Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Project Sora / Price: $39.99 / Played on: Nintendo 3DS / ESRB: Everyone 10+ [Comic Mischief, Fantasy Violence, Mild Suggestive Themes]
Before playing this game, the only exposure I’d had to Kid Icarus was from the appearances of main character Pit and villain Eggplant Wizard on the Captain N cartoon show—and that may be more exposure than most of the people playing Kid Icarus: Uprising on the 3DS today.
Because the only other two games in the Kid Icarus franchise were released in 1986 and 1991, Pit and his adventures are more or less a blank slate in gamers’ minds, giving Nintendo license to basically make whatever kind of crazy game they wanted for his new appearance on the 3DS.
And Kid Icarus: Uprising is not only a crazy game, but also a very good one in just about every way. However, its ambitious and unconventional controls may mar the experience for some more than others.
Each level is split into two modes: air battle and land battle. Air battles consist of on-rails shooting, as Pit’s flight is automatically guided, tasking players with steering Pit around the screen and avoiding enemy fire while shooting back at long range or slashing in melee when demons get too close.
The rest of each stage puts Pit on the ground, where he fights enemies at long and close range, while also having to traverse tricky terrain, find loot and treasure, discover hidden rooms, ride in divinely engineered vehicles, and occasionally, much to my chagrin, jump from platform to platform. Stages end with bosses, and sometimes feature mini-bosses about halfway through.
Because it’s a shooter more than anything else, the game throws hordes of enemies at Pit. But because players have the option of moving the intensity slider up or down before each level starts, demons may be relatively easy to dispatch, or come in overwhelming swarms.
The higher the risk, the greater rewards: on the higher intensity levels, Pit finds more weapons, more powers, and more hearts—the game’s currency for buying more weapons between missions. And if Pit dies, the game automatically lowers the intensity slider for your next run.
While there were times that I would’ve liked to keep the slider where it was on a second try, I didn’t complain too much when I beat the level. Besides, I could always try the level again with the higher intensity.
The game also offers a cool multiplayer mode, though it’s not quite enough to sustain interest all on its own. Multiplayer games consist of land battles, where players can either play Light vs. Dark—basically three-on-three death match—or free-for-all battles.
Online play is streamlined, letting players easily choose between competitions with friends or strangers, and local or online worldwide. And while the game slows down some when there’s a lot of action on screen in multiplayer, I didn’t notice any actual lag due to online problems or network instability.
Overall, the gameplay is solid, if a bit repetitive the deeper in you go. And after more than twenty levels, it can get repetitive indeed, which is why the game has such a great…
Kid Icarus: Uprising picks up after the events of the first game for the NES—roughly 25 years after, which is just about how long it’s been since that first game was released. The Goddess Palutena directs Pit on his quest to defeat the hordes of the Underworld and defend mankind, bantering with him throughout each level.
Pit clearly harbors a crush on the goddess, and there’s great back-and-forth between the two as they fight against Medusa’s demonic hordes. Meanwhile, each stage’s boss drops in on the chatter, making the story more closely resemble a sitcom rather than a game. While the humor isn’t at the level of genuine hilarity of the Portal franchise, Kid Icarus’s story is fun and constantly entertaining.
Interestingly, the story also reveals that the characters are somewhat self-aware. Frequently, the characters refer to the villains as “bosses” or “mini-bosses,” and even make reference to “the last game.” During those moments, players are shown images of characters and items as they appeared in the original 8-bit game on the touchscreen below (if they can look away from the action above, that is—more on that later).
The self-awareness of the characters and the role they play within the game’s story is frequently intriguing, and is a nice change of pace for such a story-driven game. Of course, the levity has a side-effect of making the game’s actual story—saving humanity from demons from the Underworld—not particularly compelling in and of itself. Whether this is a benefit or a drawback depends on how fun you think the story is.
The controls for Kid Icarus are impressive for their ambitions, but disappointing in practice. Because the 3DS system was built without a second analog stick, the game’s designers allow players to aim Pit’s targeting reticule by using the stylus on the touchscreen. While this goes off without a hitch in the air—fly around the screen with the analog pad, shoot with L, and target with the touchscreen—the controls hit more than a few snags when on foot.
While the controls are fundamentally the same whether in air battle or land battle, moving Pit on the ground is trickier than it ought to be. The camera is tied to the reticule’s movements, so if the player needs to see what’s behind Pit, a flick of the stylus will rotate the view, while tapping on the screen stops the camera’s movement.
As for Pit himself, moving the analog pad makes him gallop along at a steady pace. When he needs to evade an enemy or its fire, flicking the analog pad in any direction causes Pit to dash that way and break into a run.
Simply put: this mechanic sucks.
The difference between moving the pad for regular movement and flicking it for dashing is nearly undetectable. Even so, this wouldn’t be so bad if the game stuck to the basic shooter mechanics of running and gunning along relatively basic environments.
Instead, the many platforming segments threaten Pit with bottomless gorges below or lava pools on either side, meaning that one errant dash too many can deplete health very quickly. Making matters worse, dashing too many times in rapid succession or running for too long causes Pit to tire out, leaving him sluggish and defenseless for a few moments.
The fact that a stand for your 3DS is packed in with Kid Icarus signals that the people who made the game are also aware of the control system’s shortcomings. It’s nearly impossible to play the game without the stand, and even with it, you’re forced into a hunched over position just to play.
That said, I’m also willing to believe that the controls could work for someone with enough patience. For me, using the touchscreen to aim was reminiscent of using a mouse to play a first-person-shooter on a PC—a control scheme for which I also don’t have much love. But if you can get used to the touchy controls, I see no reason why you shouldn’t have a really good time.
Kid Icarus: Uprising is a very good looking game. The characters and monsters all have distinct styles, and offer impressively vibrant colors and smooth animations. The three-dimensional component of the visuals also works really well.
Gauging an enemy’s distance from Pit is an important factor for success, so playing in 3D makes running and gunning feel more realistic and satisfying. Above all, the game has some beautiful 3D characters and environments, and they really show off the graphical prowess of the 3DS.
On the bottom screen, static drawings of the characters delivering dialogue pop up and change to match the emotions their lines should elicit. While this is a fun aspect of the game’s visuals, it’s a shame that players will rarely have an opportunity to watch the characters interact, as there’s too much to focus on above to really appreciate it.
On the down side, Pit’s powers are on the very bottom of the lower screen, and it’s a chore to try and make use of the power suite while under fire on the top screen. I understand that less visual clutter on the top screen makes combat easier in some ways, and that putting the powers on the bottom screen allows them to be activated via the sylus. But as far as practical gameplay is concerned, the powers should really have been included up top.
The game’s music, sound effects, and line-readings are another high point. Each voice actor delivers his or her lines with enthusiasm and verve, helping players connect with the dialogue while immersed in the action. I’m also pleased that Nintendo decided to let the characters speak, instead of stopping the action and forcing players to read line after line of dialogue, Legend of Zelda-style.
Additionally, the great comic line readings of the voice actors often helps sell the humor in the game, especially when the written jokes themselves don’t always quite land successfully.
The music is epic, offering fully orchestrated compositions that sound great in headphones, through speakers, and even through the 3DS’s built-in speakers. For this game, though, I definitely recommend headphones, since you’ll want to catch every word of dialogue, and it can be a bit tough when the music competes for your attention. But even without the dialogue, the music is catchy and often beautiful, sounding as though it wouldn’t be out of place in a movie score.
There’s no denying that Kid Icarus: Uprising is an extremely solid game, and a successful relaunch of a near-forgotten franchise. The biggest question consumers should ask themselves is whether or not they think they’ll be able to cope with the unique controls. If you relish a challenge and want to see the latest, greatest Nintendo-made 3DS title, Kid Icarus won’t disappoint.
But if the touchscreen controls prove to be your downfall, don’t say I didn’t warn you.