Review - Kid Icarus: Uprising

Posted on April 11, 2012 - 10:45pm

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A new Kid Icarus game has been a long time coming.  It was rumored to be on the Wii after main character Pit's inclusion in Super Smash Brothers Brawl. But the years came and went, and no Wii Icarus game to be found. Then, along with the reveal of their new Nintendo 3DS handheld, the curtain was pulled back on Kid Icarus: Uprising. Pit soared through the sky, and apologized for keeping people waiting.

Maybe they should've let us wait a tad longer.

Kid Icarus: Uprising is an action game that involve using a variety of weapons to blast at incoming enemies. Each stage typically starts with Pit activating his power of flight, which lasts no more than five minutes, as he flies through the air in an on-rails shooting section. Players can move Pit around the screen using the circle pad, attacking with the left shoulder button, and using the touch screen to aim. It is very reminiscent of Nintendo's other mostly-dormant series Sin & Punishment, using basic dodges, charge shots, and melee attacks if enemies get in too close.

It fits well with the 3DS control scheme. Arrows point out where enemies are to make it a little easier to aim, and circling Pit around the screen never feels intrusive between you and your target. Holding the button down let's you continuously fire, or pausing for a brief moment has you charge up for a more damaging burst attack. It brings in some strategy between attacks, as some charged blasts can take down more than one enemy at a time for a point bonus. Having your flight path controlled for you let's you concentrate on the enjoyable, if not a bit repetitious, shooting action.

Then you land on the ground. Each stage has a flight section followed by a ground section, where you now have full control over Pit. Here, the circle pad is used to move him around, the shoulder button is still attack, and the touch screen becomes both aiming the reticule and turning the camera. The movement is still adept, allowing Pit brief sprints or timed dashes to dodge around shots and enemies. The continous fire and charge shot attacks of the flight part retain themselves, although slightly altered to not be as spammable. Timing these shots with dashes gives different attacks, such as a three shot burst or even more damaging blast. Getting Pit up close allows you to combo melee attacks, giving you plenty of different attack options for targets. It gives more variety and tactics than the flight sections, so the longer, ground portions should be more enjoyable.

It's the touch screen controls that keeps that in check, though. The aiming of the reticule is just like the flying part, but turning Pit and the camera requires quick scratches on the screen. This often leads to the camera turning too slowly, turning too far, or turning in a slightly unintentional direction making you lose sight of your target. Tapping the screen during a turn will stop the camera instantly, but then your reticule is misplaced for shooting. It's all quite cumbersome, especially when you are in frantic battles trying to melee one monster, quick dodge around to another and then dash-blast a far off target. Considering the ground battles make up a majority of the single player campaign, it leads to a lot of frustration. This is only punctuated when you get into vehicles, where control is far more atrocious. The jet bike has minimal steering capability, and a bizarre ring thing will have you bouncing from wall to wall without any sense of command as you try to move forward. It's generally a linear path to get to the end, but you can find a few additional passages for treasures with new weapons or sealed doors that can only be opened with a certain difficulty.

Which is one of the more unique features Uprising sports. Much like the original NES game, Pit collects hearts to use as currency. At the beginning of each stage, you can "gamble" a portion of his heart total to increase or decrease the difficulty of the stage. The trade off is that the more hearts you put in, the more hearts you can get back when killing creatures, and certain doors require to have higher difficulties. Dying will lower the difficulty and cause you to lose some of those gambled hearts. And the game is difficult, with higher intensities being almost unfair, but not impossible.

The hearts can also be used to purchase new weapons for Pit. Between stages, you can see what is available in the shop, or take two weapons you already own and fuse them into something new. And there are a ton of weapons. There are eight different types, such as bows, swords, claws, energy palms, and staves. Each weapon you find will have randomized statistics, meaning each one will have different values for melee and ranged distance and damage, with special modifiers such as increased dodge, poison, or increased charge shot damage. Every weapon plays differently, so you can find one that fits your style. You can further customize yourself by using a power board, which has you placing different shapes onto a grid to get you extra powers. These powers are limited use abilities, giving you extra armor, a quick heal, or a devastating laser beam attack, to name a few.

Like with the hearts, Kid Icarus: Uprising uses quite a bit to pay homage to the NES classic. When showing an enemy on the top screen, the bottom screen will be used to remind you what it used to look like in the NES game, 8-bit graphics and all. This ends up being especially hilarious for some bosses. Familiar enemies return, including Medusa, the Eggplant Wizard, and the terrifying Reaper, which is accompanied by the original, untouched screeching melody that has haunted my dreams since my first encounter so many years ago. The music is gloriously beautiful, especially when listened to with headphones, and smartly uses the original "Underworld" melody in new ways. 

Although, it would be great if you could actually hear the music in most cases. In an effort to drive forward the story, Pit and his guiding goddess Palutena, along with nearly every boss character, is given a voice and converse with one another. The issue is that they just never shut up. The story is definitely light-hearted, with a lot of self-references and fourth wall breaking, but the constant spatter of cheesy jokes from Pit and the others becomes grating and overpowering.

At least it doesn't interrupt how pretty the game is. Every stage, either flight or ground, has a fantastic sense of scale as you traverse through it. Environments have quite a bit of variety, if not a bit cliched, but running across a dragon's back is awe-inspiring. Characters are highly detailed, even if they're not the highest polygon count around. Most bosses are absolutely massive and impressive.This is another game where playing with the 3D on truly adds depth. Seeing energy blasts and lasers zoom past Pit and towards you is a neat little thing, and can help give you a better judgement of distance between you and your enemies. 

The multiplayer of Kid Icarus: Uprising, which can be played online or off, doesn't fare as well as the single player. For one, it's ground battles only, and all previously mentioned control problems persist in it, along with frequent lag. There are two modes: a six player free-for-all, or a three-on-three variation on team deathmatch. The free-for-all is about what you would expect, but the team mode is a bit more interesting. Each player is randomly assigned to either the light or dark side as a generic angel soldier. Each team has a health bar at the bottom. As players respawn and are killed, the health bar depletes until one player on that side becomes Pit. Once the opposing team defeats Pit, they win. What makes it more unique is the ability to use any weapon you have collected in single player in multiplayer. Using a stronger weapon does give you an advantage, but the higher the value of the weapon, the more health bar is depleted when you are defeated. It becomes a delicate balance, choosing between strength and not being a liability to your team. It's a nice distraction, but I found myself wanting to play the single player more than multiplayer.

Which, if you're looking for a single player experience, Uprising will last you a surprisingly long time. The story mode has more levels than you would expect, passing well beyond the eight hour mark, to the point where it drags on and plot twists are too abundant. Unlocking weapons has a great allure along with creating new ones. An "Idol Toss" minigame let's you unlock idols, which are models of in-game assets, much like Smash Bros.' trophies. There are also multiple challenge boards, which are essentially achievements. Completing these will get you bonus hearts, unique weapons, or new idols. Getting all of them unlocked is quite a feat, and die-hard completionists will be astounded at how much they have to do.

There is also an alternate reality card game using the 3DS' camera. It's lame, pointless, and not worth your time.

Kid Icarus: Uprising may be the most meaty 3DS package available. The single player is lengthy but repetitious, with a staggering amount of unlocks for weapons, idols, and challenges. Being able to play on higher difficulties is extremely challenging and rewarding to get behind those sealed doors. The multiplayer is decent and has its own weapon rewards to keep you coming back. The flying and shooting gameplay is enjoyable, but the running and shooting gameplay is flawed. It makes for a mixed package. If you can adjust yourself and tolerate the ground portions, it's a pretty sizeable, good 3DS game.

Be ready for hand cramps.

7 / 10
Jared Knabenbauer is the Reviews Editor, Hard News host, and a host of our weekly video podcast, "SideScrollers". He has also produced several notable ScrewAttack shows, including Reboot or Retro, Nametags, and Control Issues. He specializes in RPGs, and has a great fondness for Dungeons & Dragons. A comedian at heart, he is one serious gamer.

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