Feature: Kid Icarus - Nintendo's Next Big Franchise?

Taking to the sky

Whether planned or not, Nintendo has fallen into a routine with its franchises. There’s always a big 3D Mario title and an epic yet delayed Zelda game guaranteed for each system, with a good chance of others such as Metroid and Kirby making an appearance in between. This backbone of core franchises has served Nintendo well over the years, and these continue to be the leading software titles across all of its platforms, eclipsing even the biggest third-party efforts. These series have since reached the level of franchises – sequels are connected to prequels either by narrative or throwback nods, and for some of them cartoon series and merchandise have followed, putting them at the forefront of Nintendo’s gaming and marketing line-up.

It’s little wonder then that no series since Pikmin in 2002 has arguably managed to even close in on the leading pack, and even then it’s possible that Miyamoto’s garden-inspired creation has gained more of a cult status than franchise potential. Whether this is due to a lack of effort on Nintendo’s part can be debated endlessly, but this year saw the return of one classic series which does have the potential to join the company's elite. That series is Kid Icarus.

The re-birth of the Kid Icarus series in Kid Icarus: Uprising may as well have been the start of a new IP for Nintendo, as with a 25 year hiatus – ignoring Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters as Uprising seems to have done — few gamers potentially knew the lore or even the gameplay style of the NES original. That was probably for the best, as the 3DS title pays little respect to the original format, replacing the hybrid Metroid-Mario platforming sections with a mixture of Star Fox, Sin and Punishment and an entirely new concept akin to Smash Bros. in 3D. This title is the start of something new, and is also a rare example of Nintendo fully backing a franchise.

The relative freshness and mass unfamiliarity of Kid Icarus has meant that for Nintendo to make it a big success it needed to push it through to a more mainstream audience; after missing that all important launch window on the 3DS, the only way to do it was with a large marketing campaign. So that’s exactly what it did. Appearances on Nintendo Direct, worldwide Smash Bros DOJO-esque Twitter feeds, three entirely new 3D cartoon episodes and a traditional advertising campaign pushed Uprising above and beyond the typical Nintendo release; it ultimately resulted in strong first week sales where it sold 140,000 in the US alone. But Nintendo isn’t finished.

From his surprising return in Super Smash Bros Brawl in 2008 to his leading role in the 3DS unveiling, it has been clear for some time now that Nintendo wants Pit to become part of a major franchise. Uprising saw an unprecedented level of advertising and promotion as the launch approached, and despite its position as an action game Satoru Iwata believes that it could become “an evergreen title”, something that traditionally only Mario and, to a certain extent, Zelda titles have achieved on Nintendo platforms.

But how exactly is Nintendo going to achieve this when, traditionally, new IPs are often thrown out to the public and decisions taken based solely on sales figures? And how can an essentially new IP become “an evergreen title” on its first appearance on stores shelves? While it may seem like an unlikely thing to happen, there is actually a lot of potential that Kid Icarus could become Nintendo’s newest franchise, as the groundwork has already been laid for it to happen.

The most obvious way Kid Icarus will retain its appeal is the simple fact that it’s new and different. In an era where established names are everything and franchises are gradually creeping towards the latest trend, Uprising is a breath of fresh air. Its unique blend of on-rails shooter and fast-paced land combat — despite slight control issues — is completely different to anything else; with a wealth of options and modes, including an all-important online multiplayer aspect, there really is something for everyone. These elements, along with it being critically acclaimed, are important factors in ensuring the title maintains a shelf presence as a community grows around it.

Nintendo is also producing additional products to raise awareness of the Kid Icarus brand. The most obvious example of this is the meta-game AR cards, something that draws natural comparisons with Pokémon. While the cards won’t build a fan-base of their own due to the necessity of having the game to play them, the collectability of them shouldn’t be underestimated. It’s human nature to collect, and with the AR cards Nintendo potentially has a money tree in the making. Nintendo’s deal with Panini to distribute them across Europe in the near future will also help this tree to come to fruition; not only do the cards provide a cheap source of income for Nintendo, but they also provide a rare yet exciting advertising window for the game. How do you keep a title evergreen? By supplying a large range of AR cards in stores that demand the use of the game.

There’s also the character factor, an area where this title is relatively well blessed. Thanks to some stellar voice acting and a genuinely funny script, Uprising has a memorable cast of characters that's arguably the match of any Nintendo franchise. The creation of a likeable cast has two distinct advantages in taking Kid Icarus to the next level. It adds an incentive to the AR cards, as fans search frantically for their favourite, and it also adds a wider array of merchandising potential to the series.

Thanks to some stellar voice acting and a genuinely funny script, Uprising has a memorable cast of characters that's arguably the match of any Nintendo franchise.

One of Mario’s strengths over Zelda is that the cast members are continuous and distinctively memorable (with an added adorable factor thrown in), and that makes them marketable. As a result you can buy everything from Mario hats to chess sets, all featuring the myriad of characters that make up that world. Uprising’s cast is as strong and potentially as effective as Mario’s, meaning that ultimately they are as marketable as Mario. While we’re probably a way off Kid Icarus figurines, there is definite potential for a future line of merchandise to help promote the franchise.

Of course the path to becoming a franchise has already begun in some respects, and this is an area Nintendo should capitalise on. The three cartoon episodes commissioned prior to the launch of Uprising were a wonderful window into the world of Kid Icarus, and given the wealth of voice talent and characters available to tell stories about, this has potential. Commissioning a full series is very different to creating a handful of episodes, but it has historically created awareness for a series, with Pokémon again being a prime example of a franchise bolstered by a strong TV presence. Given the humour of Uprising, it’s difficult to see why a cartoon wouldn’t work.

Of course the true mark of whether Kid Icarus can become a true franchise is in the sales. Based on current figures it should warrant a sequel, and surely it’ll get one if Sakurai has anything to say about it. Assuming they retain the same cast of characters and tell another witty story, who’s to say that in years to come we won’t be buying new Nintendo systems for the sole purpose of playing the next Kid Icarus game?

If Nintendo continues its strong marketing campaign, Kid Icarus: Uprising could become the evergreen action title that has remained so elusive to so many publishers for so long. But just becoming another series would be a huge disservice to the world that Sakurai re-invented in Uprising. The series has the potential to be a real money-maker for Nintendo through merchandising, AR cards and even through a cartoon series, and could potentially be its next big franchise. After all, despite in-game jokes about there being 25 years to prepare for a true sequel, we surely won’t have to wait that long again, will we?

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