When it comes to abandoned franchises, you’d be hard pressed to think of a better example than Kid Icarus. After a critically and commercially successful NES debut and Game Boy follow-up (and a regular spot on the greatest cartoon of all time), protagonist Pit seemed to fall off the face of the earth. That is until the reveal of Super Smash Bros. Brawl, where an entirely redesigned Pit took to the fray as a playable character, giving fans hope that the series might take wing once again.
Those hopes have been answered in the form of Kid Icarus: Uprising. Developed by Project Sora – the developer headed by Smash Bros. and Kirby creator Masahiro Sakurai – Uprising was one of the first games announced for Nintendo’s 3DS handheld. Now, nearly one year after the system’s release, gamers can once again guide the cheeky cherub as he brings bow and blade to the forces that threaten the land.
Does Kid Icarus soar, or has it flown too close to the sun? Hit the break to find out.
Twenty-five years after being put down for the count in the original Kid Icarus, the vile Medusa has been resurrected, launching her seemingly endless army upon the mortal realm. The only one with the chops to stop her is the angel Pit, captain of the army serving Palutena, the goddess of light. What starts as a straightforward tale quickly spirals into a much larger conflict involving an entire pantheon of gods and demi-gods, and Pit’s adventure will take him everywhere from the Underworld to the stars above.
However, Uprising never takes itself nearly as seriously as that last paragraph might lead one to believe. Realizing that Kid Icarus was always something of a goofy game to begin with, the development team has wisely decided to keep the game incredibly light-hearted. The result is a script filled with puns, pithy banter, and a fourth-wall breaking sense of self-awareness. Combined with its episodic chapter-based format, the game plays out like a Saturday morning cartoon, and it can be very difficult to keep from smiling as you play.
One of the game’s biggest strengths is its non-reliance on cutscenes. Rather than conveying narrative details through mission briefings or story segments, nearly everything plot-related is handled through conversations between characters that happen in the midst of the action. The generally high-quality voice acting makes this mid-battle dialogue a real treat while ensuring that the game’s fast pace is never interrupted. The characters – mostly a varied assortment of gods and quasi-mythological figures – are all incredibly charming, and their back-and-forth chatting and cattiness will quickly grow on you. It all combines to really draw you into the re-envisioned Kid Icarus world without ever feeling as if the game is forcing unwanted narration down your throat.
The gameplay of Uprising, in tradition with its genre-bending progenitor, combines elements of on-rails shooters with those of a more traditional third-person action game. Most chapters start with a flying segment, where players must guide Pit through a set course, dodging enemy attacks and blasting baddies in a manner similar to Star Fox or Sin and Punishment. However, true to the title’s namesake, Pit can only fly for so long before his wings burn up, necessitating the angel to land mid-stage and fight out the rest on foot. These segments resemble a third-person shooter and are mostly linear affairs, though there are a good number of places to explore off the beaten path and find secrets.
It’s here that the title runs into one of its only stumbling points. Uprising uses a somewhat unorthodox control scheme in order to mimic the control offered by a PC mouse and keyboard setup. Pit’s movement is controlled with the circle pad, with attacks handled by the L shoulder button. However, aiming and adjusting the camera’s viewpoint are performed by sliding the stylus along the touch screen – those who played Metroid Prime Hunters on the DS will be familiar with the setup.
When it comes to the flying segments, the control scheme works wonderfully. Since aiming and movement are entirely separate functions, you’re given a far greater degree of control than you would with a traditional shoot-‘em-up. However, the ground battles do take a good bit of getting used to. One of the issues that makes this such an awkward way to play is that it essentially forces you to hold your system in one hand. To alleviate this, the game does include a plastic stand that works incredibly well, provided you’re playing the game with access to a table. Still, the game offers a wealth of sensitivity options, and stubborn players can rebind all aiming to the face buttons if they truly want, meaning that everyone can find a control setup that suits them given some time to experiment.
Once you have the controls locked down, you’ll find that Pit has a surprising array of moves at his disposal. While holding down the attack button will give you a spread of continuous fire, holding off your attacks for a time will let you charge up for a more potent attack. In addition, tilting the circle pad in different directions while attacking will unleash entirely different attacks, varied further by whether or not your shot is charged. Extra potent attacks can be obtained by quickly flicking the circle pad and attacking in a move incredibly reminiscent of the Super Smash Bros. series – a fact that Pit is quick to comment on in the game’s optional tutorial. When combined with a series of dodges and dashes activated with timely flicks of the circle pad, the result is a surprisingly deep combat system.
Adding to the depth is the game’s weapon system. While weapon upgrading was an integral part of the original Kid Icarus, Uprising takes the concept to an entirely insane new level. No longer limited to just a bow, Pit now has access to nine distinct weapon types with radically different properties, from the quick melee combos of claws to the long range spell-slinging of staves. Within each of these categories are dozens of different weapon variations, each offering their own unique sets of attacks. These weapons are further modified by Diablo-style random item enhancements, leading to a ridiculous number of possible weapons that would make a Borderlands fan blush. These weapons can be found in stages, purchased with hearts collected from felled enemies, or crafted as part of an elaborate item synthesis system.
Allowing for a further degree of customization are Uprising’s collectible powers. Earned through achievements or found inside stages, powers are essentially limited-use spells that do everything from healing to temporary buffs to launching attacks on enemies. However, to use a power, it must be fitted on a 6×6 grid, with more potent powers taking up more space and having more awkward shapes. Trying to create the best table of useable abilities becomes a fun little subgame, but those that prefer to jump into the fray can pick one or two core powers and let the game autofill in the rest.
The game’s levels are incredibly varied, offering a satisfying array of locations and scenarios. The solo campaign is fairly lengthy, and will likely last around 10 to 15 hours on a first playthrough. However, Uprising will likely rope you back in through use of its intensity system. Before starting a stage, the game will prompt you to set the intensity (difficulty) of the level. Defaulting at 2, you can wager collected hearts to increase the difficulty in .1 increments, all the way to a maximum intensity of 9. The rewards for doing so are great – enemies drop more hearts, collected loot has better parameters, and certain hidden areas become accessible at specific intensities. This carries a risk, of course – if you die, you lose the wagered hearts. You can choose to continue from a checkpoint to keep some of those hearts intact, but this will force the intensity to lower a notch, reducing the rewards available. It’s a really fun approach to scalable difficulty, and the game makes suggestions about what intensity you should try, encouraging players to push themselves.
The package is bolstered by a multiplayer deathmatch mode that includes six-player online play. This mode comes in two flavors: Free-For-All and Light vs. Dark. The former is pretty self-explanatory, but the latter is an engaging team-based mode. Each team has a life bar which is whittled away as team members are killed. Once it’s been depleted, a team member gets to spawn as a high-powered angel character in a last-ditch effort to pull their team back into the game. Whoever takes down the opponent’s angel first wins.
The interesting thing about this mode is that you can bring any weapon and power set you’ve earned in single player. This is balanced by the team life bar – the higher level weapon you use, the more life your team loses when you die. In addition, you’ll earn hearts, weapons, and powers for participating in multiplayer matches, giving you a good incentive to throw down online. It would have been nice to see a few additional modes, but what is here works incredibly well, and it’s immensely satisfying to bring a customized character build to bear against a live opponent.
And this is all just the core gameplay. There’s tons of side activities and challenges to participate in that will keep you coming back for more. Idols, similar to trophies in the Smash Bros. series, can be collected by performing various objectives. The game also features a number of achievements spread across “Treasure Hunt” boards, which grant additional unlockables when earned. All told, there are over 300 of these, making Uprising a completionist’s dream. The game is even packed with a selection of collectible AR cards which not only project characters into the 3DS camera, but can be made to do battle with one another if placed side by side. There’s an enormous amount of content in the game that will keep you occupied for quite some time.
Kid Icarus: Uprising’s visuals are absolutely astounding – this feels like the first 3DS title that truly takes advantage of what Nintendo’s handheld is capable of. Environments are downright gorgeous, especially during flying segments, which utilize the on-rails mechanics to make you feel as if your in the middle of a theme park ride. The game runs incredibly smoothly as well, with nary a hint of slowdown even with things get chaotic. Enemy designs are rich and varied with that distinctive Sakurai style, with new sets of differently themed baddies popping up depending on which faction you happen to be battling in a given scenario.
Uprising also boasts some of the best use of the handheld’s 3D effect to date. Not only does it make the game world incredibly immersive, but also is incredibly useful in aiming. The depth of the game’s targeting reticle will pull in and out based on your proximity to a given target, letting you more accurately judge distances. Some of the game’s many exciting moments, such as the appearance of enormous gods that take up the entire screen or a meteor impacting in the midst of a huge castle siege, really come to life through the use of 3D.
As equally impressive as the game’s graphical presentation is its musical score, which boasts a number of respected composers, including Yasunori Mitsuda and Motoi Sakuraba. The soundtracks features a mix of high-energy orchestral pieces and guitar infused tracks, and they really complete the experience. While the original Kid Icarus serves as inspiration for several songs, much of the score is original work, and you’ll be humming these tunes long after you’ve put the game down.
On the whole, Kid Icarus: Uprising is a huge triumph for Sakurai and Project Sora. It’s an incredibly fun romp through a very liberal interpretation of classical mythology that is immediately and wholly endearing. The entire game is jam-packed with content and rounded out with so many additional features that its replay potential is practically limitless. Uprising is hands-down the best title to yet grace the 3DS, and hopefully will serve as an indication of what we can expect from the device in the years to come.
If you own a 3DS, there’s little reason why Kid Icarus: Uprising shouldn’t be a part of your library – and if you’re on the fence about the 3D handheld, it offers the most compelling argument yet to pick one up.
Kid Icarus: Uprising was released on March 22nd, 2012 for the Nintendo 3DS.