IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Masahiro Sakurai on reviving gaming's past, and concerns for its future

Kid Icraus

"Kid Icarus: Uprising" has been warmly received by both game players and critics alike. Despite controls for the ground portion being somewhat lacking, everything else -- specifically the flight segments, the witty script, slick presentation and overall charm -- more than makes up for any negatives.

In our review, we cited the main reason that the game is such a total package: its designer, Masahiro Sakurai. MSNBC had the chance to talk with Sakurai recently about the challenges he faced during the game's development.

When asked how he came to be involved with the project in the first place, Sakurai said: "Mr. Iwata [Satoru Iwata, the president of Nintendo] asked me to work on developing software for a new handheld game console. I ended up being the first person outside of Nintendo to learn about the Nintendo 3DS."

At the time, Sakurai and his team were not aware that the platform would be able to produce such advanced polygonal graphics, when compared to the graphical output of other handhelds, let alone its ability to produce three-dimensional graphics without the need for special equipment.

Because his team did not have 3DS developmental kits at the time, early on, the game was built on the PC, and was even running on a Wii at a certain point. The following video, which was uploaded by Siliconera, is prototype footage of the air battle portion of the game:

When asked how it was, to not only develop a game for the 3DS, but to be one of the first to do so, he said: "I’m not a Nintendo insider, and I don’t have my own team. So I had to start by creating a team and creating a company. That’s very far away from the end goal of a complete game. On top of that, I was in charge of everything, so I felt a great amount of responsibility."

As for unique challenges that Sakurai had to face when it came to gameplay, there was the relationship between characters and how cameras follow them, though that's an issue that has been longstanding with polygonal games since day one. But the 3DS, he feels, was able to help offset some of these issues.

"Because 'Uprising’s' method for aiming the camera is original, it takes some time to get used to, but it enables users to aim the camera more quickly and accurately than was ever possible on other gaming devices."

The game stars Pit, one of the last vestiges of Nintendo's NES days that had yet to be revived in subsequent years and platforms. It was Sakurai himself, a fan of the original ""Kid Icarus," who brought him back to the forefront via "Smash Bros. Brawl" for the Wii.

But reminding contemporary audiences why he is such a noteworthy character was challenging as well: "I felt like too much time had passed since then and that if I brought Pit to 'Smash Bros.' without any modifications, he wouldn’t be popular, nor have the kind of impressive moves that he would need for 'Smash Bros.' "

" 'The Legend of Zelda' came out at around the same time as 'Kid Icarus,' and Link changed with the times, evolving into his modern form over the course of the Zelda series. I redesigned Pit for 'Super Smash Bros. Brawl' while thinking about what he would look like now if Kid Icarus had spawned a long series of games. 

"A number of points that were necessary for Pit’s revival were dealt with in the design process, and the fact that Pit’s 'Smash Bros.' character was well-received helped lead to the development of the current game."

But placing Pit alongside other characters in a fighting game in which context was not an issue was one thing. Having Pit do what he did in back in 1986, but in 2012, was a whole other matter: "In the original 'Kid Icarus,' it didn’t really seem like Pit was all that serious about his adventure."

For many "Uprising" players, their favorite part of the game is the surprisingly funny script. Turns out, the original is much the same, though only Sakurai, it would seem, noticed this: "The [original Kid Icarus] was more on the humorous side, and even seemed kind of arrogant.

"We reflected this in the conversations and the progression of the story. We didn’t make it too serious. This is evident in the situations where characters are joking while they fight. I feel like in recent games, the plot moves forward with too much angst and pain. I think it’s nice to have something bright for a change."

Sakurai may be best known for creating Kirby, one of the Nintendo's most beloved characters for many years. Asked how it was to finally work on a non-Kirby game for once, he said: "I’ve created a number of non-Kirby games ... but Kirby and 'Smash Bros.' games are always a part of a series with rules that people are familiar with and that are easy for them to accept.

"That makes creating new sequels for these games easier. On the other hand, 'Kid Icarus: Uprising' is essentially an original game, with careful thought put into every element of the game design. However, there are still some deep misconceptions about the controls and how to play the game that I believe need to be dispelled as much as possible."

Sakurai is well aware of the complaints about the controls in "Uprising." "People were also strongly biased against the original 'Smash Bros.' when it first came out, because of its original controls and rules, but it received strong support from customers who understood the gameplay," he said.

"A similar pattern is emerging for this game as well, at least in Japan. It’s hard for original action games to come about unless they can be played as easily as this game."

"Kid Icarus: Uprising" personifies Sakurai's quest for something different, which is reflected in his answer when asked where he finds inspiration when he makes games. "Actually, I’m concerned about the lack of inspiration that I get from gaming experiences," he said.

"If you look at first-person shooters, they almost all have the same controls and don’t require any thinking. And you can easily set the difficulty without risks. I think the era when each game required people to feel things out more was more stimulating and interesting, and the memory of that era served as the foundation for this game."

Matthew Hawkins is an NYC-based game journalist who has also written for EGM, GameSetWatch, Gamasutra, Giant Robot and numerous others. He also self-publishes his own game culture zine, is part of  Attract Mode , and co-hosts  The Fangamer Podcast . You can keep tabs on him via  Twitter , or his personal home-base, .