On a wing and a prayer, Kid Icarus: Uprising prepares to take to the skies as the next flagship title for the resurgent Nintendo 3DS. Under the guidance of Super Smash Bros. creator Masahiro Sakurai, can this debut release from Project Sora studio soar to the success of Nintendo’s more established franchises?
It’s a daring move, of sorts. In the ever looming shadow of the instantly recognisable portly Italian plumber, angelic hero Pit will be a relative unknown to the majority of consumers. Yet for such risk, the end result pays off in dividends, with the artistic flair, direction and unending humour on display here clearly geared toward laying an enviably strong foundation, from which Nintendo can catapult their re-envisioned IP to even more dizzying heights.
Having laid dormant for twenty years (Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters being his last outing on Game Boy back in 1991), Pit returns once again to face Medusa’s Underworld Army currently indulging in their favourite activities that include ransacking cities, mercilessly slaughtering humans, and generally causing quite a mess. Palutena, goddess of light, provides Pit with guidance on his quest and grants him with the power of flight, regrettably limited to only allowing him to remain airborne for no longer than five minutes.
Such a fact helps correlate across to game design, which sees each chapter within Kid Icarus: Uprising’s ‘Solo’ mode beginning with air-based combat before seeing Pit take to the ground, eradicating enemies across distinctive environments as you hunt down increasingly daunting bosses each presenting their own individual challenges.
Prior to any chapter, you must first designate your chosen ‘Intensity’ level, which sees the player gamble gathered hearts by placing them into the ‘Fiend’s Cauldron.’ The scale ranges from ‘Effortless’ right through to ‘White Hot’, the more heightened the difficulty seeing the player receive more hearts from bested foes and the chance to obtain stronger weaponry for your efforts.
It becomes vitally important that your choice matches your level of in-game prowess, as, if defeated, hearts will spill from the Fiend’s Cauldron and you’ll find your level of challenge suitably lowered as a result.
Perhaps what will prove most divisive amongst those that pick up Kid Icarus: Uprising will be its chosen control scheme, remaining at its core similar in design across both air and land battles. The player uses the Circle Pad for movement, aiming through the use of the stylus with the touch screen, and performing either ranged or melee attacks dependent on how close you are to an enemy by the L Button. Firing, smartly, is continuous when pressed, removing the need to keep hammering away.
During flight sequences, this works well enough, yet noticeably suffers during land battles mainly due to camera control being subjected to the player being required to slide the stylus quickly to the left or right to spin it to face enemies. Over-sensitivity will cause bouts of frustration, the player resoundingly never feeling that they truly have as much precision as the game necessitates at times. A bundled stand seeks to improve comfortability and accuracy, yet seems an odd requirement for a handheld fundamentally designed to be played on the move.
Whilst this proves cause for concern, Nintendo has thankfully seen fit to ensure that those left tearing their hair to shreds can delve into an array of control customisation options to find whichever settings suit them best. If wished, you can ditch using the touch screen for camera control entirely, A, B, X and Y moving the reticle instead. What remains baffling, is that whilst support for the recently released Circle Pad Pro attachment ensures left-handed players have a reversed control scheme, it grants no ability to use each Circle Pad for movement and aiming. Bizarre.
Players can also dash or run by pushing forwards on the Circle Pad in quick succession, as well as dodging incoming attacks by moving it to the side just before the point of impact. Evading also grants a further opportunity for the player to immediately sling a charged shot back at your attacker, whichever direction you’re leaping in, enabling you to always remain on the offensive.
Having touched upon combat, Kid Icarus: Uprising sees players able to implement the use of a diverse arsenal of weaponry from across nine categories, each granting their own style of play – Blades, Staffs, Claws, Bows, Palms, Clubs, Cannons, Orbitars and Arms. Acquired sporadically throughout your adventures, no two weapons are the same and are further differentiated through modifier stats.
Those accumulated are viewable through the ‘Arms Altar,’ where the player may also convert unwanted weapons for hearts that may then be redeemed to expand your arsenal. ‘Weapon Fusion’ also proves to be invaluable, seeing you fuse any two weapons together to create something entirely new, with previously held modifiers having the chance to be carried across. StreetPass support also comes into play here, with players able to share ‘Weapon Gems’ that may also be used to craft new creations.
Powers further diversify your experience, providing additional offensive or defensive abilities such as health recovery, elemental attacks, or the hugely satisfying ‘Mega Laser.’ Whilst numerous powers become available, those that you choose have a designated shape that must be slotted within an adjacent grid – ensuring that the player never becomes overpowered.
As seen within Super Smash Bros. Brawl, unlockable content serves to expand upon an otherwise purely gameplay experience and there’s a sheer wealth to explore here. ‘Idol Toss’ sees players fling eggs to gather Idols (3D models of characters, enemies, items and locations), a ‘Power Portrait’ tasks you with gathering every power within the game, whereas a ‘Music Gallery’ allows you to sit back and listen to Kid Icarus: Uprising’s rousing orchestral score in its entirety. There’s also the ‘Offering,’ where you “offer up hearts to the goddess” to bring her closer in spirit, although I haven’t quite figured out the benefits of doing so yet…!
Similarly, Solo mode also includes ‘Treasure Hunt’ which faces the player with certain tasks that they are able to receive rewards for. Many will be accomplished through natural progression, but such inclusion helps to objectify your experience beyond completion.
Also proving to be fairly addictive is the game’s fast-paced multiplayer offering, playable through either a local connection (‘Nearby’) or online across the Nintendo Network (‘Far Away’). You’ll find two contrasting modes here; the self-explanatory Free-For-All, and Light Vs. Dark.
The latter sees two players of three players go head-to-head, and whenever a player falls part of their team’s overall life gauge depletes. You’re free to use any weapon that you’ve collected, however the stronger its value the larger the portion of your team’s life gauge you’ll lose if you die. Once it is completely depleted, the last player on your team to fall will become either Pit or Dark Pit respectively, and defeating them decides the overall victor.
This proves as blistering a challenge as you’d come to expect from the masterful talents of Sakurai, and feels carefully structured and balanced. Finding other players proved a speedy process, and the mode itself endorses teamwork that those that I played alongside easily seemed to grasp. Those that enjoy investing time into competitive multiplayer will be sure to reap the rewards here, as it also provides further opportunity to gather hearts and weapons for use across the entire game.
As a whole, Kid Icarus: Uprising is a joy to behold from start to finish, marred only by a lacklustre control scheme that serves to derail the experience for those that don’t tweak options to suit. Bittersweet is the fact that with dual Circle Pad support, this could’ve delivered another slice of handheld perfection.
Although, its sheer visual expanse – which beautifully showcases the graphical capabilities of the Nintendo 3DS at its very finest through colourful vistas – allied with numerous throwbacks to the franchise’s heritage, and rounded off with an absolutely hilarious script, Kid Icarus: Uprising certainly deserves to be amidst your gaming collection. After a twenty-year hiatus, Pit’s return is nothing short of a sensational adventure.