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Kid Icarus: Uprising’s Story Soars High Above Nintendo’s Other Narratives

“You gotta stay upbeat, upbeat, upbeat.”



Kid Icarus: Uprising pit key art Nintendo 3DS

Kid Icarus: Uprising and Being Human

Well over a decade ago, Kirby creator and Super Smash Bros. director Masahiro Sakurai had a clear vision for his next first-party Nintendo project after Super Smash Bros. Brawl. The beloved game maker wanted to help one of Nintendo’s fallen icons spread their thimble wings and ascend upon higher ground once more. Originally keen on creating a Star Fox title, Sakurai’s ambitions to explore a genre he had never worked on before evolved into the return of Angel Land’s 8-bit hero. Kid Icarus: Uprising was not just the successful return of Pit’s ignored series; rather, the game showcased what Nintendo’s greatest artists can do when putting story above all else. From the perspective of storytelling, Kid Icarus: Uprising is Nintendo’s delightful adventure that soars an atmosphere above its other narrative-driven productions.

Nintendo has always been known for flaunting fine-tuned gameplay over full-blown narratives, however, Kid Icarus: Uprising literally flipped the script as it shined with its writing, story, and characters above all else. While the gameplay has a lot to offer, the Uprising’s mythology is undoubtedly its strongest aspect. In terms of presenting the player with options and being engaging, Masahiro Sakurai gave audiences everything they could ask for with Kid Icarus: Uprising.

Going beyond game difficulty with user accessibility has always been important to the director, and Uprising is Sakurai’s most impressive display to date of such an ideology. Outside of the game’s tremendous amount of distinct weapon playstyles, numbered difficulty scales, and optional power abilities that can change the way players tackle action-packed situations, for the first time ever Sakurai had created a narrative that successfully held many of his own “Kirbyisms”–the ability for players to choose their own experience.

With the transition back to a handheld system, Sakurai and his creative team ingeniously mixed the director’s core game-making philosophies into basic storytelling. Kid Icarus: Uprising deliberately plays out in the same fashion as an episodic Saturday morning cartoon–which is unsurprising from a directorial standpoint because Sakurai and some of his close colleagues who worked on Uprising supervised Kirby’s 100-episode anime that adhered to a similar format. A lot of character archetypes are being filled throughout the adventure, chapters embrace different tones, and distinct locations are being explored with each cohesive individual story. However, the game also takes a serialized approach as it tells one large overarching narrative about an ambitious angel who wants to free humankind from the wrath of the Underworld’s rulers while also conquering his own “flaws”.

Image: Nintendo

For the casual gamer who wants to pick up a chapter here and there, Kid Icarus: Uprising can stand on its own as a more than doable drip-feed of information and characterizations. Despite its deep mythology, the game rarely focuses on overcomplicated multi-connected story arcs to tell one- to two-chapter adventures. Every chapter is cohesive and typically follows a key objective whether that be stopping a villain, discovering a mystery, or collecting an item.

For the hardcore gamer though who wants to experience Pit’s revival in only a few sittings, Uprising’s complete narrative showcases a clear and satisfying evolution of its world and characters. The protagonist is set on his own version of the hero’s journey from the second he first jumps into battle. No matter how the player paces their game sessions, the way in which the story is told and how it unfolds is absolutely digestible–everyone gets the same story, but the key difference is those who look deeper (and longer) will of course find the more immersive world.

For the player who slowly goes through each chapter, Pit and Palutena’s adventures come off as a fun buddy-duo adventure driven by a call for justice–again, exactly in the vein of a Saturday morning cartoon. For the player looking through every nook and cranny of the game while playing in larger sessions, their journey will be a grand epic that pushes each hero and their allies to their absolute limits. Aside from hysterical jokes that are either memorable one-liners, self-aware conversations, or punchlines built on giant scenarios, the heart and soul of Kid Icarus: Uprising is derived from the personalities and functions of the main cast.

“Don’t curse the darkness. Light a candle! When freaky aliens give you lemons, make freaky alien lemonade… like this!”

For a cast of characters that lay beyond the realms of mortal beings, the gods, pawns, and heroic servants of Kid Icarus: Uprising’s story are all humanized to the core. No member’s presence is wasted, even when the game is going all-in on that episodic villain of the week approach that would hinder other long narrative-driven games. Everyone has their own story to tell, making them all the more likable. What Sakurai geniusly did with the story of Kid Icarus as a franchise was carefully reinterpreted its classic characters to no longer just adhere to the necessities of gameplay–Uprising’s gameplay mechanics and structure coincide with the necessities of the cast. The director turned lemons into lemonade by alternating Toru Osawa’s 8-bit characterizations designed for a challenging side-scroller into legitimate character struggles that played crucial roles in a grander narrative. That sentiment especially holds true in regards to Pit and Palutena.

Image: Nintendo

Pit may be an angel who can fly with the help of a goddess and utilize heavenly-powered weapons to defeat his foes, yet the audience’s love for the character blooms from his pure innocence and reliability that comes off as human. The cheerful angel who only wants what is good for the world is constantly beaten down by almost everyone around him and is patronized for his inability to fly. Pit’s disability is a shining factor of the character that is not only used to create five-minute cinematic rail-shooter scenarios each mission opens up to but it is also a legitimate reason to further define him as a hero. Despite his weakness, the hero is able to always overcome his problems and ultimately make the higher powers above him look weak. Pit is what every player dreams to be–the believer that can accomplish anything despite the presence of what is seemingly insurmountable odds.

Accompanying him, the all-powerful goddess of light Palutena struggles to be that unstoppable force of power everyone depicts her as. While the rulers of the Underworld run amuck amongst the human world, Palutena can barely keep everything together as she desperately clings to Pit’s strength to push through their conflict. She may be the young hero’s inspiration, but in reality, without him, Palutena would be nothing more than a failed goddess who can barely raise a proper army, let alone keep her homeland safe from those who try to overthrow the light. Palutena demonstrates the side of us all that wants to remain positive in every situation we find ourselves in, but can’t help pointing out where we all suffer even if it will seemingly bring our attitudes down–or rather Pit as he is the player. Palutena will go headfirst into situations even if the plan has holes or is in desperate need of improvisation.

Pit: “Yeah! After all, your flight power only lasts for five minutes!”
Palutena: “Pretty horrendous fuel economy, huh?”
Pit: “Oh, uh, I’m sorry. I-I didn’t mean it like that.”
Palutena: “I guess we’re both bad at flying.”

Even though the two main protagonists get the most screen time, Medusa, Viridi, Dark Pit, Hades, Pyrrhon, and every other player have an instrumental role in the plot and affect how the player perceives the world of Kid Icarus: Uprising–as they should. Between Hades and Viridi constantly pointing out the failures of humanity and Dark Pit who (thematically because of his creation) can never let go of a negative outlook on where everyone and everything stands, Sakurai and his team of writers wisely never stick to one viewpoint on life.

Yes, Medusa, Hades, and arguably Viridi embody a form of evil, but saying that their reasonings do not make the player question how Pit and Palutena can justify some of humanity’s actions would be a disservice to their placement in the story. Every main hero and villain comes with a hard dose of comedy and a shocking wave of reality. Many of Kid Icarus: Uprising’s fan-favorite characters do not ride the same wave of complexity its leads do, yet they certainly have more than enough development to articulate themselves as perfect foils and memorable obstacles.

Justifying every character’s personality and actions can all be attributed to the excessive amount of dialogue the game has. While some players may have initially complained that Kid Icarus: Uprising contained too much talking, the amount of dialogue most players will miss out on is quite astonishing. Every little conversation build’s upon character relationships and their outlooks on mortality as a whole. In the face of reset bombs killing thousands of lives and alien invasions where everyone’s efforts are critical to succeeding, the characters still take the time to show their selfish sides and reluctance to give in to reality–Hades attempting to kill Pit with the Mimicutie treasure chests despite needing his help in the “Mysterious Invaders” story arc may be a comedic moment, but is yet an ideal example at how every character will stick to their selfish desires despite understanding what is at stake.

Kid Icarus: Uprising story "The Chaos Kin" chapter Pit and Palutena
Image: Nintendo

It’s true: humans are simple, selfish little creatures who are driven by greed. Sounds a lot like us gods, wouldn’t you say?”

Ultimately Kid Icarus: Uprising‘s genius storytelling comes from two key aspects: character chemistry and hitting home with a thoughtful theme. While charismatic character portraits appearing on screen and whimsical performances that feel lively are often crucial to a story’s success, Kid Icarus: Uprising’s narrative is always a knockout because of the game’s witty writing and end goal. That overabundance of dialogue Uprising has naturally helped flesh out Pit and the rest of the cast over every other one of Nintendo’s characters. The overabundance of dialogue continually justified the game’s core theme of humanity as it continued to nail its point home repeatedly.

The characters of Kid Icarus: Uprising will yell, laugh, cry, question, be stubborn, act hopeless, stay upbeat, and reach their lowest points all in the presence of one another–no emotion is left concealed as the whole cast outbursts like a wild group therapy session. Kid Icarus: Uprising is a game where characters are never presented by themselves in the story–the game only has half a chapter where Pit has been isolated from his allies and enemies. The fact that each character is given time to act and react to one another exponentially increases the weight of Uprising’s story as the player increasingly becomes more attached to each member of the leading cast. By the time the credits roll, players will feel like they have found a new best friend group–heck, that even includes the god of the Underworld.

Pit and the cast's many expressions in Kid Icarus: Uprising
Kid Icarus: Uprising’s reversible cover showcasing some of the game’s character portraits.

Kid Icarus: Uprising is a story about learning to be human–something that all of the game’s gods and higher beings struggle with. According to the game’s interpretation of this message (and as Palutena sums up during the closing chapter), we should always show a side of ourselves that can sympathize and learn to do what is right. However, no one can blame us for also being selfish. Selfishness comes in many different forms, yet so does the idea of yielding justice and sticking to what is right. Being a kindred soul is the only way in which we can ascend upon the ideals that tie us all down. Uprising’s malleable sense of humanity rightfully comes to its full fruition as the story sees its end.

Behind rail-shooting, third-person action, AR Card experiments, role-playing weapon crafting elements, and an online that has somehow remained blissfully alive, the true beauty of Kid Icarus: Uprising will always lie in its approach to telling a joyous narrative–and no fan of the game will argue against that. Perhaps Nintendo’s stories will never stand in the public eye the same way as other story-driven games, but deep within the company’s catalog will always remain plenty of shining tales to cheer for. Kid Icarus: Uprising presents the perfect kind of story worth getting emotional for, and every player who sees all 25 chapters through will feel that punch no matter how long it takes them to complete. May you spread your wings again one day with all that upbeat charm, Pit (and you too Palutena).

Creative writer, NXpress Host, and Games Editor. I have always held a high interest in the fields of professional writing and communications. You can find me with my head deep in the espionage genre or in a kayak upstream. I’ll always be first in line for the next Hideo Kojima or Masahiro Sakurai game.