Trying to soar with a broken wing: Kid Icarus on the 3DS is equally divine and damned
Kid Icarus: Uprising
Kid Icarus is hard to pin down. I’ve played an extensive amount of the single-player game, although I haven’t finished it, and I’m struggling to figure out how I feel about the game. Parts of the game are amazing, and the graphics and music often worked together to create moments of real beauty, but there were just as many times that I cursed the control scheme and the goofy stand that ships with the game.
Kid Icarus is supposed to be a portable game, and the 3DS is supposed to be a portable system, but the game’s controls almost necessitate the use of the plastic stand to be effective in combat. You move Pit, the game’s angelic protagonist, using the analog stick on the left. You aim by using the stylus on the touch screen. That makes it very hard to hold the system and play without resting the 3DS on the stand, and then put that whole mess on a table or desk. I tried to play the game on a plane, which is one of those places that portables games should excel, and I had to use the tray table. You can play while holding the system in your hands, but expect cramps within minutes. It’s not ideal.
The game is split into two main styles: an on-rails shooter in the sky, and third-person combat on the ground. The controls work better in the sky when the game controls where you fly and you must simply avoid enemy shots and aim your own shots. The game’s art design is strong, and the music is some of the best Nintendo has put together in the past few years. There are moments where everything comes together to create a game that’s much better than the sum of its parts. The flying segments were refreshing; the game’s snappy dialog and continual call-backs to existing Nintendo franchises were also welcome. At its best, Kid Icarus is a fun and light-hearted game that does everything with a sense of fun and adventure.
The game falls apart during the segments where Pit fights on land. The game asks you to control direction with a combination of the analog stick and directional pad, and you’re told to swipe the stylus right or left to turn quickly. It works in the broadest sense, but it never feels precise. This is what happens when a system doesn’t have dual analog sticks and the designer of the game refuses to work around that shortcoming. The controls never felt natural or easy, even when using the stand and resting the contraption on a table at a decent height. It’s not a problem in the earlier levels, but the game rewards you by increasing the difficulty, and the challenge can be extreme.
The best games will always give you the sense that you messed up when you die, but when playing Kid Icarus I cursed the controls after many failed attempts at the land segments. You may become decent at the controls, but they never feel natural. There is no precise way to move and aim on the land, and it hurts the game. I kept adjusting my position and trying different ways to hold the system or the stylus, but the awkward control scheme was a constant distraction. Portable games have power when they allow you to get lost in the game and melt away from planes, or buses, or waiting for an appointment. The controls always stood in the way of that immersion; every delightful moment the game delivered was offset by a fight that was annoying due to the controls, not the design of the game play itself.
Portable games are a means of escape in many situations, but Kid Icarus never lets you forget that you’re playing a game, and that the game is difficult to control. There are some neat touches here—it’s hard not to be drawn into the heart collection and item unlocks that sink their hooks into the “gotta catch ‘em all” instinct—but it’s all overshadowed by a poorly implemented control scheme that keeps you out of the game instead of pulling you in. There is enjoyment to be found if you don’t mind playing in a stationary position with a solid surface for the 3DS stand, but while traveling? Forget it.