Preview: Kid Icarus Uprising

Nintendo Previews News Adventure Action 3DS

It’s somewhat hard to call Kid Icarus a franchise: the first game was a shooter/platformer released in 1986, with a single follow-up on the Gameboy in 1991. I’ve never played either, but a quick Wiki visit says it did reasonably well, before spending the next 20 odd years drinking at home alone, looking enviously at Mario, Donkey Kong, Link, Samus and Kirby and wondering what happened to his career.

After a small gig in Smash Bros Brawl, it looks like Pit is getting back into the spotlight with a starring role in Kid Icarus: Uprising. This was one of the first games announced for the 3DS back at E3 2010, and we finally got our hands on it at a Nintendo preview session last week.

I suppose it’s a series reboot, but it’s been so long since the previous entries, and it’s quite different gameplay-wise, that it feels like a new series anyway. While the originals were essentially platformers with shooting mechanics – well, bow and arrow shooting – this plays much like a cross between Starfox and Zelda. In the first level I played, Pit flies around without your input, leaving you to dispatch the enemies that pop up constantly. This section, including Pit’s conversation the whole time with the goddess Palutena, feels very much like Starfox.

But where it differs is the inventive use of the touchscreen, which controls your crosshair. Simply drag the stylus around the lower screen, and the crosshair moves around correspondingly on the top. Using the right shoulder button to shoot, it’s a very intuitive method when you don’t have to worry about moving the character as well.

As we watch from over Pit’s shoulder as he flies through the skies shooting giant eyes (there’s a dodgy rap song to be had there), it acts a fantastic tech demo of the device’s 3D capabilities. The game looks great, although it is a smidge too pixelated at times. Ah well, you’ll be too distracted by the 3D to care. Hopefully.

The second level takes place once Pit lands, and you gain control over his movements via the thumbpad. The right shoulder button still shoots, and the touchscreen still controls the cursor, but now Pit can also attack with his sword using the left shoulder button, dodge enemy attacks with a double-tap left or right on the thumbpad, and turn the camera briefly with a swipe across the touchscreen. This set up took a bit of time to get used to, which I unfortunately didn’t have much of, given my short demo session with the game.

I found that the transition between moving the cursor around and swiping quickly to pan the camera was jarring. You kind of need to stop controlling the crosshair, swipe camera left or right, then swipe back and continue aiming. Potentially, an accidental slip or sudden movement could trigger a pan, causing you to lose sight of enemies.

It also only allows almost 90 degree turns of the camera as well; no slight turns here. If you want to see something slightly to your right, it’s easier to strafe that way so the camera follows you, rather than spin it 90 degrees.

That said, I really didn’t get much time with this game, so I can’t say if the controls remain clunky throughout, or if the learning curve is shallow, and you can figure it out quickly. Perhaps within an hour or so, moving Pit, attacking and controlling the camera in this way all becomes second nature, and works out to be intuitive. Controlling the cursor via the touchscreen certainly becomes very easy, very quickly – let’s hope this does too.

I also can’t really tell how well the combat system works in this part of the game, but if it plays as well as the on-rails flying section, it’s likely to be hugely enjoyable. This is the Zelda-esque part of the game, but judging by the mechanics of the original Kid Icarus, maybe it will be more platformy.

If it strikes a nice balance between third person combat, platforming and flying on-rails shooting, this is set to add another character to Nintendo’s already envious first-party party. Making good use of the 3D effects, with fun gameplay to boot, this will probably earn a spot on many a 3DS owner’s rapidly-growing “must buy” list.

Kid Icarus: Uprising will be playable during Nintendo’s upcoming Connection Tour, and is due for release in early 2012.

Gaming since the days of Lemmings and Wolfenstein, and writing since Scamper the mouse in Grade Three.

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