Kid Icarus: Uprising
Mankind is on the verge of destruction. After being banished for over two decades, Medusa has returned in all her vengeful glory. With the forces of the Underworld at her command, she’s poised to conquer the planet and kill everything on it. The only thing standing in her way is Pit, the most powerful angel in the Goddess Palutena’s army. That isn’t saying much, though. Not only is he ridiculously naive and idealistic, but he can’t even fly using his own power. No one, not even his divine patroness, takes him seriously. Despite his shortcomings, Pit’s undying loyalty and bravery are second to none. Armed with nothing more than some arrows and the blessings of heaven, he begins a crusade against the deadliest monsters in Greek mythology.
At a glance, Kid Icarus: Uprising’s story has the makings of a great epic. It’s got an unlikely hero facing impossible odds, slaughtering evil under the guidance of the gods. Despite its themes of trust, righteousness, and morality, the game rarely takes itself seriously. While philosophical concepts are brought up, the dramatic moments are few and far between. The ensemble cast is entirely self-aware of their roles as fictional characters; when they’re not providing information, heroes and villains harmlessly banter with each other and make references to the original Kid Icarus, Metroid, Brain Age, and other games. It gives the experience some much-needed charm and personality; without the clever humor, hammy character interaction, and superb voice acting, the game would fall flat.
At the beginning of each mission, Pit dives out of his heavenly abode and soars directly into the enemy forces. Since he can’t fly on his own, his descents are controlled by Palutena; she thrusts him around battlefields in a style reminiscent of the Star Fox series. The legions of evil assault him in waves, forcing him to constantly shoot and dodge at the same time. While most foes are weak and predictable early on, the complexity and intensity of their attacks grow steadily with each stage. Pit has to outmaneuver thousands of monsters, laser beam barrages, fleets of ships, narrow passageways, and gods the size of mountains. Even on the default difficulty setting, the game frequently surprises the player with frantic, addictive action. Thanks to the responsiveness of the analog stick and the stylus-based aiming, the controls are easy to pick up. Amidst the chaos and seizure-inducing light effects, these rail shooting stages are always fun and entertaining.
They don’t last long, unfortunately. Once Palutena’s magic runs out, Pit plummets to the ground. The latter half of every stage revolves around conquering increasingly lengthy dungeons on foot. Their designs lack the creativity and scope of their aerial counterparts; the most complex obstacle you’ll ever encounter is hitting switches or navigating invisible platforms using a mirror. These sections usually involve unlocking doors by killing everything in a given room. Such setups are typically bland and repetitive, but the sheer variety of enemies and Uprising’s combat mechanics make up for it. While many monsters are reused in several areas, they boast all kinds of projectiles, status effects, and other attacks. Not only will Pit have to constantly blast everything that moves, but he’ll need to learn how to outpace them as well. The dodging and recovery techniques are implemented well; Pit can sidestep or duck under an oncoming attack, allowing him to switch to his close-quarter fighting stance and rack up combos. If he gets knocked down, a well-timed button command can spring him back up immediately. The trick is learning how to switch amongst the long-range projectiles, physical attacks, and evasive maneuvers depending on the situation.
Pit’s most dangerous foe isn’t a monster, but the controls. While the stylus aiming works well in the land-based areas, everything else falls apart. Movement is still done with the analog stick, but it’s slippery at best. Short dashes are performed by quickly tapping in a given direction, but it’s difficult to make Pit stop when needed. Basic platforming, like navigating a mere ledge or a narrow walkway, becomes a horrendously annoying task. Most deaths won’t come from enemy fire, but Pit accidentally stumbling into a hazard. The problem is compounded with the camera angles. The camera is rotated by flicking the touch screen with the stylus, and then tapping when you want it to stop. That’s a huge problem when you’re surrounded by several moving enemies and trying to blast them without unintentionally shifting perspectives. The boss battles suffer from such limitations even more; since so much time is spent struggling to keep the camera positioned correctly, most fights are undemanding and lack complex tactics. There’s an alternate control scheme that adjusts the camera and aims with a shoulder and face buttons respectively, but it’s clunky as well. Regardless of the control style being used, be prepared for some hand cramps. The fact that Nintendo included a special stand to play a handheld game speaks volumes about the flawed design.
The game tries to make up for it with its incredibly diverse selection of weapons. Pit may start with arrows, but his arsenal grows quickly via unlockables and using bonus points to buy other armaments. Bows fire speedy projectiles at moderate distances, while staffs and orbitars can blast things at longer and wider ranges. Palm-based magic doesn’t have the same reach, but its homing abilities make up for it. Clubs and cannons can dish out tons of damage, but lack speed or combo-based techniques that the swords and claws boast. Such strengths and weaknesses only scratch the surface of the game’s tactics. Each weapon offers additional powers, like automatic aiming, chargeable attacks, inflicting status effects, health recovery, defensive stat boosts, and many others. Not only can you equip multiple abilities, but you can combine equipment and create even deadlier items. Despite giving you a preview picture of the new weapon, the game doesn’t let you test it until after the change has been made. That can be grating, especially if you sacrificed something that better fit your playing style. Given the depth and complexity of the weapons system, it’ll take some effort to design the ideal arsenal.
Once it’s been perfected, you can test your skills with the multiplayer. The game provides local wireless and online battles with up to six players at once. The Light vs. Dark co-op mode splits gamers into two teams, gives them a shared health bar, and has them focus on outlasting their opponents. The Free-For-All mode is far less strategic; it’s just you and a bunch of other warriors blasting, slashing, and racking up kill counts with their ridiculously powerful weapons. While the multiplayer sounds like something out of Super Smash Bros. Brawl, it’s nowhere near as polished or fun. The gameplay is designed with the on-foot missions of the single player campaign in mind; all of the limitations and flaws of the control scheme come into play, instantly wrecking the entire experience. What could have been a slick, Custom Robo or Gotcha Force-style shooter quickly devolves into a frantic mess riddled with botched tactics and choppy framerates. It’s not unplayable, but it could have been far better.
Your tolerance of these issues is rewarded with tons of additional content. There are 360 achievements to unlock over the course of multiple playthroughs. Most are straightforward, like shooting a certain amount of projectiles or finishing enough missions. Others are more complex; some involve killing bosses with certain weapons, design specific equipment, or finishing areas within a given time limit. The points you earn in gameplay – or coins via the 3DS’s pedometer – are spent on dozens of 3D models of the various characters and stages. Much like the galleries of the Super Smash Bros. series, you can view the collected items, read information, and listen to the surprisingly lengthy soundtrack. By acquiring more unlockables and power-ups, you’ll gradually uncover four detailed murals depicting the game’s story. The adjustable difficulty scales between chapters, high score counters, and Boss Rush mode encourage you to experiment with self-imposed challenges. With so many extras, there’s a huge incentive to keep coming back for more.
The game’s undeniably biggest draw is its presentation. If you thought the effects in Super Mario Land 3D and Pushmo looked good, you’re going to be stunned by what you see here. Every visual in the adventure, from insignificant minions to the biggest bosses, burst from the screen in dazzling displays of light and color. The rail shooting stages frequently get you up close with screen-filling laser blasts and rapidly-moving obstacles. The impressions of blazing speeds and acceleration are constantly present. The skies are swirling vortexes of clouds and texturing, offering beautiful backdrops to the chaotic action. Despite their lack of complexity, the boss battles are epic in scale and intensity. Imagine single-handedly taking down an entire armada of enemy ships, strafing and weaving through laser blasts at gut-wrenching velocity. Or try challenging a demonic god at least ten thousand times your size, with only a bow and arrow to keep you alive. The music makes these moments even better; every second is accompanied by a dramatic, thunderous orchestrated soundtrack. Whether it’s Palutena’s upbeat theme or Medusa’s chanting chorus, it never fails to add to the atmosphere. Uprising sets a new standard for 3DS games, and it’ll be difficult to surpass it.
Kid Icarus: Uprising has several things going for it. The story balances its surprisingly philosophical subject matter with a fine blend of self-aware humor, excellent voice acting, endearingly hammy characters. The rail shooting segments are incredible; not since Star Fox 64 has there been such intensity and quick pacing. The sheer amount of weapons and customization options is mind-boggling; with so many ways to approach a battle, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. Hundreds of achievements and other unlockables provide tons of replay value. The visuals and music are by far the best on the system. However, the game is dragged down by the terrible controls on the land-based missions; you’ll spend more time fighting with the camera than with enemies. The slippery movement commands make basic platforming a tedious chore. They make the potentially great online multiplayer into a convoluted mess. Despite such flaws, Uprising is still a great addition to the 3DS library. Kid Icarus is finally back, and in style.