Kid Icarus: Uprising

Kid Icarus: Uprising
Kid Icarus: Uprising Cover
Platforms Nintendo 3DS
Genre Super Shoot Bros.
Score 8  Clock score of 8
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In Super Smash Bros, Director Masahiro Sakurai stripped the fighting game genre of its finger-tangling combos and built a new style from the core sensation he enjoyed the most: the dynamic "ad lib" nature of the fights. It was arguably the Nintendo 64's best game. In Kirby Air Ride, Sakurai boiled down the racing game to drifting and acceleration, then layered that core with Kirby flair and garish extras. It wasn't exactly the next Smash Bros.

Now, Sakurai's "disassembly and reassembly" approach takes on the shooter in Kid Icarus: Uprising. The father of Kirby and Smash Bros has transformed a quirky NES action platformer into half corridor shooter and half third-person shooter. It's no Smash success, but it's far from Air Ride's mediocre curiosity as well.

Sakurai's rebuild style creates some hurdles for first-timers, even those with plenty of related game experience. Uprising's control scheme looks friendly enough on paper: slide the circle pad to move, gesture on the touch screen to aim, and press L to fire. In practice, it's a shortcut to hand cramps, as supporting the 3DS system while moving and aiming is a legitimate hand exercise. A small plastic stand is bundled with the game and used to hold the 3DS in position on a desk; while it does alleviate most of the discomfort, it also chains you to whatever arrangement you can find that makes the game playable. Add in the picky glasses-free stereoscopic 3D, and you may feel like you're crammed into a submarine, trying to look through a periscope into the game world. Kid Icarus: Uprising is certainly the least portable handheld game I've ever played. The demanding setup and initial discomfort will be enough to drive some potential players away from the game for good, and it's hard to blame them.

kid Icarus Uprising Stand

However, most flexible players will find a comfortable setup after some experimentation, and the worst of the experience is over. Much like Air Ride's one button control scheme, Uprising manages to pack several game functions into just a few inputs. Rapid-fire, charge shots, and melee attacks are handled by the left trigger. Walks, dashes, and dodges are all triggered by the circle pad. And the touch screen aiming, turning, and special powers. This oversimplification causes problems that a full controller would have avoided (frustrations arise when an intended dash is executed as a dodge instead), but it suits the 3DS and the game well enough after the first few sessions. The control setup is also very customizable: touch screen sensitivity can be adjusted, or you can go without it and move/aim with the face buttons, D-pad, and circle pad in any combination. The only glaring omission is that the game supports the 3DS Circle Pad Pro add-on, but not in dual analog mode for some reason.

kid Icarus Uprising Weaponry

With such a limited control scheme, it falls to the surrounding game elements to provide variety, and Uprising boasts plenty of dressing. All of the game's 100+ weapons use the same control scheme, but each has a unique visual style and a particular feel in its mix of melee effectiveness, rapid-fire rate, charged shot range, movement-inhibiting weight, and other elements. Rest assured, the game style changes drastically depending on your choice of the nimble Ninja Palm or the booming Flintlock Staff sniper or the ponderous Black Club. Even within a single weapon type, random stat variations can make a world of difference: a petrify-enhanced Silver Bow with a standing rapid-fire bonus will encourage different strategies than one with a bolstered melee dash attack and a stamina boost. The acquisition and fusion of new equipment can become a goal in and of itself, if you're the kind of person who searches for the weapon with the best stats. It's no Borderlands, but Uprising certainly encourages customization and experimentation when it comes to armaments.

Even a solid shooting experience can fall flat without some engaging foes. Thankfully, the new Kid Icarus might have the most inspired enemy design in any shooter I've played. The full sum of cannon fodder reaches well into the hundreds, and though some palette swaps bloat that number, the enemy forces thrive in their diversity. Though the development team's creativity amounted to little in Super Smash Bros Brawl's underwhelming singleplayer adventure, Uprising is brimming with bad guys that could have been reader contest selections in an early nineties Nintendo Power magazine.

"This is Guttler, it tries to chew on Pit but will also eat its friends to get stronger!"
"Mudrone is a pile of mud that shoots lasers. Also you have to kill it three times before it stays dead for good."
"Okay so there's this shrimp wizard, and he turns you into a shrimp with his shrimp magic and eats you if he catches you!"

kid Icarus Uprising Kraken

The diverse cast of baddies is Uprising's most earnest callback to the original Kid Icarus and old school NES games in general. That said, the game takes great pleasure in breaking the fourth wall with its constant character dialog, whether it's pointing out oddities in the original Kid Icarus game, name-dropping other Nintendo properties, or calling out video game tropes in general. The story platform may be a Nintendo-approved expansion of the original game's Greek legend knockoff, but the characters spend more time griping about the economy, debating hot spring etiquette, and teasing each other. A few of the more grating stereotypes are misfires, and the "Gosh we're so silly" humor will hit all players differently, but I was surprised to find that I really enjoyed the Skype chat style of comedy routine. And if it doesn't meet your tastes, you can always mute the voices.

kid Icarus Uprising Multiplayer

One place where you'll hear no chatter is online, as is Nintendo's tradition. Uprising's multiplayer suite is pretty basic, with just two modes playable offline or online (where no communication options are available, of course). Free For All pits six players against one another in an every-man-for-himself bout where the most deadly player wins. Light Vs. Dark offers a three-on-three mode in which the goal is to eliminate the opposing team's Angel, who is summoned after depleting the team-shared health bar. The arena shooter style is decked out with chaotic Smash Bros style items and powerups that ensure luck is almost as big a factor as skill in the six-minute matches, adhering to the "everybody wins sometimes" flavor of Nintendo multiplayer. I've blasted angels online for a few hours and generally had a good time, but it's not quite the next hit party game or online sensation. That said, it's far from an afterthought, and I imagine I'll put time into it every now and again as long as the online community stays plentiful and doesn't collapse under exploits or cheaters. So far, so good.

The multiplayer is just one aspect of the game that entices players to keep coming back after the ten hour story mode. Sakurai likes to pack his games with content, sometimes with features that seem superfluous, and Uprising is no exception. The primary draw is the game's three Treasure Hunt boards, which work exactly like Kirby Air Ride's three checklist grids. This Gamerscore-esque list encourages the player to try the game on variable difficulty modes, use specific weapons in certain missions, chase high scores, dash through speed runs, fuse special weapons, tackle the boss rush, win multiplayer matches, and generally explore every corner of the game. There's even an augmented reality game to play with collectable cards; I'd love to tell you how it works, but I couldn't get my 3DS to read any of my cards. I've put close to forty hours into Uprising, and I'm only about two-thirds complete in the treasure hunt. Another fifteen or twenty hours should be enough for me to unlock just about everything.

kid Icarus Uprising Cards

Even with all that added fluff, Uprising is still the most polished experience on 3DS. The attention to detail is easiest to see in the corridor shooter half of the game, as the scripted sequences make it possible for the development team to pack something special into every second of flight. The scenic vistas and trippy locales that Pit zooms over outclass anything else on the system, and appropriately timed dialog and musical cues match the action perfectly. Corners are cut here and there, and you'll definitely spot some blocky character models or muddy textures that mar the illusion, but the game scenarios are so playful, inventive, and self-deprecating that these imperfections are easily overlooked.

The highest praise I have for Kid Icarus: Uprising is that it's legitimately surprising. It's a game that's bold enough to experiment at its own expense, and a lot of special moments come as a result (Pandora's Labyrinth of Deceit is full of such kooky set-piece moments). Not every gamble ends with reward, however; the control scheme, while suitable once learned, can put the player in some uncomfortable spots, literally. Heck, I shelved the game to play an overlong JRPG to avoid setting up the 3DS stand. But once I dug into the game, it was tough to dig back out. I think it's safe to say that, while Uprising may not be the action-platformer that Kid Icarus fans wanted, it's a successful revival nonetheless. Here's hoping we don't have to wait another 25 years for the next one.

kid Icarus Uprising Four