Developers: Project Sora
Release Date: 03/23/2012
Platform Reviewed: 3DS
Time Played: 8 hours
Concept and Execution:
Kid Icarus was an action-platformer released for the Nintendo Entertainment System back in 1986 and Kid Icarus: Uprising is the latest installment to the franchise. Most kids today might not even know who Pit the Angel is, if not for his inclusion in the most recent installment of Nintendo’s popular fighting series, Super Smash Brothers. Team Sora took to reimagining this nearly three-decade old game as a 3D shooter for Nintendo’s 3DS. Given the daunting task at hand, in my opinion, they were pretty successful.
The story of Uprising continues in the spirit of the original franchise. Players assume the role of Pit the angel, servant of Lady Palutena, the Goddess of Light. Medusa has returned, bringing with her the hordes of monsters that make up the Underworld Army. With Lady Palutena’s help, Pit must combat the forces of evil and, of course, save the world.
Kid Icarus is a really interesting mix of elements. The game is broken up into levels called chapters. Each chapter is broken down further into two parts: air and land. You start out soaring through the sky on a predetermined course, or “a rail” as it’s sometimes called, shooting down the underworld’s monsters while avoiding attacks and obstacles. The second part lands you on the ground, where you traverse different landscapes and explore the deepest dungeons, either attacking enemies from afar with ranged blasts, or running in close for melee.
I was very pleasantly surprised at the tone and narration used in Uprising. Upon picking up this game, I expected Pit to be your traditional classic hero: champion of light and justice, battling the evil forces of the underworld army in a familiar story that every gamer since the dawn of time has heard countless times over, in some form or other. And while that’s all there, there’s also an unexpected whimsical humor present, as it constantly makes reference to itself as a video game, breaking the fourth wall. Pit and Lady Palutena banter on the bottom of the screen as you play, their avatars flashing different poses and expressions as they talk. They tell bad jokes, make modern-day references, and sometimes bicker with the current upcoming boss who will appear in this space as well. Some of my favorite lines include Pit’s reaction to the stamina limitations,(he becomes tired after running too long and has to stop) to which he shouts “darn you, balanced game play!” as well as asking Palutena for a machine-gun robot girlfriend at one point. Pit and Palutena even referred back to the first game, sometimes flashing the 8-bit originals when talking about upcoming battles. This certainly wasn’t what I expected from the game, and I admit I was pretty amused. There are so many traditional hero stories, and this one ran the risk of being bland, but the light-hearted humor really differentiated the game from others I’ve played.
Concept and Execution Grade: 24/25
Pit can make use of a variety of weapon types, including claws, blades, bows, cannons and more. Each individual weapon, regardless of type, can be used as either melee or at range. Each weapon has its own value and stats, with some offering unique bonuses. New weapons can be obtained by discovering them within levels, completing chapters, or buying them from Lady Palutena with hearts, which are gained by killing enemies. There’s also a fusion system which allows you to combine two weapons to create an entirely new weapon, hopefully for the better. At the start of every level, the player can determine the difficulty level, or intensity, of that specific chapter by selecting a number on a scale of one to ten. The player then wagers a certain number of hearts in accordance with the level of intensity selected. The harder the level, the more hearts are wagered, and the more hearts you will earn from killing monsters. However, if you die, the fiend’s pot, as it’s called, will spill over, and you will lose some of the hearts you’ve wagered. The game starts you at the low end of the scale as a suggestion, and moves you up by one point for each chapter you complete. However, the player is always free to change the intensity rating at the beginning of every chapter to whatever level they want regardless.
While I have to applaud the developers for making use of what hardware the system possessed and creating a unique and interesting control scheme, the biggest problem I had with this game is the sometimes incredible awkwardness of those controls. For the default control scheme, you utilize three inputs: the left trigger for firing, the circle pad for moving Pit himself, and the stylus/touch screen for aiming. While it took some getting used to, this set-up works really well for the in-flight sequences. Moving Pit around the screen to dodge incoming attacks and avoid obstacles with the control pad while targeting enemies with the stylus makes sense. It was once I got on the ground for the second half of the level that I sometimes found myself getting frustrated. Since he’s on a rail during flight, I never had to worry about turning Pit. I just needed to move him back and forth, up and down, to avoid taking damage. But once I landed, I was free to walk around in whatever direction is available, and that meant that the stylus was also responsible for turning Pit and aiming my shots. In order to make Pit walk with the circle Pad, if I wanted him to turn a corner, I had to bring the stylus to the edge of the touch screen in the direction that I wanted him to face. This felt incredibly awkward at first, and while I did get better at it, it still felt unwieldy at times, especially during boss battles, when I needed Pit to change directions quickly to get away from powerful attacks.
I wish that the 3DS had another circle pad on the right side, which would have given me the usual controller-feel and made navigating on the ground so much more user-friendly, natural, and enjoyable. It was disappointing to find out that Kid Icarus: Uprising doesn’t really utilize the Circle-Pad Plus. The attachable second joy-stick would solve my one major problem with this game and vastly improve my experience with it, but unfortunately the developers only included basic support to allow players to flip the control screen for left-handed play. While the control scheme can be customized, I didn’t really find anything that felt any less awkward, so I stuck with the default. Admittedly, I spent a better part of the game shouting at Pit to move where I needed him to move, falling off of cliffs, and walking into, instead of avoiding attacks. If I’ve learned anything from playing Kid Icarus, it’s this: once you’ve played with two joysticks, there’s no going back to one.
Kid Icarus came pre-packaged with a little black plastic stand. I didn’t see the point of it until I started playing. While your left hand grips the system as it normally would, your right hand will constantly be tapping away on the touch screen, so the right side of the system doesn’t have any support. After playing for a while, this can become a little hard to negotiate, and I found the stand does indeed help. However, it detracts from the portability of the game which is another major draw-back. In order for the stand to do any good, it really needs to be sitting on a flat surface, like a table. This means if I wanted to use the stand, I couldn’t play the game when and where I wanted to, like curled up on the couch or on a bench between classes.
Mechanics Grade: 18/25
I can usually play these games without volume, but for Kid Icarus I always carried headphones with me while playing as I never wanted to miss their conversations. The music was also fitting. While it tended to blend into the back-drop on some of the high-action levels and never distracted me from the character’s voices, in times of quiet exploration it really set the tone. I was especially infatuated with the Spanish sounding acoustic guitar featured in the ruins where I first faced off against Dark Pit.
I’m always surprised at how far the Nintendo hand-helds have come, specifically when talking about graphics. Kid Icarus is a very pretty game and a perfect example of how powerful the little 3DS really is. The graphics are on par with the Wii and PS2, though not quite at the level of next-gen consoles. Most of the levels have unique designs with well-developed themes. I particularly liked the underwater chapter, where Poseidon parts the sea, allowing you to fly through. And though I hated it, I have to admit, Pandora’s crazy labyrinth had a very clever, if not cruel design.
There’s a vast array of different monsters to face, all with different looks and abilities. The boss models were specifically impressive, as most of them were quite massive when compared to Pit, giving those battles real gravity.
Though the 3D looks cool at first, I often find it hurts my eyes or makes me motion sick during longer periods of play, so I didn’t utilize it much as a personal preference. And really, the graphics are just as good with the 3D turned off, though I will say that it did had depth, especially to the flying levels.
Atmosphere Grade: 23/25
Overall I think what matters most in a game is how much fun you have with it, and Kid Icarus: Uprising is truly a fun game. Despite the drawbacks of the control scheme, playing wasn’t a chore. The story was interesting despite the familiarity, and the characters were very amusing. The freedom of difficulty settings makes this a very alluring title with applications for a broad audience, as it can be easy enough for kids but hard enough for the more experienced gamer who’s looking to be challenged.
Besides the regular story-mode, there is also a multiplayer mode where players can face off against other real-world opponents. There are two choices for multiplayer combat: Free for all or Team Deathmatch. Team matches are three on three, with one side embodying light and the other dark. The team shares a health meter which drops every time a team member dies. Players can bring whatever weapons they want, but should note that carrying more powerful weapons with greater weapon values, means that they will take a bigger chunk of the team heath meter down when they are slain.
Secret areas within the chapters that house superior weapons and are only accessible at certain intensity levels also adds some replayability to the title, as players can go back and replay those chapters at higher difficulty levels for full-completion and a greater challenge. Though, honestly, unless you’re a gamer that frets about one-hundred percent completion, the weapons will only really benefit you if you intend to play competitive multiplayer. However, all these elements along with some bonus mini-game content adds a longer life-span to what is already a decent-length game. I would definitely recommend this title both for fans of the original series and new-comers alike. It’s a strong addition to what has been a limited library for the Nintendo 3DS, and the proper rebirth of an iconic Nintendo hero.
Entertainment Value Grade: 23/25