It’s hard to believe that more than twenty years have passed since a Kid Icarus game graced a Nintendo system, but it’s true. The original NES title debuted in North America in July of 1987 and a Game Boy sequel followed four years later. Despite maintained popularity, the franchise ended up sitting in the gaming giant’s proverbial software dungeon, collecting dust. That is, until now, as Kid Icarus: Uprising is about to release onto the Nintendo 3DS. Longtime fans of the angelic hero (Pit) and his 8-bit plight against Medusa have been waiting a while for this project to hit store shelves. Thankfully, that unexpected hiatus was kind to the franchise, and its return is a triumphant one.
After beginning life as part of the incredibly popular platform-action genre that made its publisher famous, the Kid Icarus franchise has received a modern day structural makeover. Gone are the classic jumping mechanics, in favour of a new mixture that melds a third-person shooter together with a flight-action shoot ’em up. The result is an enjoyable split between limited time air combat, rail-based segments and on-foot location traversal, where the circle pad moves Pit around the screen.
Combat is controlled in a rather unique way, with the touchscreen and stylus combination acting as your aiming mechanic. Move the pen around the bottom screen and your chosen position will reflect onto the top screen. Many shots will need to be fired and close-up melee attacks will also factor in. All of that is handled using the left shoulder button. These mechanics take a little while to get used to, and they’re not perfect; however, becoming familiar with their intricacies will lead to an enjoyable and rather fluid experience. Keep in mind that sensitivity and button assignment sliders are also readily available.
Upon seeing this retail package in a store setting, most folks will wonder why its box is so large. It’s all due to the aforementioned control scheme, which can lead to hand cramps when held using normal hand locations. There are ways to get around this by adjusting the way the weight is distributed between your left and right hands, but a simpler solution has been provided. A black plastic stand is included with every cartridge, and that’s why a sizeable box is required. Having something to rest the 3DS on is a great asset, but left-handed users will want to use the Circle Pad Pro for a reversed control scheme.
After spending a bit of time with Kid Icarus: Uprising, it became obvious that the niche shoot ’em up genre was one of its major inspirations. Aiming, shooting and dodging are the three dominant facets one must become experienced with, in order to achieve high scores. The first several minutes of each stage can be likened to a game like Gradius, where waves of enemies appear with nothing but bullet dispersal in their coded minds. With his goddess friend’s spell-casting assistance, our hero can maintain flight for approximately five minutes before he must touch down. Quite a bit of action is crammed into each of those brief sounding segments, and they’re definitely the highlight of this experience. Using another screen to aim works quite well and aim assistance is always available in the options menu.
Although Pit is quite often heard talking about how he wishes that he could fly without assistance, that isn’t the case. That development decision allowed Project Sora to create the on-foot sections, where a third-person action game design is referenced. Combat is still handled in the same way, but the encountered enemies are usually closer. They’re also found in much more closed-in areas, meaning that dashing to avoid attacks is key. It’s impressive how the game transitions from aerial space to a castle setting or something similar, with its core mechanics carrying over well. However, the predominantly interior locations don’t provide as much excitement as the beautiful airways. Their occasional rail grinding travel sections can also create the odd aiming issue, as a result of increased movement speed and twirling tracks.
In many ways, Kid Icarus: Uprising is an homage to its notoriously difficult and twenty-five year-old predecessor. Familiar enemy types and boss characters make a return as ferocious competition at the end of each on-foot segment. When each type is first encountered, the ever present and sometimes comedic conversation chatter between Pit and his ally Palutena will shift to a discussion about said baddie. Those exchanges happen to show on the bottom screen throughout the game, with drawn-in character models referencing their featured characters. At the aforementioned introductory times, images of the foes’ 8-bit character models are also highlighted. Cheesy jokes are occasionally made, but they’re not exclusive to opponent-related discussions.
Uprising focuses on a fight against Medusa, the underworld goddess whose plan is to destroy mankind. That Dark Pit featuring story is mainly told through in-game chatter, bypassing the cutscene route. It provides a nice homage to yesteryear, aiding the full experience by presenting something to fight for. You’re not battling nameless bad guys for the sake of putting an end to terrorism, or anything of that sort. All of the bosses have a reason for existing, as quite a few of them happen to be in cohorts with the snake-haired evildoer. Certain things could have been fleshed out a bit more and some of the script writing could have been improved, but we should be glad that thought was put into creating a solid premise for this shoot ’em up title. You don’t see that in a lot of the genre’s releases.
At the beginning of each 15+ minute chapter (of which there are more than nine,) players get to take advantage of one of the best difficulty customization options gaming has possibly ever seen. A one-to-ten scale is shown, with a slider than can be moved from one numerical figure to another. Move it left and the game will become easier. Conversely, sliding it right will increase your challenge. What’s nice is that there are listed points between each number, allowing for miniscule adjustments. Then again, where this system really shines is in the way it forces strategy upon its users. With the round number two set as the game’s standard difficulty, everything below it requires in-game heart currency (earned and discovered during missions) to be paid up front. Going upwards means that you’re betting towards your hopeful success, providing the potential for a higher pot multiplier. Additionally, certain doorways can only be accessed by those who pick higher numbers.
When hearts are earned, they’re added to a bank for future spending. New and superior weapons are always available in the shop, although their price tags are predominantly steep, creating replay value. Treasure chests found throughout the campaign chapters will bestow Pit with new manufactured allies, but they’re usually not as spectacular as some of the higher end models. Still, lower ranked weapons are all you’ll need for lower difficulties. However, if something better is desired and money is tight, then breaking down unused arsenal pieces into hearts is an option. Then again, you’re sometimes better off combining picked up items and accessories, in order to create a hybrid tool. Blades, canons, bows and several other types can be earned and equipped through these means. All of them can be practiced with.
In addition to the lengthy, unique and enjoyable solo campaign that was just detailed, this cartridge also possesses online multiplayer. Referred to as ‘Together’ on the main menu screen, it allows for six players to battle it out as members of two, three person teams. The last person to fall in a deathmatch style design becomes his team’s Pit avatar. It’s at that point where the main goal shifts from trying to kill each opposing player to an attempt at being the first team to take down its competitors’ special member. A standard free-for-all challenge is also available within this serviceable mode. The game’s core mechanics don’t work as well during closed-in battles against other real-life users, but it’s nice to have this option despite that. Some lag was also noticed, but it was most-likely due to the fact that half of our lobby was comprised of Japanese players who live half-way around the world.
Rounding out this colourful package is an augmented reality battle mode, where the 3DS’ cameras are used to turn normal-looking character cards into animated versions of themselves. The game ships with a randomized pack of six, but quite a few others are available. Putting two together will cause them to swipe at each other, mimicking a battle. Kids will get enjoyment out of this option, but the handheld’s more seasoned audience won’t become nearly as invested within its mechanics.
When Nintendo began promoting its 3DS, Kid Icarus: Uprising was touted as being one of its must-own releases. Showcased footage was used to show off the device’s powerful visual prowess, with promises that ended up being delivered upon. Resident Evil: Revelations looks great on the handheld, but this could be its best-looking release thus far. A rich and diverse colour palette helps deliver spectacular visuals, with some jaw dropping vistas of varying types (earth, space, crater, etc.) It’s very tough to fault any part of the game’s look, especially since it has just as much detail as anything else. The 8-bit homages are also much appreciated, adding character to the experience.
On the audible side of things, Uprising melds a variety of musical styles into one unique soundtrack. You’ll find original orchestral pieces, Spanish guitar work and some perfectly placed chip tunes. Those are all joined by full voice acting, which is half-decent, but nothing special. There’s a lot of overacting to be found, but that seems to have been a given direction. All of this audio content features notable fidelity, but there were a couple of times where music made the voice actors’ lines harder to hear than they should have been. Those occurrences were rare, though.
As a sum of its parts, Kid Icarus: Uprising is a very good release. It’s fluid, challenging and polished, in addition to being gorgeous. Fans of its twenty-five year-old predecessor and its decades old sequel will thoroughly enjoy this altered return, as will a new generation of gamers who might not have heard of the franchise before this latest iteration was revealed. Although the included control scheme takes a while to get used to, it’s nice to see a developer taking a new route with rather impressive results. All 3DS owners who have even a slight interest in the noted genres should check this one out, because it’s well-worth the required time and money. Uprising makes a great purchase, featuring a ton of replay value, which is partially due to the inclusion of a unique and rewarding difficulty system.
This review is based on a copy of the game that we received for review purposes.
Kid Icarus: Uprising is a must-own game for the Nintendo 3DS. It's fluid, polished and quite entertaining. Your jaw will drop when you see this game in person.