Kid Icarus is something of an oddity in Nintendo’s expansive library of games. It is often remembered as being among the best of the early NES first party games, along with the first Mario, Zelda and Metroid games, but it is significantly more flawed than any of those games. The fact that it is remembered at all, rather than forgotten like Ice Climbers was until Smash Brothers, is a testament to the appeal of the game. However, unlike those other classics, Kid Icarus has gone more than 20 years without a sequel. (There was a Gameboy follow up, but I know little about it) It feels like another great Nintendo franchise that was abandoned before it could blossom. Like Nintendo’s big 3, Kid Icarus started with a well-made if primitive game, like SMB, LoZ and Metroid. The each had a divergent follow up, a sequel vastly different in gameplay and divisive in reputation. Mario, Zelda and Metroid 2 all fall into this, maybe Myths and Monsters does too, I don’t know. Then came the codifying classic third game in the series: Super Mario Bros 3, Legend of Zelda A Link to the Past and Super Metroid. Kid Icarus never got this third game, the one that could have made the series a true classic. Now twenty years later, Kid Icarus: Uprising is not that game. It is a great game, but other than being drenched in the flavor of the NES original it is something completely different.
Kid Icarus: Uprising is a shooter, with the old Kid Icarus characters and enemies painted on. It is actually very much like Star Fox Assault or Rogue Squadron 3, with try to balance flying missions with on foot ones. Kid Icarus is better than either of those two games, though. Each of its numerous missions are divided into a flying segment and an on foot segment. While the flying parts are much better than the on foot ones, the disparity is not so great.
While in flight the game is brilliant. It looks wonderful, with a wide variety of enemies and formations. It is strongly reminiscent of Star Fox 64, both in gameplay and in the chatter between characters mid-battle. The controls are perfect in the air, but they suffer on the ground. While they are highly customizable, the default controls have the player controlling Pitt with the control pad and aiming with the stylus and shooting with the left shoulder button. It is a control scheme that is pure torture for a lefty. It works a lot like an FPS. It takes some getting used to, but they actually work, though there are some enemies that require some finer controls than the system is capable of. (I’m looking at you, Cragalanche.) On the good side of the foot battles, there are the different weapons and the bosses. There are 9 different weapon types and they all play uniquely. The clubs have no ranged attack, but are very powerful, while the bows aren’t as powerful but have homing attacks. Choosing the right weapon for the level and your playstyle is a big part of the game. The bosses, for the most part, do no fall into the find weak point, hit weak point pattern (again, Cragalanche is an exception.) The bosses are targets to shoot. Sometimes they require special tactics, but they are mostly just impressively strong enemies. It is different and fun.
While the gameplay has its control flaws, there is a lot to love outside that. There is a surprisingly deep weapon crafting system and a multiplayer mode I didn’t touch. Most of the extra stuff is similar to that in Smash Brothers Brawl, which is no surprise since the same people are behind it. It gives plenty of incentive to replay and experiment with the game. This is aided by the story. While it isn’t anything more than some cartoony anime trappings, it is wholly enjoyable. The constant banter between Pitt and Palutena and their enemies makes even the most frustrating mission enjoyable. Really, the while the story itself isn’t great, the way it is told really is. They got the characters right, in that the characters are just entertaining in action.
The only sticking point with this game is the controls. If you don’t find them too difficult or too painful, there is much to love in this game. Those controls are an unfortunate sticking point, though. They are useable, but there is no ideal control scheme for how this game plays. However, the graphics, music and the once used to the controls actually playing are great. This is games one big flaw is too big to but it up with Nintendo’s best, but it is still a very good game.