Nintendo’s forgotten hero returns after 21 years.
Twenty-one years is a long time for a series to go without a new instalment, but that’s how long fans of the first two Kid Icarus games have had to wait for the third. Bump that up to a quarter of a century for fans of the NES original and it’s a most unlikely resurrection. While Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7 have kickstarted the 3DS, it was the prospect of Kid Icarus: Uprising that tantalised Nintendo fans the most ahead of the handheld's launch.
What Kid Icarus: Uprising Got Right
Pit’s back - Over 21 years is a long time to wait for a sequel. Most gamers will only know Pit from his appearance in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, leaving Uprising to revive the forgotten hero. However, as a game from the mind of Smash Bros. creator Masahiro Sakurai it's more than just a reboot. Sakurai doesn’t want to simply bring Pit to a new generation, he wants to innovate with the 3DS and make a unique adventure unlike anything we’ve seen on the handheld.
He’s succeeded in style. While an on-rails/third person shooter hybrid mightn’t sound all that impressive, it is. You won’t play another game like Kid Icarus: Uprising. That’s both its best and worst quality at times. It does have some annoying faults, but on the whole the resurgence of Pit will bring a smile to your face.
A great adventure - Each chapter in Uprising is split into two sections. The first is an on-rails shooter in the air, allowing players to focus on aiming with the touch screen. The second is an off-rails third person shooter. You still have to kill everything with an arrow over its head, but with the added bonus of melee weapons.
The simplistic nature of the airborne sections make them the most enjoyable part of the game. It looks amazing in 3D, with great use of the added depth, and is up there with the likes of Super Mario 3D Land as the most visually impressive game on the system. Even though it’s on-rails, it plays just as it should. It gives the player a specific focus and executes it very well. It keeps you busy without trying to do too much.
Rewards system - The difficulty rewards system is one of the best I’ve ever seen in a game. At the beginning of each stage the player can adjust a slider to set the difficulty level -- it’s not simple a choice of easy, medium or hard, and it can be completely different for each chapter. During each stage, defeated opponents drop hearts that are automatically collected to regain health and are used to unlock and buy new weapons and items. By increasing the slider, you can essentially bet on yourself to succeed on the harder difficulty. If you do well, you’ll be rewarded amply. If you fail, you’ll lose more of what you already had.
It works on so many levels. Players can slowly work their way up from insultingly easy to impossibly challenging or throw themselves straight in the deep end to earn more rewards. If you lose a stack of your in-game currency in the process, that’s totally on you. It was your choice.
Interesting controls - The control scheme is interesting to say the least. The air-based levels use the stylus to aim and the C-Pad to maneuver Pit within the screen, while L is spammed constantly to shoot. Everything else is taken care of for you.
On the ground it’s a different story. Coming off rails, the Circle Pad is used to move and dash while the stylus is dragged across the screen to simultaneously turn Pit and move the camera. A quick swipe is also used to dodge, and needless to say, it doesn’t offer the precession of dual analogue sticks. To its credit, there are a number of tweets in the options and left-handers can even attach the Circle Pad Pro so that they don’t have to use the replacement face buttons.
Short bursts - Kid Icarus: Uprising is the perfect game to pull out at lunch time. Each stage can be completed within 10 minutes and the story is so light-hearted and easy to follow that it’s not going to deter you in fear of a lengthy cut-scene. It even explains that Pit is a flightless angel for much of the game and that he is only able to take to the sky for a maximum of five minutes with the help of Lady Palutena. Maybe I was reading into it wrong, but I swear there is some serious sexual tension between the two.
Multiplayer - The on and offline multiplayer ties in perfectly with the perks in the solo campaign. Items unlocked in the single-player transfer directly to battles against your friends. Up to six players can get involved in free-for-all and team-based efforts. The gameplay itself isn’t as good as the single-player, but it’s at least worth a look for fans who want the complete experience.
What Kid Icarus: Uprising Got Wrong
Problematic controls - The unique controls present a number of problems which Nintendo has tried to resolve with the free bundled 3DS Stand. As you need to heavily use the stylus with one hand for the entire game, you would break your wrist trying to hold it normally, so a piece of plastic has been commissioned to do it for you.
It all works well in the air-based sections, but starts to fall apart on land. The touch screen tries to do too much. It is used to aim, turn Pit, move the camera, dodge and use items. If you took out turning Pit, it wouldn’t be so bad. With time you’ll get used to it, but before that expect to run into many walls trying to turn left. Then there’s the matter of difficulty. You have some time to make basic walking mistakes on the lower levels, but you’ll be destroyed on anything above standard difficulty until you’ve mastered the awkward controls.
Uncomfortable and not portable - The 3DS Stand means Kid Icarus isn’t really portable. The accuracy on the touch screen requires the 3DS to be on a steady surface, not held by your shaky hand. It’s not one that can be played on the train or in a car.
Furthermore, even with the stand, it’s shockingly uncomfortable after 15 minutes of play. You’ll find yourself wiggling around trying to get normal feeling back in your wrist, but it won’t happen. It never gets any better. The controls themselves do work once you get the hang of it, but I can’t help but feel dual analogue nubs with the Circle Pad Pro would have been better. I’d take the drop in accuracy for a gain in comfort.
The Final Verdict
Kid Icarus: Uprising resurrects Nintendo’s forgotten hero in unique style after a 21 year absence. It’s innovative and has a fantastic rewards system that dares the player to up the ante. Uprising is one of the best looking games on the handheld, and the playful story set within 10 minute chapters is perfect for short bursts of gaming. It distinguishes the airborne on-rails and ground-based off-rails elements well, while effectively presenting the same objective. The controls are certainly different, but that’s also the game’s Achilles' heal. While accurate, they are significantly more uncomfortable than traditional control schemes and always leave you feeling awkward, particularly as the off-rails segments asks too much of the touchscreen. Despite these issues, the gameplay is solid and it’s undeniably a unique Nintendo franchise.
By Ben Salter - Tweet @Ben_Salter