Review: Kid Icarus: Uprising
More than twenty years have passed since Nintendo published Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters on the Game Boy, and a revival of the glorious franchise, that many probably know just for the inclusion of its main character, Pit, in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, was long overdue.
The two original games were 2D side-scrolling action platformers, but Kid Icarus: Uprising gained a third dimension (quite literally, considering that it’s on the 3DS) and switched genre entirely during the leap to the twenty-first century. To be more precise it split into two completely different genres, as the new release by Project Sora is effectively two games in one.
The protagonist Pit is a flightless angel, but he can actually fly thanks to the Power of Flight bestowed upon him by the goddess Palutena that he serves. That involves a couple of rather problematic caveats: first of all, Pit can’t control his flight path, as he needs to be effectively “remote controlled” by Palutena herself, and secondly, making him dart across the sky consumes so much of the Goddess’ energy that the Power of Flight can last just for five minutes at a time.
This little plot device is at the base of Kid Icarus: Uprising‘s dual-genre gameplay. Basically every chapter of the story mode is split between a five minutes-long on-rail shooter section in the sky, followed by a third person shooter level on the ground and a boss battle. The difference between flight-based on-rail shooting and third person shooting is so radical that they basically need to be reviewed separately.
The sub-levels in which Pit benefits from the Power of Flight are by far the best part of the game, and feature one of the most entertaining and engaging on-rail shooting gameplay segments I’ve seen in a while. The circle pad controls limited movement across the screen to avoid incoming fire, the stylus is used to aim and a shoulder button to fire. It’s very simple and intuitive and it works flawlessly, especially when combined with the extreme sense of speed that permeates the action.
The screen is often very crowded with enemies, and gameplay is extremely frantic and fun, made even more satisfying by the ability to influence difficulty by betting the hearts we gained in order to acquire better rewards at the price of a higher level of challenge. While the concept is very simple, it’s also extremely engaging due to the fact that the action never really slows down.
After the five minutes of flight expire, things get a little more clunky. Pit has to stroll across levels on his own feet, while shooting and bashing hordes of enemies that try to block his path. Despite the fact that the ground-based third person shooting sections look extremely nice and polished, they suffer from the most basic of problems: an awkward control scheme dictated by the lack of a second circle pad. Turning around by dragging the stylus across the screen feels so unnatural that it proves to be a serious hindrance to fun, and more than once I found myself dead not because I made a real mistake, but simply because I couldn’t turn fast enough.
The difficulty customization mentioned above can really backfire during ground battles: while you may feel confident in facing merciless hordes of enemies high in the sky, the same level of challenge will carry over to the following land based stage, featuring monsters that will be equally numerous and ruthless. While difficulty is theoretically the same, the controls simply aren’t equally responsive, resulting in a disproportionately hard time while walking.
Don’t get me wrong: it’s possible to get used to it after a while, and practice will make up for lacking controls, but the intuitive fun of the flight sections is lost on the ground, and it’s really a pity. Interestingly enough even the walking animation looks rather awkward, with Pit dragging himself around in a sort of limping half-step. I’m not sure why the developers decided to use that kind of animation, but I can’t say that it doesn’t fit the controls.
After surpassing the hurdle posed by the controls, ground battles can definitely prove entertaining, especially thanks to the wide variety of enemies and to the fact that many of them require different strategies to defeat. A few vehicle-based sections provide further variation and prove almost as fun as the airborne ones, especially when Pit gets to control the Cherubot: a slow but hard-hitting mecha armed with a crushing arm and a devastating plasma machine gun.
Add to that the extremely wide variety of weapons belonging to nine different classes (for a total of over 100), each with its own unique fighting style that can mix up things quite radically, and the fact that they can even be merged to create new ones. You get an exceptional level of depth that will possibly turn the control-related hiccup into a rather forgivable flaw.
What definitely doesn’t change between airborne and ground-based levels is the fact that the game looks absolutely gorgeous, with graphics that place it near the very top of the ladder as far as 3DS visuals go. Characters, monsters and environments are colorful and detailed, and the level of variation and eyecandy are really top-notch for a portable game.
Animations provide a nice complement for the lovely 3D models and textures and, with the exclusion of the aforementioned limp, they really bring characters to life, especially when paired with the amazing flying speed that will propel Pit across the beautifully deep and large environments. To put it down simply, if Kid Icarus: Uprising isn’t the best looking 3DS game, it gets very near to that goal.
The audio aspect of the game shows the same high level as its visuals. The sountrack is varied and extremely pleasing, benefitting from some of the most epic and engaging tunes in the 3DS library. I don’t have any qualms in admitting that I found myself humming “Magnus’s Theme” while going to work (and that’s something that happens to me quite rarely), while the acoustic guitar in the theme dedicated to Dark Pit is really memorable and fits to the character like a velvet glove.
Voice acting is generally very well executed, with actors that fit their roles without a hitch and well delivered lines with an intentional comedic focus that contributes to keep the story entertaining. Those that are used to a more serious approach to storytelling may find the script a tad cheesy, especially considering the fact that Uprising‘s characters never really shut up, but Nintendo fans will definitely find themselves right at home with how Pit and his allies and enemies are characterized.
While single player is already definitely deep, two multiplayer modes add to the overall longevity. The first mode is a rather straightforward six player battle royale, while a more interesting Light vs. Dark mode creates a very entertaining second option.
In Light vs. Dark players are split in two teams of three. Each team shares a health bar depleted by each death. When the health bar reaches zero the last player that was defeated will be turned into a angel, and will serve as a target for the opposite team, creating a quite deep and engaging multiplayer experience that proves definitely more fun than the basic free for all mode, provided that you already mastered the awkward walking controls, of course.
All things considered, Kid Icarus: Uprising is definitely one of the best games in the 3DS library. While it suffers from a serious flaw in the control scheme of the ground-based gameplay, the masterfully crafted flight sections, the gorgeous graphics and the engaging soundtrack, topped by a depth of content that has few rivals in portable gaming, create an experience that makes getting used to turning with the stylus definitely worthwhile.
The return of the Kid Icarus franchise was long overdue, and Uprising does full justice to its legacy.