Kid Icarus: Uprising Hands-on Preview

Nintendo thrilled longtime fans when it announced at E3 last year that Kid Icarus would be making a return. Its revelation as the first big-time new-for-3DS game from Nintendo (who also have the Zelda: Ocarina of Time remake on track to release around the launch) added to the excitement, but also spawned plenty of questions. With the hardware too just announced, how its capabilities could be put to use in the game was the subject of many discussions. At Nintendo's 3DS press event in New York, I got to play a couple of sample sections from the game that shed some light on the matter.

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The demo offered two representative excerpts lifted from larger sections of the game. The first, taken from chapter one, naturally offered a pretty easy path. The other comes from chapter four, a little later in the game and accordingly more difficult. Both follow the basic design planned for all the chapters in the game of an aerial shooting section where Kid Icarus flies to a battle shooting down enemies en route, and then lands to take on enemies on the ground while making his way to a boss.

Both modes use the same set of controls. The analog control stick moves Kid Icarus around the screen and the left side shoulder button attacks. At range he shoots different projectiles depending on the weapon being used, and when enemies get up close he automatically switches to a melee attack. The touchscreen is then used to move the aiming cursor around the screen, and when on the ground to look around.

This configuration results in a bit of hand contortion to play the game. With a sort of claw-like grip in my left hand I could use the stick and left shoulder while supporting most of the weight of the 3DS. I then held the stylus like a pencil with my right and hooked my pinky under the right side of the 3DS to steady it. More often than I'd like, it slipped around in my hands, causing the screen to slip out of the right viewing angle and the 3D effect to uncomfortably break. It works, but I left concerned about being able to really hold the thing stable enough to enjoy playing, especially for any length time. Part of the problem, though, could have come from the extra weight and unnatural balance of the tether and its connection block on the back of the 3DS demo unit.

Three weapons were available in the demo and I gave each a shot. The blade was the balanced all-around choice, equally good at range and in melee. The claws were devastating up close, dishing out vicious combos, but their shots lacked range and didn't pack as much punch. And the orbitars--two glowing orbs that circle around Kid Icarus--were great when blasting away, but not so strong in close combat. Each was effective enough in action, so long as I remembered to play to their strengths.

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The flying sections of the game had an old school shoot 'em up feel to them. It's an on-rails shooter in which Kid Icarus hovers in midair and can be moved around the screen as the scenery flies by. Using the stylus to move the crosshairs around then brings in the additional element of being able to aim independently of where Kid Icarus is going. The second, harder demo level put this to use with rock outcroppings that had to be maneuvered around while dodging enemy fire and maintaining concentration on shooting down fliers as well.

On the ground, it was a different story. Switching into third person action game mode brings out the control issue posed by not having a second analog stick. Because the stylus controls both aim and view, looking around in a fight becomes a chore. Turning proved to be a chore because the game's response to stylus movement has to be slow enough to allow for precision when aiming. I did find that I could swipe across the screen, lift the tip of the stylus off the screen to get a faster spin, and then touch the tip down to stop the spin, but it was an inexact stunt at best.

Kid Icarus does pick up some fighting moves on the ground. Along with the claw combos he can do powerful dash attacks with any weapon. Moving the stick quickly in any direction starts him running and then it's just a matter of getting the timing right to land the attack at the end. But with as troublesome as it was to look around, I found myself hanging back a lot where I could strafe back and forth shooting down any foes before they got too close.

These demo sections were brief, making it tough to develop any sort of groove with the controls. I'm hoping something can be done with aim assists or other tuning to smooth out the on foot sections for the final game. Otherwise they could dampen the potential the in-flight shooting seems to hold.

Developed and published by Nintendo, Kid Icarus: Uprising is scheduled to launch this year exclusively on Nintendo 3DS though not before E3 in early June.