The History of Kid Icarus – Flying Through Angelic Skies

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Nintendo is famous for many franchises like Super Mario & Legend of Zelda. However they also produced some more unknown games in their extensive line-up. They made a little angel named Pit as he explored labyrinths and avoided turning into an eggplant back on the Nintendo Entertainment System and Famicom for example.
Kid Icarus is a series with a very interesting history, as it went from a dormant Nintendo franchise into one of highest quality Nintendo releases this gaming generation. Today, we will be flying through Nintendo’s skies to explore the adventures of Pit and how his early adventures lead to a fantastic 3DS game to be produced.

8-Bit Origins

Nintendo was making a lot of games for there NES Console, with heavy hitters like Super Mario Brothers and Legend of Zelda selling a lot of consoles. But they wanted to spice of the library of the system so they started development on a lot of original IP.

Quote from Wikipiedia Page of the Original Kid Icarus

This game was designed at Nintendo‘s Research and Development 1 (R&D1) division, while the programming was handled by the external company Intelligent Systems (known as Myth of Light: The Mirror of Palutena at the time). The game was developed for the Family Computer Disk System (FDS) because the peripheral’s Disk Card media allowed for three times the storage capacity of the Family Computer’s (and NES’s) console’s cartridges. Combined with the possibility to store the players’ progress, the floppy disk format enabled the developers to create a longer game with a more extensive game world. Myth of Light: The Mirror of Palutena was Toru Osawa’s debut as a video game designer, and he was the only staff member working on the game at the beginning of the project.[18] Osawa (credited in the U.S. version as Inusawa) intended to make Myth of Light: The Mirror of Palutena an action game with role-playing elements, and wrote a story rooted in Greek mythology, which he had always been fond of.[18][22]

He drew the pixel art, and wrote the technical specifications, which were the basis for the playable prototype that was programmed by Intelligent Systems. After Nintendo’s action-adventure Metroid had been finished, more staff members were allotted to the development of Myth of Light: The Mirror of Palutena.[18]

Nintendo let R&D1 work on this new title and they worked hard on the game. One quote even states, “To meet the game’s projected release date of December 19, 1986, the staff members worked overtime and often stayed in the office at night. They used torn cardboard boxes as beds, and covered themselves in curtains to resist the low temperatures of the unheated development building. Eventually, Myth of Light: The Mirror of Palutena was finished and entered production a mere three days before the release date. Several ideas for additional stages had to be dropped because of these scheduling conflicts.”

It met the release date that was planed and the game got a lot of success on the NES with sales but mixed reception at launch. Work on a sequel for the Game Boy called Kid Icarus: Of Myths & Monsters released in 1991 in North America to critical success and is regarded today as one of the original Game Boy’s Classic games.

But the series sorta ‘went to sleep’ in many respects. While Pit joined Captain N & other iconic Nintendo/third party adventures in a very campy animated show, he wasn’t really used much afterward.

His gameplay in both the original title & the sequel had roots in Metroid, where you are exploring different maze-like locations. You collected hearts and shot various creatures with your bow and arrow. I enjoyed both games but they weren’t my favorite Nintendo titles.

Pit Joins the Brawl – Coming Back After Years of Slumber

Around the time the Nintendo Wii was announced as Nintendo Revolution, many wondered if a new Smash Brothers game was on the horizon. Considering Melee, the last game in the series, released in 2002 many was wondering if a new Smash was incoming.

Nintendo was too, saying if Sakurai wasn’t making a new game, they would simply port a online-enabled version of Melee to the new system. This pushed the team that normally makes the Smash Brothers games to start production rapidly on a new title, dubbed Super Smash Brothers Brawl. 

You can see this through a lengthy interview between Sakurai & Iwata during a special article series called ‘Iwata Asks’

First off, why don’t we talk about how Super Smash Bros. Brawl got started? I believe it was at E3, right?
That’s right.
E3 is an international gaming event and I myself was at the E3 in May of 2005 to give a presentation about the Wii console. At the time, Wii was still being referred to by its code name “Revolution” and Nintendo revealed the exterior design of this new gaming console as well as the fact that it would include Wi-Fi support. Before the presentation, we polled a large number of people on what Nintendo titles they hoped to see made available for network play and many put Smash Bros. at the top of their list. All the employees from Nintendo of America that were involved with E3 at the time strongly wanted to announce a new Super Smash Bros. that would be compatible with Wi-Fi play. But at the time, we still hadn’t discussed this thoroughly with HAL Laboratory yet, which shared the rights to Smash Bros. with Nintendo, and we hadn’t even begun planning out the production process. So I announced this subject, emphasizing that I was hoping that a Smash Bros. game would be released as a Wi-Fi compatible title. However, most people from Japan that were in the conference room took this as an official announcement that Nintendo was going to release a new Smash Bros. Looking back at it now, I do regret the way I said this; you can’t blame them for interpreting it that way. Naturally, it was a splash of cold water for you.
Absolutely. (laughs) You can imagine my surprise when I was told by the others at the E3 show site that you made the announcement out of the blue.
I even heard that the people around you at E3 were asking you whether or not you would develop the Smash Bros. game.
Yeah, it was rough. (laughs) I had no idea what to say.
So, during that E3, I invited you to my hotel room and told you what I was hoping to do. That was the start of the project, there wasn’t any specifications set, nor was there any framework.
And the fact that I had already quit HAL Laboratory made things a bit complicated…
Well, I had considered what I would do if you turned me down and decided that I would need to take the existing Smash Bros. title, Super Smash Bros. Melee for Nintendo GameCube, and try to make it Wi-Fi capable while preserving as much balanced gameplay as possible in the event you didn’t want to get involved. Maybe it’s more appropriate to say that I realised we wouldn’t be able to add any new elements to the game without your help and I think I said as much when we discussed it at the hotel. It wasn’t right, but you might even say I used it as a threat of sorts.

A trailer was released in 2005 to push gamers into getting a Nintendo Revolution, with the trailer showing characters new & old joining the roster. Solid Snake sneaking his way into the scene and the visually impressive Final Smash mechanics took headlines, but the dormant angel came back.

He was one of the new characters joining the brawl, sporting an updated design & upgraded bow that can not only shoot laser arrows but also split the bow into dual blades for rapid melee combat. When Smash Brothers Brawl released, we also was treated to a long level set in the Kid Icarus’ Skyworld location with new remixes joining it in Brawl’s Sub-Space Single Player mode.

It was great seeing the IP brought back and Nintendo wanted to see more games in Kid Icarus sporting the Smash Brothers interpretation of them being produced. Soon comes Factor-5, a studio trying hard to make a number of titles after the troubled PS3 title Lair. Nintendo was great friends with them and after seeing the work they were doing on the Wii Rouge Squadron Collection, they asked them to work on a Kid Icarus title.

Unseen64 covers the entire story with great detail in the below video but the short version is that Nintendo sent them assets to work with for a prototype in a future pitch but they decided to use original designs for Pit and company. Nintendo didn’t approve of the project and Factor-5 moved on in trying to get other prototypes and concepts off the ground.

So one would think that is it and Pit’s flying adventures were cut short after a failed take off with Factor-5? Not the case at all, as despite internal plans for a new Kid Icarus game not being on the table for a little while one questions answers all; what would the next project from the creator of Super Smash Brothers end up like?

Souring on the Nintendo 3DS – Kid Icarus: Uprising Development History

Sakurai was interested in making a game that mixed ground combat & flight combat, so him and his team as Sora asked to use the Star Fox IP for a possible project. Nintendo agreed and let the teams work on a new Star Fox game. Not long after development started, the issue of mixing ground & air combat came to a head and Sakurai wondered what they could do next to better this project. Then the idea came; lets make this a Kid Icarus game.

Despite this project being far removed from the original two games (2D platformer), he went ahead and developed Uprising using his KI assets from Brawl as an base. As development continued more & more concepts new and old came into the title and it was officially announced at E3 2010. Many were impressed, as the title would be released on Nintendo’s 3DS platform. NOT the already released Nintendo Wii. I honestly thought the game was a Wii title when it was first announced, it was that impressive visually.

The game mixed air combat with Pit moving around with the circle pad while aiming & dodging incoming fire by ‘smashing’ the stick in that direction. Then the ground combat was shown off and it was more or less a shooter version of Smash Brothers. You ‘smash’ the stick in different directions and when you press fire you shoot a stronger blast.

Pit was wielding various fire arms outside of his iconic bow and the game seemed to have a very light hearted tone with the voice acting. They even poked fun at how long Pit has been ‘sleeping’ with the very first bit of the trailer.

The game held a lot of promise and we learned more over time. Combat in the game for example shows how well thought out the design process of Uprising was, as Sakurai made it have risk and reward.

When you made Kirby Air Ride , what kind of disassembly and assembly took place?
First I thought about our general notions of the acceleration and drifting.
Because it’s a racing game.
Right. And like why drifting feels good.
What conclusion did you reach?
We decided that drifting feels so good because there’s risk involved. Under normal grip conditions, the tires don’t slide and the vehicle is stable, so you drive with little risk. Now if you drift – while you may lose control and there’s a greater danger of going off-course – and then succeed, that feels awesome.

You drew a picture of Space Invaders on a white board. In that game, if you don’t shoot from directly under the invaders, you can’t hit them. But if you go under them, they can hit you with their missiles and that’s the risk. You talked about how risk comes with return, so you can almost explain the tactics involved in a game by the relationship between risk and return. I remember that made a lot of sense to me.
I often connect gameplay with risk and return, but I am aware that there is more to it in what makes a game fun. Like, maybe many people aren’t looking for gameplay per se. I’ve been thinking about how we need to pay attention to that.

So the game is mixed into flight mode (which mirrors games like Star Fox and Sin & Punishment) and ground combat sections having heavy risk & reward elements to it all, giving it a lot of depth. This is further added with a weapons system that give Pit a large collection of tools to use during combat (bow & arrow, melee weapons, ect).
The game’s localization is something worth noting, as it was penned by Sakurai himself and the same script was shared between the Japan and English versions of the game…..

Oh, right. When you looked at the lineup of games for Nintendo 3DS, you thought you should make something with a story in which the main character talked a fair amount.
Right. Actually, I wrote the whole script myself this time. What I paid a lot of attention to wasn’t so much about telling a story, but rather continually changing the situations of the players.

 …..However, the Nintendo Treehouse localization team had a lot of freedom with the story. 

“[The Japanese script] is something that takes advantage of the nuances of Japanese conversation, and not all of it works directly in English,” Sakurai said. “We had NOA handle the localization, and I told them to change the meaning and content as much as they want – that I wanted conversations that sound natural and enjoyable to a native speaker.”

This is great to see from a Nintendo title, as a specific game before Kid Icarus Uprising’s release had a very strict localization and the game’s story suffered heavy from this. It lead to Kid Icarus Uprising to having a story many gamers in western markets heavily enjoying, being one of the better Nintendo stories of this generation of gaming.

Kid Icarus: Uprising released March 22nd in Japan, March 23rd in North America & Europe, and March 29th in Australia. The game got some mixed reviews but most people enjoyed the title for it’s high action gameplay, bring new live to a long dormant Nintendo franchise and being one of the most original 3DS titles at the time of the game’s release. It faced major criticism for it’s controls, as due to being on the 3DS, no dual-stick support was offered (despite supporting the Circle Pad Pro).

Does the Angel Take Flight and Save the World? 

My first experience with Kid Icarus Uprising was not long after I purchased my Nintendo 2DS in Fall 2014 for Super Smash Brothers for 3DS. I got Kid Icarus Uprising early in 2015 and after playing it for over 20 hours……I fell in love with the game.

Story for the game is my personal favorite of ANY Nintendo title. Pit is such a great main character, as he reacts to everything happening around him; he quips about being in combat and talking with the many gods/goddesses you meet in the game.

The villain character of Hades and major character Viridi stand out, as both have such colorful personalities. Hades is so flamboyant and reminds me of the same named character from the Disney animated movie Hercules. How he tricks you in the middle of the game is gold for example. Viridi is great just because of how she interacts with Pit. They get along great together, leading to some very funny moments happening. I remember on point toward the later part of the game where Pit breaks the fourth wall and she follows along.

But we cannot talk about Kid Icarus characters without mentioned the Goddess of Light Palutena. What was a basic Princesses Peach character in the first two games is one of Nintendo’s most enjoyable female characters. She is powerful and she knows it, but she is still willing to crack a few jokes with Pit and company. Even when things get serious, she still maintains her calm persona and still jokes around sometimes. Her interactions with Pit show how great the dynamic between the two characters are. They are a team and respect each other, showing a team-dynamic I wish Mario & Peach or Link & Zelda could have more often.

Funny how I spent to paragraphs praising a Nintendo story but that was something that honestly shocked me when I first played this; a non-RPG Nintendo game having a strong story that grips you. The Zelda games (Majora’s Mask comes to mind) have this for example but I was just very impressed with Uprising’s story.

Now we move on to gameplay and I love it. It feels like a natural progression for Star Fox in some ways, which is funny considering it was originally going to be a Star Fox title. But the shooting controls feel responsive and the various weapons Pit can use are fantastic to control. The many weapons and items you can equip to Pit before jumping into action makes each level have a layer of strategy, ensuring high replay value. One part of the game regarding gameplay I like is that a lot of little touches from past Sakurai produced titles come back in interesting ways.

You ‘smash’ the Circle Pad in different directions to dash (which lets you dodge and do your melee dash attack/shot) and the menus scream Smash Brothers and Kirby’s Air Ride in terms of there design. It feels like a game by Sakurai and that is really great to see. One touch from Sakurai’s games is the difficulty slider, as the higher you make it, the more rewards you can get. Smash Brothers does this (the most recent ones for example), so it was nice seeing something Kid Icarus does bleed it’s way to Sakurai’s flagship Nintendo series.

The levels are massive in scale and scope, honestly feeling more like a console game rather than a 3DS title. Uprising is one of the 3DS’s best looking games, with detailed textures, a bombastic musical score and a very stable frame rate with little to no drops.

Future for Kid Icarus

One might ask the following question; “Is a new one coming out in the future?” and I would say “I don’t know”. Sadly, we have no idea if a new game is in production or not, but at the very least Kid Icarus is a major Nintendo franchise now.

Pit got a major role in Smash Brothers 3DS & Wii U, with not only Dark Pit and Palutena being playable fighters but a lot of references to Uprising (trophies, stage in Wii U version, Palutena Guidance Conversations and more) appear inside the game.

With Nintendo showing interest in pushing gaming franchises into other media, I could see a Kid Icarus cartoon show being a perfect fit.
We will see what the future holds for the angel but the series has a landmark legacy within Nintendo’s vast library of franchises.

Sources: Nintendo World Report, Super Smash Bros. Brawl & Kid Icarus Uprising Iwata Asks, GameXplainUnseen64, WikipediaAngelprincess2431NicobbqNintendoProSiteMasterEnex


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