgmdb.net/artist/6533 .

      That said, yep, the others are right. It’s a soundtrack of the year contender.

  • Raging_Bear

    Hey, no grade? But what are people supposed to fixate on obsessively while ignoring the review body itself?!?

    Teti, you sly thing.

    • dreadguacamole

       Yeah. How are you going to get that sweet, sweet, sweet, irate metacritic traffic?

       Seriously, great move.

      • DestroyHimMyRobots

        Fret not: When reviewers from eligible publications don’t assign a score or grade, Metacritic cooks one up from one part review text and one part thin air. So we’ll still have Metacritic trolls, and they’re gonna be even more amusingly confusing to us than before. I fully support this decision.

        • http://gameological.com/author/johnteti/ John Teti

          They don’t do this for games; they only list score-giving publications in their games section. Even if they did make up scores, I would ask not to be listed, a request that they do oblige. (I believe G4 asked to be delisted, for instance.)

        • TakeTheCannolis

          No grades and long form reviews effectively fixes exactly what was wrong with the AV Club game reviews. I’m not saying that The Uncharted 3 shitstorm wouldn’t have happened with a better written better explained review but it couldn’t have hurt. When writers have limited space a lot of them will value a clever turn of phrase over simple but more informative text.

    • whataworkout

       Pretend every game is a D and the rage will come. 

  • Binsbein

    Once you hit the sweet spot with those controls and start to master the different weapons, the game really opens up from a playability perspective.

    One of the things not highlighted in the review, the online multiplayer, is a fun testing ground for your skills with the land controls but you will probably get your ass kicked until you earn better weapons (some you’ll get just for participating online).

  • Aymanut

    This sounds great. But for some reason when I saw the trailer a while back I thought it was going to be on the Wii. The games I’ve played on the DS (Zelda games, Radiant Historia), have had an overhead view.

    • DestroyHimMyRobots

      Now that you mention Wii/3DS confusion, does anyone know what’s up with Rodea the Sky Soldier? Is that still happening? I though it looked promising (actually kind of like a cross between Sonic Adventure and the flying sections of Kid Icarus: Uprising), but it’s been half a year or so since I’ve heard a word about it — and that was Naka saying the game’s ready and they’re just waiting for it to be published.

  • itisdancing

    This is going to chew at my mind if I don’t ask: is Thanatos actually “effete”, as in “refined and reserved to the point of uselessness”?

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Anthony-John-Agnello/1362601810 Anthony John Agnello

      Yes! 

      (Said in the same voice as Seymour Skinner telling Superintendant Chalmers that the Northern Lights are viewable in his kitchen.)

      • itisdancing

        Heh, sorry, I just hope it’s not too late to keep the original meaning of that word.

        • http://gameological.com/author/johnteti/ John Teti

          Don’t apologize. We like people who like words.

  • http://thewavefunctionjunction.blogspot.com/ trilobiter

    It occurs to me that the word “Hewdraw” is actually somewhat closer to the ancient Greek pronunciation of Ύδρα than the modern English Hydra.  The letter upsillon represented a rounded front vowel; basically, if you pronounce the vowel of the word “feet” with your lips shaped as though you were pronouncing “food.”   

    (Yes, I’m still going to do this).

    I often wonder about the precise origin of translation errors, and I find myself wondering about how much the people involved in the original text and the translation knew about the ancient Greek pronunciation of Ύδρα.  If Hewdraw is a phonetic respelling of something written in Japanese, then it seems as though the original text was trying to approximate the ancient Greek vowel, rather than the English one.  Interesting!

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

      I know that Atlus and Megami Tensei/Reincarnation Of The Goddess do that, but I’m not sure that Nintendo’s people were that into it.

      I forgot whether Of Myths And Monsters did the same.

  • Shain Eighmey

    This is the type of review that I can really appreciate. It’s less caught up in  pixels and numbers, and instead cuts to how the game feels and acts. 

    • http://gameological.com/author/johnteti/ John Teti

      Thanks so much for saying so, Shain. Exactly what we’re going for.

  • WaxTomCruise

    As a huge fan of the original Kid Icarus I’m very excited to try this. Er, eventually, that is. I’m still waiting for enough 3DS games to peak my interest before I go out and buy the console. I made the mistake of getting the original PSP based on how cool it looked and hoping something good came out for it, and years later it’s still sitting in my childhood home with Star Wars Battlefront 2 and Monster Hunter Freedom. So, quick question if anyone is reading, what fun games have been released for the 3DS that are worth checking out? Right now off the top of my head the only two games that look interesting to me are Kid Icarus and Cave Story (which I’ve already played, but would love to go through again). 

    • whataworkout

      A word of caution about Kid Icarus: while it is an excellent game, it is much closer to Sin and Punishment or Panzer Dragoon than anything else.  It technically has all the elements of the original game, but it plays much closer to a shooter than a platform game.  Apart from Kid Icarus, Resident Evil Revelations and the new Mario Bros. are the best exclusive titles.  I haven’t played any of them, but the 3ds has a bunch of solid ports of titles that have never been better on a portable device (Star Fox, Zelda, Street Fighter, Persona).  

  • The_Asinus

    I was totally going to get this game and a 3ds until i saw that artwork above– you totally can’t draw a bow like that.

  • Kirbyfan485

    Just wanna throw this out if it hasn’t been put out there yet, but you can adjust the controls in options, so great to a point where you don’t need the touch screen at all! You can also adjust it to a “Left-Handed” mode.