Gamers from the NES era generally harbor fond memories of Kid Icarus, despite its unrelenting difficulty and somewhat flawed design. Nostalgia for the high-flying hero has kept fans asking Nintendo for years to bring him back, and now it’s finally happened. Kid Icarus: Uprising is filled with visual nods to enemies and locations that fans of the original will immediately recognize, but there’s been a huge makeover on the gameplay side. The good news is that these changes are mostly for the better.
The story will probably feel familiar to fans, but that’s okay for a follow-up that’s been 20-plus years in the making. Pit is once again facing off against Medusa and her cronies, though he’s got some help this time out from Palutena, the Goddess of Light. The big surprise in the fully-voiced story is how funny it all is; the writing, the line delivery, the progression… all of it really manages to entertain, and moreso than any 3DS release has to date.
The gameplay is split up between two core sets of mechanics. Each chapter kicks off with Pit making use of Palutena’s gifted power of flight in an on-rails shooting gallery sequence that feel like an evolved take on the N64 classic Sin & Punishment. The twist is that Pit’s flying abilities can only last for five minutes at a time, and the action moves to the ground in the second half of each chapter as a result.
The controls are largely the same whether you’re flying or running. By default, players use the analog pad to move Pit around and the L shoulder button to fire; holding the button down fires a continuous stream, but you can also pause for a few seconds between each shot to let it charge up. Aiming (and adjusting the camera on the ground) is handled by the stylus on the 3DS touch screen. Left-handed players have the option of using the Circle Pad 3DS attachment for left-hand stylus/right-hand analog controls, but there’s bafflingly no dual analog option.
The analog/stylus option is by far the most effective option, but it also means that you’re holding the 3DS is a very awkward manner, and one that becomes uncomfortable quickly. Nintendo helpfully shipped each copy of Uprising with a 3DS stand that definitely makes the game easier to handle, but it also becomes less on-the-go-friendly as a result.
Visually, Uprising is a big win for the 3DS, especially during the flying sequences with 3D turned on. The camera is always moving around to highlight different incoming enemies, and the effect is dazzling. You’ll shift from soaring through a cloudy blue sky to strafing sideways above a city, all as enemies approach from all directions, firing all manner of projectiles.
The ground action sequences are a bit less impressive, with a lot of repeatedly used textures and simple, straightforward paths to follow. The backgrounds still impress though, as do the enemies, many of which are remarkably faithful to their 1980s precessors.
Wrapping around all of this is an abundance of content that aims to keep players coming back to the story’s relatively short set of chapters. A dizzying number of weapons, tools, and other pickups are scattered around to be found, along with sections of levels that only open up at certain difficulties. That difficulty can be boosted in an unusual way: spending the hearts currency that you collect (a holdover from the original). New weapons can also be purchased with hearts.
The weapon and powers system is remarkably complex. Not only do individual weapons have their own ratings and buffs, you also have the option of fusing two of them to create something new. In addition, you’ll gather a suite of powers as you progress through the game that can be assigned before setting out in a chapter. How many you can bring depends on how many you can slot into a grid, similar to the Tetris-style arrangement of the inventory in Resident Evil 4.
Collecting all of this stuff boosts your chances in the story mode, but you can also bring your gear with you into online matchups. Team Deathmatch and Free-for-All game types are available, and they’re easy to jump into with a wi-fi connection. To balance things out between players with top-tier gear and those without, scores for kills/deaths vary based on what’s equipped. It’s a simple, elegant solution, and it helps make the multiplayer as rewarding as it is fun.
The really big sticking point here is the control scheme. Uprising is filled to the bursting with content and some exceedingly solid design, but the discomfort you get even after playing through just a single chapter or multiplayer match is a tough issue to get around. The stand helps, but the absence of dual-analog controls is really going to be a barrier for some people. That said, those who can get past the tricky control issues will find that there’s an exceptional game waiting in Kid Icarus: Uprising.
Score 8.5 out of 10
(This game was reviewed on the Nintendo 3DS on a copy provided by Nintendo)