Kid Icarus: Uprising Review
(Originally posted on splitkick.com. Thanks to the Splitkick team for the edits!)
Kid Icarus on the NES has its fair share of fans, but I’m not one of them. I’ve given the game multiple honest tries, and have always felt that its particular blend of platforming and shooting don’t gel in a way to create a fun experience. Though fans clamored for a new entry in the franchise, I couldn’t have cared less to see Pit star in another game, if it meant a retread of his 2D platforming roots.
Then I played Kid Icarus: Uprising. It is not the retread I was expecting. Instead, it’s a game far more ambitious – and awesome – than I ever would have imagined.
Eschewing much of its gameplay roots, Pit returns in a hybrid shooting experience that draws influence from the likes of Space Harrier, and Sin & Punishment. All of these elements work together in a three-segment structure that carries throughout. You start each level with Pit soaring through the skies, battling foes in an on-rails shooter. His ability to fly is granted to him by Palutena, the goddess of light, but it only works for a limited time. Once this ability runs out, he takes the fight to the ground in a third-person shooting sequence. After the level is complete, you have the opportunity to manage your loadout before heading off on your next adventure.
The end result is a wildly fun action game with a surprising level of depth. Its action is always exciting, whether you’re defending yourself against swarms of smaller enemies in the sky, or dueling against a monstrous boss on the ground.
Loot plays a big role in the experience, as the game has dozens of different weapons across 9 different weapon classes. These can be collected, bought, or fused together to create new ones. My favourite are the clubs; giant melee weapons that stand three times the size of the protagonist. Wielding these massive weapons with both hands, our hero can use them to clobber his foes up close, or charge up to unleash a comically large projectile of death. Pit can even augment his abilities with power ups that have a tangible impact on the experience, such as the ability to jump, which can help you access secret areas of the map. Thanks to all of the extra goodies at your disposal, there’s a lot of reason to experiment with your loadout as you go.
Tying the frenetic action together is a new tale featuring our hero, the goddess of light Palutena, and a madcap cast of evildoers. The story grows from what appears to be a rehash of the original to something with a lot more substance to it. By the end of the game, I was genuinely invested in the progression of a plot I originally thought was going to be paper-thin.
While the overarching story is a bit more serious in tone, the dialogue that occurs throughout is constantly hilarious. Everyone talks like classic 80s Saturday morning cartoon characters, and are backed with witty writing that constantly breaks the fourth wall. Some of my favorite moments of the dialogue occur when Pit and company make reference to or joke about the original game, or other Nintendo titles. In one of the more memorable boss fights in the game, Pit mocks his canine-like opponent through a Nintendogs joke.
Once you’ve worked your way through the lengthy main campaign, there’s still a number of reasons to come back. While the story is the same every time, Uprising gives you incentive to replay levels with a focus on improving your scores, unlocking achievements, gaining more hearts, weapons, and power-ups. You can even carry the inventory you’ve built up in the main campaign into the multiplayer mode, and vice versa. Whether you’re playing locally or against a number of online adversaries, the multiplayer experience is surprisingly fun.
Though Nintendo made a number of smart design choices when bringing new life to the franchise, they stumbled on the implementation of the game’s controls. It’s evident that this game was designed with dual analog stick controls in mind, then shoehorned into the Nintendo 3DS. In place of the second analog stick, you’re required to handle aiming and turning with the stylus, which is problematic at best. If you own a Nintendo 3DS Circle Pad Pro, you’re still out of luck, as the game only uses it for a left-handed mode instead of dual analog support.
Because of this setup, the task of turning Pit around during the third-person shooting sequences are needlessly clunky. Worse, it exposes a fundamental ergonomic design problem with the system itself. Since the game requires you to hold the system in one hand, and a stylus in the other for extended periods of time, the act of playing the game can be a physically painful exercise. To try and alleviate the hand strain, Nintendo packed a stand with every copy of the game. The stand serves its purpose when you have access to a table, but kills the benefit of portability. In a few months, it will be also interesting to see if the same stand will work for the gigantic Nintendo 3DS XL.
These flaws are a bummer, but they weren’t enough to kill the fun. I was able to overcome the hand strain by playing the game in shorter spurts while sitting in a comfortable position; whether I had the stand or not. As for issue with turning Pit in the third-person shooting sequences, it became manageable with practice. By the halfway point, the controls were not something I was actively thinking about. I recognize that results will vary between people, but I wouldn’t let its control issues completely deter you from giving it a shot.
The 8-bit cult classic never struck a chord with me, but its sequel sure did. Evolving the franchise into a fast-paced shooting experience with RPG elements was a stroke of genius. Almost everything comes together to form an awesome title to play alone or with your friends. Even with its control failings, I enjoyed the rest of the experience so much that I was willing to work around it. Here’s to hoping it doesn’t take another two decades before we see the next one.