Continuing with the repair of Kid Icarus Uprising, I want to address the controls of the game. Many have complained about the controls of KIU claiming that they work great for the air missions yet make the ground missions nearly impossible to play. I find these complaints to be exaggerated and short sighted. Starting with the way players hold the 3DS, playing KIU with the default controls is like writing in a small notepad. The 3 input design of the control scheme is as efficient as can be for a dual analog shooter; i.e. one input for move, one for shoot, and one input for aim. Playing with the 3DS in the left hand and the stylus in their right is a control scheme that plenty of DS games use like Metroid Prime Hunters, Call of Duty, Picross 2D or 3D to name a few. This scheme is not extreme, crazy, or out of the ordinary.
"If a player used to touchscreen-based aiming played against someone used to right-analog control, the first player would probably dominate. The speed is on a whole different level." ~Masahiro Sakurai
There's nothing to repair about the controls of Kid Icarus Uprising. The accuracy and versatility of the touch screen stylus control is unmatched as an input devise. Furthermore, the controller feel from flicking the stylus like spinning a globe is unique and fantastically personal like the control schemes of many fighting games. Put another way, aiming in KIU isn't just about putting the reticle over targets. It's much more closely tied to the look and feel of how the avatar moves. When targets circle behind you, to keep them in view, the "globe spin" flick and stop motion feels like an appropriate abstraction of what it's like to quickly spin one's body around in real life. And because the core combat design has strong fighting game elements that are not common to shooters, KIU's controller design meshes well.
Left handed players may have a bit more difficulty adjusting to the default controls. Fortunately, Sakurai is the type of designer who includes tons of customizable control options (see video here). From reassigning buttons, adjusting cursor speed, to offering a left handed control scheme, an all button scheme, to support of the circle pad pro there are plenty of options for players to find a configuration that works for them. This is not to mention that players can choose the weapons and powers that work well with their abilities, like a melee focused loadout if a player can't aim well.
"The controls here really aren't that difficult, either, so I'm hoping that people will be able to get used to them." Masahiro Sakurai
Like other parts of a gameplay system, controls are just one more element for players to learn and master. This doesn't come easily or quickly. Expect to put some time into getting a feel for the controls and how they work with the mechanics. Like Super Smash Brothers, the controls design is pretty straightforward, yet mastery is ever elusive. I don't give complaints about how hard it is to adjust to the controls much leeway when players don't take the time to practice and get used to how KIU is designed. After watching my little sister pick up the game and make her way through the first 3 missions all without sound (which is how the game explains many of the particulars of the controls), I'm confident that the controls are straightforward enough not to warrant any serious critique. The controls in KIU are really as simple as move, shoot, and aim. Like Sakurai says, it's really not that difficult. I think the trouble most have with the controls comes from just learning the game, which is easier done when the difficulty isn't set beyond one's capabilities.
Another area that could use some repair attention is how much Kid Icarus Uprising relies on grouped mechanics and contextual mechanics, which are mechanics with effects that change depending on factors outside of the players control. As I often say, complexities cannot be compressed. To make the gameplay of Kid Icarus Uprising sufficiently complex, the complexities (rules) had to be coded into the game somewhere. And because the core design is built around and efficient scheme of 3 primary inputs, there are many complex rules and effects built into just moving and shooting. To be clear the grouped mechanics I refer to in KIU are different from most games where different mechanics result from the different states your character is put in. For example, in Smash Brothers, if you hold down and hit A you'll get a down-tilt attack; if you hit A with the stick in neutral position you'll do a standing jab attack. This kind of mechanics design is normal and is aided by the clear feedback of character animations and states.
In Kid Icarus Uprising, just hitting the SHOOT button may result in a charge shot, continuous fire, or a melee attack. The charge shot depends on the amount of time has passed since your last shot and the melee attack only comes out if a target is near to you regardless of your charge state. This design makes it more difficult to understand and anticipate what will happen when you press the shoot button. It also allows for other players to put pressure on you in ways that most gamers are probably not used to. For example, it's possible for a player to pressure their opponent up close to force them to use melee attacks and then move back so that the opponent's next shot is a charge shot; then close in again. If done correctly, you can practically prevent your opponent from using continuous fire. This kind of interplay is all part of the game. If you look closely enough similar systems exist in fighters and other competitive games. After all, this kind of pressure is the basic way that interplay barriers work. It can just be odd not to be able to do the thing you want even though you press the right button.
I wouldn't change the way the controls and mechanics are designed in Kid Icarus Uprising. But I do understand the stress that they put on the feedback design of the game.
Feedback and Clean Design
Visual Feedback Elements
Feedback and clean design is the biggest area I want to address for repair. As I've explained in my series The Coefficient of Clean, how a game presents information to the player can make or break the gameplay experience even if it has an excellently designed core. The valuable meaning we get from gameplay experiences largely occurs when we make informed decisions. Feedback design is all about how a game presents crucial information. For when players are better informed about the game state, they can learn more quickly and calibrate their expectations appropriately allowing for a smoother more meaningful gameplay experience overall.
The more complex a game's gameplay the more important feedback becomes. I've already established that Kid Icarus Uprising is an incredibly complex game. It's like Super Smash Brothers in 3D! And with that added dimension of space comes 2 major feedback challenges; judging the distance between objects despite ba3D and having a sense of the actions around you despite only being able to see in ~90 degree vision cone.
In my article Farewell Ba3D, I explained that even with stereoscopic technology, games still need to use monocular feedback design elements to communicate 3D spaces to players through a 2D screen. With that said, the following are a few of the examples of monocular feedback elements I found particularly useful in Kid Icarus Uprising. The aiming reticle changes its shape to reflect whether or not your next shot will be continuous or a charge shot. It also changes when you're in melee attack range. This design feature is similar to Halo's reticle that turns red when in melee range. It goes a long way in helping players judge distances accurately.
There's also a small arrow that's placed above targets when they're within range (see image above). This feedback marker dynamically changes depending on what weapon you have and how you're moving. In many FPS and TPS games, when taking damage the on-screen blood splashes indicate the direction the incoming attack came from. Because bullets are much slower in KIU it's not as important to know where successful attacks come from; it's important to know that they're incoming. To indicate this KIU features yellow bars at the edge of the screen that point to incoming dangers. I don't even notice them consciously, but I do realize that they help me make informed decisions on my surroundings.
I continue in the 9th part with feedback repair.