Kid Icarus: Uprising Review
“Sorry to keep you waiting!” shouts Pit as he takes to the skies in the opening level of Nintendo's Kid Icarus: Uprising for the 3DS.
The apology is certainly appreciated. Though Pit appeared as a fighter in 2008's Super Smash Bros. Brawl for the Wii (directed, incidentally, by Uprising director and Kirby creator Masahiro Sakurai), it's been a staggering 21 years since we were last treated to an instalment in the Kid Icarus franchise. While fans may not have been clamouring for a new Kid Icarus all that time, Uprising itself has been hotly anticipated since its announcement alongside the 3DS at the 2010 E3. After a few delays, the game finally arrived in stores at the end of last month, heralding a new standard in production values for the 3DS system, though not without containing a few problems (well, one big one).
In Kid Icarus: Uprising, you control plucky protagonist Pit, angelic servant of the Goddess Palutena. Armed with various weapons, Pit wages a battle against the Underworld forces of Medusa, who has been resurrected after her defeat 25 years ago (25 years being the real-world time elapsed since the original Kid Icarus for the NES system).
Gameplay is fairly straightforward. Each level contains two segments: air and ground. The air segments consist of blasting away at enemies in an on-rail shooting experience similar to Star Fox 64, while the ground segments mirror your traditional 3D action-platformer, culminating in a boss fight at the end of every level. While the gameplay is hardly novel in itself, the game introduces a fairly ingenious wrinkle with the addition of the Hearts Cauldron.
Before setting out in each level, players can gamble hearts (the currency of Uprising) in order to adjust the difficulty level. This offers an opportunity for players to set the difficulty at a level that's juuuuust right for them, allowing the game to be accessible to novices and experts alike. To give you an idea of the spectrum, the default difficulty is 2.0, with the possibility to set it as high as 9.0. Considering difficulty is determined in increments of 0.1, this means you have a range of 90 skill levels to choose from (0.0 being available for those having trouble with the default settings). The higher you set the difficulty, the more hearts you can earn, and the better weapons you can receive. Get killed, however, and you lose a portion of the hearts you gambled.
That being said, high difficulties are worth the risk for the aforementioned weapons they yield. In this game, weapons are everything. There are over 100 weapons to choose from in 9 different categories, from twin-firing orbitars to massive clubs. Different versions of the same weapon will have different modifiers and yield different values, ensuring that no two weapons are exactly the same. In between levels, you can purchase weapons, convert existing weapons into hearts, or fuse entirely new ones. Different classes of weapons drastically change the feel of the game, so everyone will find a play style that's suitable to them (I prefer the rapid-fire action of the blade myself).
Also adding to Uprising's uniqueness is the dialogue. Throughout the levels, Pit talks non-stop with his allies and enemies, engaging in conversations on a wide range of topics, from what the villains hope to get out of life, to just who this “Kid Icarus” is that the game's title refers to. For some people, it may be annoyingly distracting, but I found the conversations as a whole to be quirky and charming, adding a great sense of humour to the game. It's not as clever as, say, the back-and-forths in Portal (and honestly, what is), but it's fun nonetheless.
The visuals are also spectacular. While not as graphically robust and detailed as Resident Evil: Revelations, this game features perhaps the best visuals on the system from a design perspective. This game boasts an immense roster of opponents and characters, with a wide spectrum of looks between them. From gritty mercenary Magnus to the awesome-looking Chariot Master, if Nintendo ever decides to really revitalize Kid Icarus as a sustainable franchise, then Uprising certainly did a great job of providing a strong supporting cast of characters. What's more, the levels themselves are beautiful, particularly during the air segments when you soar above vast landscapes. While the game begins with a Greek mythology motif, the designers have a lot of fun stretching later level designs in many other directions, from space battles to...well, I don't want to spoil it, but Pandora's Labyrinth is pretty cool.
As if that's not enough, the game also boasts an impressive multiplayer that can be played locally or online. There are two methods of play, either the fairly standard Free-For-All mode, where everyone tries to kill each other as much as possible while power-ups drop à la Super Smash Bros., and Light-Vs-Dark. In the latter mode, two teams of three players battle each other. Once the team's total health is completely depleted, the last player to have been defeated is reborn as an angel, capable of dealing tons of damage. Take him out, and your team wins. It's not something you need to play over and over, but it's a fun alternative to the main single player mode.
On top of that, there are hundreds of collectable in-game trophies, and over three hundred achievements, not to mention the AR cards that can be obtained at various promotional events. Suffice it to say, once you beat the main game, there's still plenty to keep you busy if you want to strive for that 100% completion rating. This is a PACKED game.
That being said, despite all the great things about the game, there is one glaring problem that will be painfully obvious to any player as soon as he or she starts playing: the controls. Air battles aren't too bad at all; aiming with the stylus, shooting with the shoulder button, and moving with the circle pad is all pretty straightforward. However, once you get to the ground segments, problems start to occur. Stylus now doesn't just control aiming, but camera movement as well, making for an incredibly awkward aiming system. You can adjust the controls, but there's no one perfect setting. While this is bad enough for most users, I'm left-handed, which means that I have to struggle to find a control scheme that allows me to be as uncomfortable as right-handers. So far I've settled on the Circle Pad Pro peripheral, which works for the most part, but renders my game significantly less portable. To be honest, this is less a gripe with Uprising as it is with the design of the 3DS itself. The last three games I've played on the system (Resident Evil: Revelations, Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D, and Uprising) all needed this peripheral. Perhaps this is a sign that the 3DS' lack of second analog stick was a huge oversight in the system's otherwise excellent design.
I will say this about the controls, though: you will get used to them. While it's not ideal that you need to deal with a few hours of awkwardness in order to familiarize yourself with the awkward controls, after a while the controls do become second nature.
Frankly, it's worth the hassle, as this is one of the most ambitious, jam-packed, and purely fun games to be released on the 3DS. I for one will be eagerly anticipating the next instalment in this hopefully rejuvenated franchise.
Let's hope Pit doesn't keep us waiting this time.