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Kid Icarus: Uprising only gets so far on wax wings (review)

Kid Icarus Uprising 3DS review - Nintendo

26 years have passed since Kid Icarus was released for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Aside from a forgotten handheld sequel for the Game Boy in 1991, the series has remained dormant for several generations. Resurrecting an ancient game franchise is no small task, especially when the developer has over two decades of rose-tinted memories to take into account.

I would have happily accepted an HD remake of the original, but Nintendo and Project Sora have opted to provide something far more ambitious. That ambition succeeds as often as it fails, making for a bittersweet comeback for this beloved 8-bit title.

WHAT YOU’LL LIKE

Personality
It’s always a gamble when a company tries to infuse copious amounts of humor and voice-acting into a game that never had it before. Sure, the original Kid Icarus had a certain charm to it, but the limitations of the hardware left a lot up to the imagination. Pit, the series protagonist, was little more than a bundle of pixels that moved across the screen collecting hearts, avoiding being turned into an eggplant, and relaxing at the occasional hot springs.

Kid Icarus Uprising 3DS review - NintendoKid Icarus: Uprising not only gives Pit a voice (and one he uses often), but also every other character: Medusa, Palutena (the Goddess of Light), and even boss monsters. The banter in this game walks a thin line between stupid and witty, but for the most part I felt it landed on the right side of the fence. There’s more than a few self-aware references, talking about what things were like “in the 80’s,” remembering how a certain item looked a lot more pixelated the last time it was seen–basically, the fourth wall does not exist here. Imagine if Deadpool were a writer for Nintendo, instead of a psychopathic murderous assassin.

Where the dialogue in some games is either too little or so poor that it negatively impacts the entire experience, the characters and humor in Uprising kept propelling me along each level without ever losing interest. Unfortunately, Nintendo couldn’t maintain that high level of quality for the entire game, but we’ll get to that on the next page.

Aerial sequences
As a devout fan of Panzer Dragoon and StarFox, as well as plenty of maniacal bullet-hell shooters like Ikaruga and Espgaluda II, I’ve never had anything against the on-rails shooter genre. To my delight, every level in Uprising starts with an aerial sequence with Palutena guiding Pit along a set flight path while he dodges and shoots down enemies. I was especially impressed by how varied and unique each environment was. Whether it was battling space pirates, entering the pathway between parted seas, or Pandora’s abstract Labyrinth of Deceit, the game always managed to keep things fresh and visually compelling.

The second–and usually much longer–half of each level is an on-foot excursion that plays entirely differently from the aerial portion. While these are not necessarily bad (and make for a solid throwback to the more traditional Kid Icarus gameplay), they aren’t quite as thrilling. I’m not saying they shouldn’t have been included, but I also wouldn’t have complained if Pit stuck to the skies.

Weapon variety
At the heart of Uprising is an incredibly deep weapon and power system. There are nine different types of weapons, from staffs and bows to cannons, claws, and clubs. Each weapon type has its own attack pattern and strengths/weaknesses, but there are also dozens of unique weapons that fall within the different types. Without a doubt these are some of the game’s most imaginative assets, which is actually saying a lot given the high quality of the overall audio/visual offerings.

You can also find, buy, or create higher quality versions of identical weapons, so that you may have a really weak Doom Cannon, and then a really powerful one with lots of bonus attributes and attack power. The possibilities aren’t quite endless, but the weapon system is definitely the backbone of Uprising’s replayability.

Kid Icarus Uprising - Nintendo 3DS review

There is a highly useful training area where you can try weapons on and compare damage output, but it would have been nice if you could also do this with weapons you haven’t bought or created yet.

Multiplayer
Multiplayer in Uprising plays out like a combination of Super Smash Bros. and Sega’s Virtual On. Up to six players battle it out in team versus or free-for-all mode, strafing and shooting and collecting power-ups and exploding in a pillar of light whenever defeated.

Kid Icarus Uprising - Nintendo 3DS review

I learned pretty quickly to bring my A-game into multiplayer battles, as I was playing mostly at 2 or 3 in the morning against Japanese players, all of whom had top tier weaponry and powers that I hadn’t even heard of yet. Luckily, even if you underperform, you can still earn hearts or gain random weapons, so your time spent in Together mode doesn’t feel wasted.

Despite usually battling five players on the other side of the world, lag seemed minimal, though I did have a few matches where lag rendered the game entirely unplayable. The action doesn’t slow down at all, but you won’t be able to hit anything even when it’s right in front of you, and instead you’ll find yourself being hit by invisible attacks or enemies. Matches against Western players were notably better on average.

Kid Icarus Uprising - Nintendo 3DS review

WHAT YOU WON’T LIKE

Control issues
There’s no way around it: Uprising was designed for a controller with two thumbsticks and then painfully forced upon the poor little Nintendo 3DS. To the game’s credit, a variety of control options are available, but not a single one ever felt perfect to me (especially as a left-hander), and the idea of using the default stylus aiming was outright absurd.

Accessories are sold separately that may help, but you shouldn’t have to pay for something extra to do what the developers couldn’t do themselves. Every copy of Uprising also includes a stand that can make playing a little more comfortable, assuming you have an elevated flat surface to stick it on, otherwise it’s pretty much useless.

I thought these control issues would be a total game-killer, but after a couple of minutes I had adapted to the learning curve and accepted that everything I did would just be a notable percentage less accurate or responsive than it really should have been. Of course, as you increase the Intensity, everything becomes that much more frustrating. The game’s best rewards are not hidden behind actual difficulty so much as they are a prize for struggling with the flawed controls.

The game’s best rewards are not hidden behind actual difficulty so much as they are a prize for struggling with the flawed controls.

Pointless extras
Uprising has a handful of extra features that may seem like added value at first, but ultimately they’re wasted potential. The Idol Toss allows you to “launch eggs to unlock Idols,” but the Idols are pointless. Instead of unlocking new content by discovering it in single-player as is commonplace in other games, you have to discover them through the Idol Toss, where you place an egg(s) into a bowl and launch it up in the air for a random result. Idols themselves are just gallery content, such as weapons, items, or monsters you can look at in the Vault. Eggs replenish over time (real-world hours), but can also be purchased with Play Coins. I’d personally prefer to have my Play Coins unlock actual usable items and weapons like they do in every other game, rather than something I can look at but not touch.

Likewise, the AR Card Battle are a desperate attempt to make the 3DS’ augmented reality functions seem useful. Then there’s the Offering, where you can offer up your precious hearts to Palutena. This mode even tells you outright that there’s no reward for doing so, but it will “bring the goddess closer in spirit,” meaning her 3D model gets closer to the screen. Amazing!

The second half
Once you’ve completed chapter nine, you’re given a faux end credit scene which is then interrupted by the game’s “real” villain. Everything good I said about Uprising on the first page? Throw it out starting from this point in the game. Imagine you’ve just ran a marathon, and after crossing the finish line, a clown jumps out from behind a bush, punches you in the kidneys, and says, “Just kidding, you still have 16 more miles to run!” It’s not a good way to break the news to the player..

Kid Icarus Uprising - Nintendo 3DS review

Had Uprising’s story ended at chapter nine, or perhaps had a smoother segue into the second act, my assessment would have been vastly higher. Not only did every mission after that fake-out ending seem like a total chore, but the dialogue and characters that had cohesively held the entire experience together rapidly deteriorated into a non-stop headache. Soon there was an entire crowd of voices incessantly yapping away, including the least intimidating villain since Skyward Sword’s Ghirahim, and I no longer cared about any of it. I just wanted the game to stop, but it didn’t. This relentless nightmare persisted for another 16 dreadfully long levels, and my enjoyment of the game incrementally dropped with each and every one of them..

CONCLUSION
I found myself mostly thrilled with Kid Icarus: Uprising right up until the very end of the ninth chapter. It’s almost impressive how quickly this game goes from being a great, well-rounded experience to a total narrative disaster that drags on for far too long. The multiplayer doesn’t have quite enough meat to warrant a full-price purchase on its own, and with little motivation to see the (second) story arc through to completion, the game’s overall value drops off sharply after the first couple of hours.

Score: 65/100

Kid Icarus: Uprising was released on March 23, 2012 for the Nintendo 3DS. A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.